Police on Saturday detained an executive of BRF SA, as the meat company and rival JBS SA took out full-page advertisements to burnish their image after raids to investigate alleged bribes paid to conceal unsanitary conditions in Brazil’s meatpacking facilities.
Roney Nogueira, a government relations executive with BRF, turned himself into police for questioning at Guarulhos airport in Sao Paulo, according to a BRF spokesman.
The company, along with JBS, is part of a massive meatpacking industry that in recent years made Brazil one of the world’s top exporters of meat.
Police sought Nogueira, who was returning to Brazil from South Africa, because he allegedly discussed bribing health inspectors, including one who helped prevent the closure of a plant in the state of Goias, according to court documents.
Police said raids on Friday were prompted by evidence that some meatpackers had paid inspectors and politicians to overlook the processing of rotten meat and exports with fraudulent documentation and even traces of salmonella.
Federal police served hundreds of court orders, including more than 30 detention warrants, in what local media said is the largest police operation in the nation’s history.
It is alleged that some of the meat, including sausages and cold cuts, was adulterated with ingredients including pig heads, and that suspect smells were masked by applying acid.
Some of the tainted meat was sold for school meals or to retail chains, according to police and Brazil’s Federal Revenue agency. Some was exported — police allege three BRF cargoes tainted with salmonella are still en route to Europe.
Highlighting the importance to Brazil of agriculture, one of the few vibrant sectors in an economy still struggling from two years of recession, Brazilian President Michel Temer was yesterday scheduled to meet with meat industry executives, a government spokeswoman said.
On Saturday, JBS and BRF launched a public relations offensive to deflect a crisis that threatens an industry with US$12 billion in annual exports.
In a statement late on Saturday, BRF said some allegations made by police were false or based on faulty understanding.
“BRF never sold rotten meat,” the company said, adding that mentions of spoiled or contaminated products by police were tied to smaller meatpackers unrelated to the company.
JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, in advertising Saturday made similar clarifications, noting that allegations of “adulterated products do not involve any JBS brands.”
The detection of salmonella in four containers of meat shipped from a BRF plant to Italy violated no regulations in Brazil or Europe, the company said in its separate statement to the media, adding that the strain of the bacteria was considered safe by regulators.
BRF also said allegations that cardboard had been found in its sausage meat were false.
EU Ambassador to Brazil Joao Gomes Cravinho on Saturday said that the bloc had asked Brazilian officials for more information about Friday’s raids and whether the problems indicated a systemic problem or isolated incidents.
“We have to protect the safety of consumers,” he said.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg