Brazil beefs up agribusiness governance after meatpacker scandal
BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's Ministry of Agriculture launched a program on Tuesday to ensure farmers comply with anti-corruption, environmental and child labor laws, after a highly publicized meatpacking scandal raised doubts about the country's food products.
The program set up by the ministry and the farm lobby CNA will grant an agricultural seal of integrity to companies that comply.
"The seal of integrity will show domestic and international consumers that the company is producing food according to the highest standards of quality," Deputy Agriculture Minister Eumar Novacki told Reuters.
A police investigation uncovered evidence in March that some meatpacking plants were bribing inspectors to overlook outdated and tainted food. The probe targeted companies including BRF SA, the world's biggest poultry exporter, and JBS JBSS3.SA, the No. 1 beef producer. They denied wrongdoing and said their products meet rigorous quality standards.
The scandal closed export markets for Brazilian meat. The country's agribusiness industry suffered billions of dollars in losses and its output shrank 2.6 percent this year, according to the CNA.
The ministry will set up a committee with members from government, business and civil society that will grant the seals of compliance after a six-month review of companies.
Ministry officials said in June that 1,600 additional inspectors were being hired, a 50 percent increase, to expand monitoring at meatpacking facilities.
Novacki said the police investigation called "Weak Flesh," aimed at rooting out corruption, undermined the reputation of Brazilian meat producers.
"We learned that we had to act in a very tough and transparent way to reaffirm worldwide the quality of our food inspection, and so this compliance program to encourage good governance," he said.
Brazil has restored most of its meat markets, though the United States still maintains a ban on Brazilian fresh beef.
The United States blocked imports of Brazilian fresh beef in June, less than a year after opening the market to Brazil. U.S. officials said inspections of arriving shipments uncovered defects such as abscesses, prohibited tissues and unidentified material in the meat.
Novacki blamed protectionist pressures from U.S. meat producers for the ban but said talks with the U.S. government have been "very positive," adding it should be lifted soon.
(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by David Gregorio)