Something Rotten in the State of Brazil: The Meat they Eat

 

Meat producing giants JSB SA and BRF SA are among dozens of meatpackers that were raided in “Operation Weak Flesh” on Friday. The two-year operation probes the alleged bribery scheme involving agricultural inspectors and the sale of spoiled food.

The food industry raid is the latest in a series of investigations into corruption in Brazil to expose the cozy relations between the government and powerful businesses.

Police Chief Mauricio Moscardi, in a press conference in the city of Curitiba, Paraná state, accused representatives of meatpackers BRF and JBS of having influence in choosing the inspectors who review their plant operations, and also of paying bribes to get clearance for their products.

The São Paulo-based JBS released a statement in which it “vehemently repudiates” the claim that it sold spoiled food. BRF didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to a statement released by the police, more than 1,100 officers were deployed for 194 raids across six Brazilian states. This is the largest-ever search and seizure operation by Brazil’s federal police.

Security forces stated that regulators in the food-producing states of Paraná, Minas Gerais and Goiás helped producers place inferior products in the marketplace.

The lawmen singled out some food processors who they accused of bribing state food safety auditors to issue fake sanitary permits and forgo normal oversight work.

The federal police further added that they would be serving over 300 court orders, about 20-odd of which were for preventive detention and nearly a dozen for temporary detention. Officials executed almost 300 search warrants and orders to take people in for questioning.

The dragnet reportedly exposed nearly four dozen cases involving bribes paid to inspectors and politicians to overlook the processing of rotten meat, and operating of plants with traces of salmonella.

Brazil’s Federal Revenue agency, in a separate statement, said federal agents, who inspect agricultural goods, allegedly agreed to clear spoiled food that was unfit for human consumption and allow it to be sold domestically to schools and to be exported.

The judge overseeing the investigation issued detention orders for at least two BRF executives and orders for the police to search more BRF and JBS plants.

A request to close down a BRF plant in Goiás because of sanitary issues was denied by the judge. JBS denied its executives were targeted by court orders. It also confirmed three of its plants were included in Friday’s probe.

The raid is the latest in a series of troubles that JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, has found itself embroiled in over the past year.

Executives from the company were temporarily ordered to step down late last year amid a probe into fraudulent investments made by pension funds. The company and its executives have repeatedly denied wrongdoing in all the cases.

JBS and BRF shares dropped as much as 7.8 and 8 percent, respectively – the highest drop in Brazil’s standard stock index. Bonds issued by both companies also tumbled.

Some of the country’s main groups in the sector have been targeted under the operation — among them BRF, which controls such brands as Sadia, Perdigão, Batavo, and Elegê; and JBS, with Seara, Swift, Friboi, and Vigor. A federal judge in the southern state of Paraná ruled the freezing of $320 million of the companies brought under investigation.

In almost two years of probes it was uncovered that the local officials linked to the ministry in the states of Paraná, Minas Gerais, and Goiás were actively involved in protecting those business groups to the detriment of collective interests.

Public officials involved in the scheme, investigators believe, availed themselves of their position in law enforcement to facilitate the production of adulterated foods through bribes, with the issuance of sanitary reports without any actual inspection.

teleSUR

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