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Brazil’s meat industry underwent significant scrutiny in 2017 when that country’s Federal Police uncovered a nationwide scheme of corruption involving meat producers and inspectors. Dubbed the Carne Fraca (“weak flesh”) Operation, authorities determined that officials in Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA) facilitate the production of adulterated meat products in exchange for money. The ensuing investigation resulted in major changes in MAPA’s oversight of meat and meat products, as well as increased attention in Brazil and in countries around the world to the health and safety of food products from Brazil.
Andrea Zandoná and Simone Morgado Reis are at the forefront of helping meat producers in Brazil meet the challenges of their country’s response to the Carne Fraca Operation. Based at TÜV SÜD’s SFDK Laboratório de Análise de Produtos in São Paulo, Zandoná and Reis have a combined 35 years of scientific and business experience in food safety. As such, they are well-positioned to understand the importance of strong quality control systems in meat production operations, as well as the actions that meat producers can take to reduce the risk of unsafe meat products reaching consumers.
Zandoná and Reis recently spoke with Food & Health E-ssentials about the challenges facing meat producers in Brazil today, as well as many the positive developments that have occurred over the past year to help ensure the quality and safety of meat and meat products from that country.
Food & Health E-ssentials: Tell us a little bit about yourselves and your professional backgrounds.
Andrea Zandona: I hold a degree in Biology and an M.A. in Quality from Universidade de São Paulo. I have been working at
TÜV SÜD SFDK since 2000, first as a coordinator in the microscopy lab, and then as a Quality System Manager. Since July I´ve been working as Head of Microbiology and Cosmetics.
Simone Morgado Reis: I hold a degree in Chemistry and Pharmacy and an M.A. in Organic Chemistry from Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro. I worked five years in research at the university and 14 years in lab analysis. In those 14 years I worked with different matrices and different technologies. Now I am Head of Chemistry and Chromatography from TÜV SÜD lab.
F&HE: Statistically, Brazil is the projected to be the fourth largest market in the world for food and food products by the year 2022, with annual food expenditures estimated at over $509 billion (USD)1. If you can, provide us with a general understanding of the importance of the meat and meat products industry to food production and consumption in Brazil.
AZ & SMR: Brazil is the largest producer of meat and meat products in the world, which is driven by both internal demand and record exports. Based on data from Brazil’s Secretary of Exterior Affairs (Secex/Mdic) compiled by the Brazilian Association of Frigorific (Abrafrigo), Brazilian exports of beef (fresh and processed) in September of this year totaled 178.51 thousand tonnes, 32 percent more than in September 2017 and a record for the period. This translates into revenue of $698 million (USD), a 26 percent increase. On an annualised basis, Brazil now exports 1.19 million of tonnes of beef with a value of approximately $4.9 billion (USD).
These statistics represent a positive development for Brazil’s meat industry and for consumers around the world. Brazil’s 2017 Carne Fraca Operation generated global concerns that the market for meat and meat products would be adversely impacted if our country could not overcome the challenges and improve controls on production and commercialisation of meat. However, if the trends over the past year continue, it appears that Brazil will be able to support the growing global demand for quality meat and meat products at competitive prices.
F&HE: In 2017, Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA) released a report predicting strong growth in several sectors of the country’s agriculture sector in 2018 and 2019, including growth in meat and meat products industry2. From your perspective, how are those growth projections holding up?
AZ & SMR: The growth in the agriculture sector has been mainly sustained by grain and meat exports to countries around the world, especially to China. At the same time, however, there are a number of potential challenges ahead of us, such as changes in the feeding habits of consumers as well as concerns regarding the general state of the global economy. As a country, Brazil cannot make the mistake of disregarding these important considerations and must plan for a variety of alternative scenarios that could adversely impact our agro-economy.
F&HE: Despite threats of a global tariff war and the recent levying of temporary tariffs by China on certain meat products from Brazil, international markets for Brazilian meat and meat products are expected to continue to grow in the coming years, according to projections by the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association3. Just how important are exports to the Brazilian meat industry?
AZ & SMR: As the figures mentioned earlier illustrate, meat export is very important not only for meat industry but for our national economy. The export depends on a complex combination of conditions on the market, such as exchange rates, commercial barriers, technical/sanitary requests and regional commerce trade deals like Mercosul or Pacific Trade. There are potential markets in which Brazil could increase sales like the European Union, Japan and even the U.S.
But it’s not just about foreign trade. Meat is an important source of protein, the principal nutrient for human life. Any disruption in the meat industry could result in food uncertainty, not only to Brazil’s 206 million inhabitants but to billions of human beings all over the world who depend on Brazilian meat. This is why we must work to ensure that there are strong, verifiable quality control measures in place in meat production and distribution facilities throughout our country.
F&HE: Aside from exports, what do you view as some of the other primary areas of economic opportunity for meat producers in Brazil?
AZ & SMR: One important area of opportunity is within our own internal market right here in Brazil. Better control and assurances regarding the quality and safety of our meat and meat products can help to drive increased consumption. From 2008 to 2015 we have had a significant growth of our middle-class population. Although there have been some economic setbacks during the last three years, more and more people can now afford to have meat in their plates more days a week. Our meat industry needs to make additional investments in critical supply chain management issues that directly affect quality and safety, such as distribution, storage, improved tracking of cattle and other food security matters. Also, new consumer values must be considered such as drug-free feed for cattle, organic feeding and humane slaughter systems.
F&HE: Describe for us if you can the key aspects of testing and inspection requirements applicable to meat and meat products produced in Brazil.
AZ & SMR: Today, Brazil’s MAPA has authority over all foods of animal origin. Testing of meat samples assesses the level of pathogens, residues and contaminants in order to evaluate the effectiveness of a producer’s sanitary controls, and to identify areas for potential improvement. The frequency with which individual producers are evaluated is typically based on their volume of production as well as the outcome of prior federal inspections.
F&HE: Within the past year, the Carne Fraca Operation on the testing of meat products in your country resulted in the arrest and prosecution of senior executives of a major poultry exporter for falsifying safety test results of their food products. What has been the effect of the Carne Fraca Operation on the inspection of food production facilities in Brazil and the testing of meat products?
AZ & SMR: The Ministry took immediate action when the crisis came to light, suspending the export certificates of approximately 20 different meat producers and launching new, independent audits of others. The Ministry also moved quickly to adopt a number of internal changes intended to strengthen its oversight of meat production practices in Brazil, and to clearly demonstrate to both meat producers and importers that the issues uncovered by the Carne Fraca Operation were being addressed.
TÜV SÜD was the first privately-held food laboratory approved by MAPA’s Federal Inspection Service since 1995. Since Carne Fraca, many major meat producers have contacted us to conduct their testing since a number of our competitors have been suspended by MAPA. It has been an exciting challenge to accept this sudden increase of business and to keep these new customers satisfied.
F&HE: So, given these challenges, what are some of the steps that producers and importers of meat and meat products can take to help ensure the safety of their products?
AZ & SMR: Actually, the most important thing that producers and importers of Brazilian meat and meat products can do is to listen to their customers. Consumers today have tremendous power in the marketplace. While quality and convenience are still important to them, they increasingly seek out products from producers who meet their expectations regarding environmentally sustainable practices and the humane treatment of animals. Producers whose practices align with these values are likely to be viewed more favorably by consumers in the highly-competitive global food market.
F&HE: Tell us about the testing and inspection services that TÜV SÜD provides to meat producers and importers seeking to take advantage of the opportunities in the Brazilian market.
AZ & SMR: TÜV SÜD SFDK offers accredited tests to the market according to the requests of high-level institutes such as MAPA and INMETRO. Our portfolio of testing and accreditation covers of all the analysis required by both Brazilian authorities as well as regulators in other global jurisdictions such as the U.S., the European Union and Japan. These analyses include microbiologic, pathogenic and the physical quality control of chemicals in foods.
F&HE: Finally, what’s in the future for the meat and meat products industry in your country, and how is TÜV SÜD positioned to support the Brazilian meat industry in the years ahead?
AZ & SMR: Despite a number of recent challenges, we believe that the future is bright indeed for meat producers in Brazil. Our services can help support their efforts to bring to market healthy meat and meat products that are also safe and nutritious to eat. And TÜV SÜD accreditation is widely recognized by regulators, food importers and retailers around the world as a mark of quality and safety!