-Article by Rebecca Arce
A corruption scandal involving the Brazilian meat industry was exposed last Friday when 22 companies were accused of selling expired meat. The police operation called “Weak Flesh” suspects the Ministry of Agriculture Farming and Supply inspectors to be involved in the fraud scheme.
According to allegations, inspectors were bribed to license beef warehouses without performing any sanitary inspections. Inspectors who refused to be a part of the bribery were reallocated to other warehouses or fired.
The police obtained recorded phone calls in which owners of warehouses debated on how to sell the expired meat. “They have been using acids and other chemicals in amounts much larger than permitted by law to camouflage the physical appearance of the expired meat,” explained the delegate responsible for the police operation, Maurício Moscardi Grillo, at a news conference on Friday.
The investigation began due to an accusation from one of the Ministry of Agriculture’s inspectors, Daniel Gouvêa Teixeira, who suspected that rotten meat was being sold by companies in Curitiba, Paraná. Some of Teixeira’s attributions as an agricultural inspector were withdrawn in 2014 because he was considered “too rigorous” when inspecting warehouses which stored expired meat. “We usually are in charge of five, six or seven warehouses. It is impossible to do a good job with that many. Since I’m more strict, the companies complained about me, and I was left with only two,” said Teixeiria to the police.
Maria do Rocio do Nascimento, Teixeria’s former boss and head of the Animal Product Inspection Service (Sipoa) in Curitiba, considered as the leader of the fraud scheme, was arrested on Friday.
As Brazil is the world’s biggest beef and poultry-exporting nation, companies under investigation such as BRF Brasil, which control brands like Sadia and Perdix, triggered several worried reactions from the meat industry worldwide.
Over the weekend, many local meat producers in European countries tried to block the import of Brazilian beef. The European Union agricultural organization COPA-CONGECA issued a statement concerning the reliability of Brazil’s sanitary inspections. “We have some of the highest food safety and animal welfare standards in the world which must be met by imports. Otherwise, our safety standards will be compromised,” said Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of the EU organization.
China, Brazil’s largest meat export market, has suspended imports of Brazilian meat since Friday.
Infected Political Scenario
This incident is not the first big corruption scandal involving the Brazilian government. In May 2015, the then-newly reelected president Dilma Rousseff was impeached due to her involvement with several corruption scandals: amongst them, the “Car Wash” operation, which stole millions of Reais from Petrobrás, Brazil’s largest oil company at the time. After being impeached, Dilma’s vice-president, Michel Temer, rose to power.
Unlike popular expectations, impeaching Dilma was not the last battle against corruption in Brazil. The country’s fraud epidemic does not seem to be linked to specific people but to the political system as a whole.
The “Brazilian way of life,” known for always having an unlawful way around situations, only reflects a government that abuses juridical loopholes to perpetuate its unethical legacy.