(Adds comment by Agriculture Ministry)
By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA, March 23 The European Union has asked
Brazil to voluntarily suspend all shipments of meat to its
member countries to avoid imposing a ban that would take time to
lift, but the Brazilian government has not agreed, EU diplomats
in Brasilia told Reuters on Thursday.
Brazilian meat exports have in any case ground almost to a
halt following a police investigation into corruption involving
food-sanitation inspectors and accusations that rotten products
A spokeswoman said Brazilian Agriculture Minister Blairo
Maggi was not aware of the request.
The Brazilian government suspended meat shipments from the
21 meat-packing plants under investigation by the federal
police, while insisting the quality of Brazilian meat was not in
But European farm groups called on the EU Commission on
Thursday to take stronger action against Brazilian meat imports
because of the scandal. EU experts meet in Brussels on Friday to
decide on possible further measures.
The EU had already suspended imports from four Brazilian
meat-processing facilities earlier this week.
EU ambassadors have been seeking more information on the
irregularities discovered in Brazil's meat industry and have
criticized Brazil's government for failing to deal with the
problem as a public health issue, according to a European
diplomat who attended a EU meeting on Wednesday.
"We asked the Brazilians to suspend all exports but they
refused," said the diplomat, who asked not to be named because
of the sensitivity of the matter.
"There is overall disappointment with the way Brazil is
treating this as a public relations issue rather than from a
public health point of view," the diplomat said.
Another European diplomatic source confirmed the request
that Brazil voluntarily suspend all meat shipments to the EU
because a ban would take a long time to undo, whereas meat sales
could resume at any time if Brazil held off shipments.
LARGEST MEAT EXPORTER
The corruption scandal has hurt Brazil's reputation as the
world's largest meat exporter, with sales of almost $14 billion
last year. The industry employs 4 million workers.
Brazil's JBS S.A., the world's biggest meat
processor, said on Thursday it suspended beef production at 33
of its 36 plants in Brazil for three days because of the lack of
A dozen countries, including Brazil's largest trading
partner, China, have suspended imports of Brazilian meat as a
precaution, and eight others have stopped imports from the
plants under investigation.
Brazil exported beef, chicken, pork and other meat products
worth $1.76 billion to EU members in 2017, and a similar amount
to China, where some of the largest Chinese food suppliers have
pulled Brazilian beef and poultry from shelves.
Brazilian President Michel Temer said he would call his
Chinese counterpart to urge China to review its import ban.
Maggi said on Wednesday that Brazilian meat exports sank to
$74,000 on Tuesday from a daily average of $63 million. He told
a congressional hearing the scandal could cost the meatpackers
$1.5 billion or 10 percent of annual meat exports.
He said on Thursday the police announcement of the
corruption probe was exaggerated and wrongly suggested meat
quality was being investigated instead of the individuals who
violated sanitary rules.
Still, European farm groups Copa and Cogeca said corruption
cases were unacceptable.
Brazil's failure to apply EU-equivalent food safety
standards raises "serious concerns" about ongoing trade talks
between the EU and South American trade bloc Mercosur that
Brazil is part of, they said in a letter to the EU Commission.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Tom Brown and Peter