A new report from the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture has found there was no evidence of salmonella contamination in samples of poultry meat tested by authorities prior to it being exported to the European Union (EU).
According to the findings, the samples showed no signs of typhimurium or enteritidis – the two strains of salmonella dangerous to humans – suggesting that authorities had no cause to be suspicious about Brazilian exports of meat.
It comes after a widespread food corruption probe in which employees of some of Brazil’s biggest meat companies – including JBS and BRF – were accused of bribing health officials to allow unsafe meat to be exported overseas. Those implicated in the investigation were accused of paying inspectors, as well as politicians, to overlook unsanitary conditions and potentially contaminated or rotten meat.
The controlling shareholder of JBS, J&F Investimentos, was forced to pay a record $3.2 billion fine at the start of the month after it admitted JBS had been involved in the malpractice.
The Brazilian government’s latest findings, which apparently exonerate it from blame, will be taken with a pinch of salt by many onlookers, given the apparent involvement of some government officials in allowing the bribery to take place.
The Ministry of Agriculture explained the importance of providing answers to the scandal.
Its report said: “The European community is one of the priorities because it is an established customer that buys a lot [of meat], which helped Brazil to improve its agricultural defences with its own requirements.”
The department has also unveiled new efforts to prevent a recurrence of the scandal, saying that 300 veterinarians will be hired to accompany federal auditors in cold-storage plants to ensure that food safety levels are maintained.
“In the second half of the year, Brazil will send veterinary missions to several European countries, such as the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Germany and the Czech Republic,” the ministry said.
In 2016, countries of the European bloc bought US $ 1.8 billion of meat from Brazil and, until May, imports reached US $ 648 million. Poultry is the flagship export, accounting for more than half of meat exports in the first five months of 2017, followed by beef cuts on $221 million.
The improvement is based on a recommendation from European colleagues, who insisted on the need for refrigerators to improve product inspection and greater numbers of food safety inspectors.
There were concerns that the scandal would rock Brazil’s meat industry in the long term.
Many of the world’s major economies curtailed or suspended imports of Brazilian meat, after plants belonging to BRF and JBS – as well as smaller company Grupo Peccin – were targeted by police. At one point, at least 35 countries were involved in the restrictions, FoodBev reported in March.
But in April, officials from the Ministry of Development, Foreign Trade and Services (MDIC) claimed that ‘the worst had passed’, which noted that shipments quickly normalised following the scandal and total meat exports in the month of March actually grew.