By Rod Nickel and Tom Polansek
WINNIPEG, Manitoba/CHICAGO (Reuters) – Meat-importing countries from North America to Europe and Asia have tightened inspection standards for shipments from Brazil in a bid to protect consumers, following a probe into possible corruption involving inspectors.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said on Wednesday that the tighter inspection standards it enacted in April have resulted in checks on nearly every shipment from Brazil.
The new Canadian protocols involve full inspection – including tests for pathogens and chemical residues – of all Brazilian meat imports on five consecutive shipments from each approved plant and for each product category, CFIA spokeswoman Maria Kubacki said.
Previously, CFIA conducted one full inspection randomly out of 10 consecutive shipments from each Brazilian plant.
The tougher reviews highlight concerns about the safety of Brazilian meat even among countries that still accept its products. The United States last week banned imports of fresh Brazilian beef after a high percentage of shipments failed safety checks.
Brazilian police raided the premises of global meatpacking companies JBS SA <JBSS3.SA> and BRF SA <BRFS3.SA> in March, as well as dozens of smaller rivals, over suspected bribery of health officials..
Since then, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has re-inspected shipments of raw beef and ready-to-eat food products from Brazil and tested them for pathogens. All beef trimmings are now tested for salmonella and E. coli.
The checks have uncovered problems in fresh beef, including abscesses, blood clots, bones and lymphoid tissue, according to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service
Re-inspections at U.S. ports are directed by a centralized computer database that stores past inspection results from each foreign establishment. Better-performing foreign plants are subject to less frequent re-inspections, according to the USDA.
To meet the stiffer inspection requirements from importers, Brazil has raised its own standards for meat exported from the country.
Meat-processing plants in Brazil are now blocked from shipping the front part of a cow as a whole piece, and must instead process it into cuts, a step that makes it easier to detect defects but adds cost for packers, Luis Rangel, Brazil’s plant and animal health secretary, said in an interview on Tuesday.
“We had to raise the bar because of the United States, and … you do not raise the bar for only one export market, you raise it for all of them,” Rangel said. “Processing costs will rise, but that is necessary to preserve the markets.”
Enforcing the higher standards is complicated, however, by a shortage of inspectors in Brazil.
In Europe, authorities now conduct physical checks of all animal-related shipments from Brazil, and perform laboratory tests on 20 percent of them, at the importers’ cost, according to a document issued by the Council of the European Union on June 9.
The EU requires Brazil to conduct microbiological checks on poultry and other meats before they are shipped.
Hong Kong has since March boosted surveillance on Brazil’s meat and poultry, including sampling for meat deterioration and other food safety concerns, a spokesman for Hong Kong’s Center for Food Safety said. As of June 23, a total of 369 samples were tested and all were satisfactory, he said.
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Tom Polansek in Chicago, Marcelo Teixeira in Sao Paulo, Nigel Hunt in London and Dominique Patton in Beijing; editing by Grant McCool and Marguerita Choy)