LAPA, Brazil – Brazil’s government on Tuesday attributed a rotten meat scandal to corruption and said there was no problem with the country’s food safety controls.
President Michel Temer, however, acknowledged that the scandal had been an embarrassment for the South American country, the world’s largest beef and poultry exporter.
“Clearly that caused, I must acknowledge, an embarrassing situation for Brazil because it led some countries in some way to consider suspending meat purchases,” the head of state said Tuesday at the inauguration of the 2017 Latin American Cities Conference in Brasilia.
But he downplayed the seriousness of the scandal, saying that police last week only shuttered three of Brazil’s 4,383 meat-packing plants and that just 21 of those plants were under investigation.
Revelations that some companies used a kind of acid to adulterate meat that was expired or not fit for human consumption led China, Chile, Hong Kong, the European Union and Switzerland, among other markets, to announce temporary restrictions on Brazilian meat.
Several of Brazil’s biggest food-processing companies, including JBS and BRF, bribed corrupt inspectors as part of a scheme to sell adulterated meat domestically or to foreign markets, according to the Federal Police.
As part of the scheme, bribes also were paid to the ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, authorities say.
South Korea, which on Monday was one of the first countries to temporarily ban imports of Brazilian chicken, reversed course Tuesday and opened its market once again to Brazilian meat products.
That Asian nation does not import Brazilian beef.
“This is, I believe, the result of Brazilian authorities’ rapid response and clarifications,” Temer said.
“It’s not food safety controls that are being called into question, but rather (a case of) serious and lamentable acts of corruption,” Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said during a visit to a poultry plant operated by JBS in the southern town of Lapa, Parana state.
He added that only 6 of the 21 plants under investigation processed meat for export.
Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef and poultry and the fourth-largest global pork exporter.