Brazil Raids Major Global Meat Producers for Alleged Bribery

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March 23 update: JBS temporarily suspended operations in 33 of its 36 meat plants in Brazil because of a “lack of sales,” according to Reuters. A dozen countries suspended all meat imports from Brazil and eight other countries halted imports from the specific plants being investigated.

Guest blog by COK volunteer Simone de Lima, of Brazil:

Just days ago, following a two-year-long investigation, Brazilian police executed hundreds of search and arrest warrants against companies and government officials involved with the meat industry.  The investigation was triggered by a Ministry of Agriculture inspector who refused to join an alleged bribery scheme by meat producers to avoid food safety inspections.

The investigation — dubbed Operation Weak Flesh — went on to reveal systemic corruption in the government oversight of meat safety in more than 30 companies, ranging from smaller slaughterhouses all the way up to BRF and JBS, the global meatpacking “empires.”

JBS, the world’s largest producer of meat from cows, chicken and lambs, owns several other companies, including Pilgrim’s Pride. In 2014, a COK investigation revealed birds buried alive at a Pilgrim’s factory farm in North Carolina. BRF is one of the world’s leading exporters of meat from chicken, turkeys and pigs, responsible for 14% of the world’s poultry market.

Both companies have exported to more than 150 companies, including the USA — since late 2016.

Investigative recordings revealed practices that include:

  • label tampering to extend meat expiration dates
  • strategies to “reuse” meat expired by up to 3 months or contaminated with salmonella, by turning these meats into sausages, spam, or pet food
  • using slaughterhouse “leftovers,” like pig heads or blood, as ingredients in processed meats
  • introducing substances to mask the smell and appearance of rotten meat

BRF was also shown to have sponsored a leading government official’s trip to Europe to “study” technologies aimed at increasing poultry slaughter and processing lines previously not allowed due to animal welfare and worker safety concerns. After the privately sponsored trip, Brazil allowed a 20%  increase in slaughter speed, despite the fact that this opens the doors to even higher levels of animal abuse, with birds potentially being boiled alive.

In a US-based investigation, COK has documented the potential results of increased slaughter speeds and reduced government inspection. Watch our investigation of a high-speed slaughter Hormel supplier.

Neither JBS nor BRF have excelled in their records when it comes to worker’s rights, either. Both companies have, in the past, been convicted of violations: in fact, JBS plants have been shut down for keeping laborers in conditions analogous to slave labor.

Following the news of the probes, JBS shares  fell 10%, whilst BRF’s took a 12% plunge.

The European Union, China, Chile, and Hong Kong issued temporary halts on meat imports from Brazil. South Korea also issued a temporary ban, but that ban has already been lifted.

In Brazil, this investigation has sparked widespread discussions about the impacts of animal agriculture on human health, the environment, workers’ rights, and on the lives of the animals themselves. These discussions have practically taken over the internet and the public arena. Hopefully, more and more people will be looking into where their food comes from—and choosing to opt out of supporting an industry that treats human and non-human animals’ lives with disregard, all across the world.

Simone de Lima is a biologist, and professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Brasília in  Brazil, where she founded  the animal advocacy group ProAnima.

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