Operation Weak Flesh, launched a little more than a week ago by the Federal Police, sparked the debate about the quality of meat produced and traded in Brazil. Among the accusations and reports against processing plants and law enforcement agents, commercial embargoes and the government's guarantee that the quality of Brazilian meat can be taken for granted, Agência Brasil has put together a Q&A to clarify some of the issues connected with the probe.
What does Operation Weak Flesh probe into?
According to the Federal Police, Operation Weak Flesh aims to dismantle a corruption scheme involving agricultural inspectors at the Ministry of Agriculture as well as the owners of meat processing plants in the Brazilian states of Paraná, Minas Gerais, and Goiás.
The Federal Police allege that the law enforcement agents under investigation pocketed bribes from the companies in order to issue sanitary reports without proper inspection, and that the scheme allowed expired and adulterated products to be commercialized. Substances are believed to be used to mask tainted meat.
Who is being investigated under Operation Weak Flesh?
A total 27 court warrants have been issued for preventive detention, 11 for temporary arrest, 77 for condução coercitiva (individuals are taken to the police for questioning), and 194 for search and seizure. Altogether, 21processing plants are being probed as part of the operation. The Ministry of Agriculture has also ousted 33 law enforcement agents from their posts. Information in the case reveals that two officials from the ministry spearhead the scheme. Investigators also believe there are ramifications, with their own leaders, in the cities of Londrina and Foz do Iguaçu, in the Southern state of Paraná; and Goiânia, Goiás, in the Central-West. Products from three plants have been banned from trade: the BRF's Mineiros unit, in Goiás, and Peccin Agro Industrial's units in Jaraguá do Sul, in Santa Catarina state, and Curitiba, in Paraná.
What sparked the probe?
Investigations started after a complaint was filed by agriculture inspector Daniel Gouvêa Teixeira, in 2015. He claimed employees were being kept away from their duties in order to serve the interests of executives. He said he had become aware of a corruption scheme involving law enforcement agents and officials from the Paraná branch of the Ministry of Agriculture.
The individuals under suspicion had their phone conversations intercepted and their bank and tax secrecy lifted following the complaint. They were also ordered to give testimonies.
How did the probe reverberate?
In addition to the warrants by the Federal Police, Operation Weak Flesh made Brazilian consumers more cautious. In the external market, the probe led to the suspension of Brazilian meat exports headed for 14 countries plus the European Union.
The government has sought to restore the credibility of the Brazilian meat. Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi went to the Senate to provide clarifications on law enforcement. He also took part in inspection efforts a processing plant in Paraná and a supermarket in Brasília. Moreover, the government has talked to authorities overseas in a bid to reverse the ban on the meat products. President Michel Temer went as far as to describe Brazilian meat as “the best in the world.”
The ministry also announced the ouster of the officials mentioned by the investigators and the removal of individuals occupying appointed positions.
What do the companies have to say on the matter?
BRF and JBS tried to play down the impact made by the accusations. Through advertisement campaigns, the firms attempted to rebut the information released by the crackdown. JBS claims that no mention has been made of sanitary irregularities committed by the company and that no factory was ordered out of operation. The firm also argues that no executive has been named in the operation.
BRF denied the allegations it sold tainted meat and attributed the accusation of using cardboard in ground meat to a misinterpretation of data by the Federal Police. The giant also said that the factory in Mineiros had its operations halted as a preventive measure imposed by the Ministry of Agriculture, but said operations should be resumed soon. BRF pledged to collaborate with investigators in an attempt to prevent corruption-related practices in the company.
Meatpacker Argus, which had one of its employee accused of breaking into the Ministry of Agriculture inspection system, denied the accusations on its Facebook page. JJZ Beef, in Goiânia, said that the 353-page-long police report, it was named in one paragraph only, and said it was convinced no irregularities had been committed.
Meatpacker Rainha da Paz also denied irregularities and promised to collaborate with the probe. Other companies mentioned made no comments on the crackdown on their official websites or social networking pages.
Where are the next steps of the operation headed?
In a statement made on March 21, following criticism on the way the first pieces of information were made public, the Federal Police said the irregularities spotted during the probe are isolated and “do not represent generalized malfunction in the Brazilian sanitary integrity system.”
Also on March 21, the temporary arrest warrant targeting 11 people charged by the investigators expired, and three had their expiry date extended. No date has been estimated for the creation of a new Federal Police task force or for the processing plants that had their operations interrupted to resume their activities.
How does Brazilian law mandate inspections should be conducted?
The law governing the inspection of products of animal origin stipulates that a so-called Federal Inspection Service certificate (SIF in the original Portuguese acronym) must be issued so that goods can be traded countrywide and for exports to be granted permission. In order for the SIF to be issued, a company needs to meet a number of technical and sanitary requirements in its units. Under the law, a product must be inspected throughout its production process and officials must be posted at processing plants to keep a close watch on the slaughter as well as other stages of production.
In addition to the SIF certificate—granted by the Department for the Inspection of Products of Animal Origin, a government agency linked to the Ministry of Agriculture—there is the State Inspection certificate (SIE), required for trade within states, and also the Municipal Inspection Service (SIM), for commercialization within municipalities.
Translated by Fabrício Ferreira