(Adds announcement of tougher food safety rules)
By Anthony Boadle
BRASILIA, March 29 Brazil needs independent
controls over its meat industry, a top EU health official said
on Wednesday, as he wrapped up a visit to the country rocked by
an anticorruption investigation centering on bribery of its
Brazil's police say in court documents bribes were paid to
cover up serious health violations by some meat companies,
including the sale of rotten and salmonella-contaminated
products. Their probe, dubbed "Operation Weak Flesh," led some
of Brazil's biggest export markets to ban its meats.
The European Union is among the markets that suspended
imports from 21 meat packing plants that are under investigation
in Brazil, which is the world's largest beef and poultry
EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis
Andriukaitis said in an interview that its restrictions and
stepped-up checks on Brazilian meat imports may not be removed
"The situation of meat imports from Brazil will remain under
these reinforced checks until Brazil answers our questions and
after our forthcoming audit team visits Brazil," Andriukaitis
"The situation will be much clearer in a few weeks or
months. The main message to Brazil is that this issue is not
closed. It is about health and quality," he said.
While he said it was not up to the EU to say what inspection
system a country should have, Andriukaitis urged Brazil's
government to introduce more transparent rules that avoid
public-private conflicts of interest.
"The official control system must be independent and not
under the influence of politicians and other actors. We must
guarantee independence of the Brazilian official control
system," he said.
Brazil's federal food inspectors currently report to the
agriculture ministry and the system has come under fire for
having politically appointed supervisors.
Andriukaitis said the EU could announce more measures
related to Brazilian imports after its Agriculture Council meets
on Monday and Tuesday. He declined to be more specific.
Hours after he spoke, President Michel Temer and Agriculture
Minister Blairo Maggi announced new rules for the meat
processing industry, which they said were stricter and clearer.
The highest fine for food sanitary violations rose
dramatically to 500,000 reais ($160,250) from 15,000 reais
previously. Maggi said the rule changes would eliminate the need
for inspectors to interpret antiquated laws that were 65 years
Brazil's Federal Police have accused more than 100 people,
mostly inspectors, of taking bribes in exchange for allowing the
sale of rancid meat products, falsifying export documents or
failing to inspect meatpacking plants at all.
Prosecutors have yet to present charges and the police
allegations have not been proven.
Government officials have sought to downplay the impact of
the probe. But an industry group said on Tuesday that beef
exports alone fell over 40 percent in terms of both volume and
revenue in March 20-26 from the prior week, as a number of
countries imposed temporary bans.
The police investigation into irregularities in Brazil's
meat industry, one of the few robust sectors in an economy
locked in its worst recession on record, was made public on
Hong Kong on Tuesday removed one of the last blanket bans on
Brazilian meat imports after it said it was satisfied by
explanations from Brazilian officials. That followed China's
removal of its restrictions last weekend. Together, the two
Asian nations bought about one-third of Brazil's $14 billion in
meat exports last year.
The EU ranks as the No. 2 importer of Brazilian meats, just
behind Hong Kong and before China, buying $1.7 billion in frozen
and fresh beef, chicken, pork and other meat products last year.
($1 = 3.1200 reais)
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Additional reporting by Stephen
Eisenhammer; Editing by Tom Brown)