Brazilian police announced on 17 March that, after a two-year probe, they had discovered evidence that a number of beef and poultry plants allegedly bribed inspectors to overlook improper practices. This facilitated the export of meat unfit for human consumption. 21 Brazilian establishments are concerned. Most of them produce for the domestic market and only 4 of them are approved for meat export to the EU.
My Department is closely monitoring this case through our Embassy in Brasilia who are in direct contact with the Brazilian authorities, and through the European Commission.
As soon as the story broke on Saint Patricks Day, the European Commission asked for clarification from the Brazilian authorities. It is the Commission which approves the Third Countries for export of meat into the EU on behalf of MS.
On 19 March the Brazilian authorities (MAPA) confirmed that they had been informed of the Federal Police Operation on 17 March. Based on information received, they suspended certification from the 4 establishments under investigation that were approved for export to the EU.
On 20 March the Commission requested full information on all exports to the EU from the 4 establishments since 1 January 2017, and asked the Brazilian authorities to recall any consignments in transit. The Commission also suggested the suspension of certification from all other establishments approved for export to the EU, pending the outcome of a full investigation.
On 21 March I wrote to Commissioner Andriukaitis, supporting the suggestion to suspend certification from all other establishments approved for export to the EU.
Food safety is a shared responsibility between national and EU authorities. Food business operators in the EU also carry out their own quality and safety checks in line with their responsibilities to ensure that their products are safe.
My Department is in charge of carrying out controls on imports (at Border Inspection Posts – BIPs). The EU imposes strict hygiene and safety controls on food imports, and in particular on animal products for which documentary, identity and physical checks are compulsory for meat products imports. These are implemented here in Ireland by veterinary staff from my Department at the Border Inspection Posts.
The checks on all Brazilian product are now being intensified in light of current developments. Following on from a meeting of the Chief Veterinary Officers of the EU on 24 March it was unanimously decided at the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed that there would now be 100% physical checks on all Brazilian shipments presented for import to the EU as well as 20% microbiological checks on said consignments.
On the subject of removing beef from the EU-Mercosur FTA talks, I have been very active in highlighting the potentially damaging impact of a Mercosur deal on the European agriculture sector, and on the beef sector in particular. Following intense lobbying from Ireland and other EU Member states, the Commission decided to exclude a TRQ for beef when it exchanged offers with Mercosur on 11 May 2016.
I will continue to raise the issue with Commissioners Malmström and Hogan, both within and outside the Council of Agriculture Ministers. I will also continue to monitor the situation closely in co-operation with my Member State colleagues, as well as with my Government colleagues.