Brazil’s Meat Industry Is Hit With ‘Carne Fraca’ Crisis

Thom Weidlich 03.23.17


As if an ailing economy and a major finance scandal involving state-controlled oil company Petrobras weren’t enough (not to mention the impeachment and removal of its president last year), Brazil has added to its woes with a major crisis surrounding one of its biggest exports: meat. The quick response by companies and the government is a reminder of how much it takes to confront a massive crisis.

Brazil is the world’s leading exporter of beef and chicken. But last week, government authorities revealed they are investigating whether meat producers there sold rotten and salmonella-infected meat by bribing inspectors and through other underhanded methods such as using acid to cover up the smell. The probe has been dubbed the “Carne Fraca,” or “Weak Meat,” investigation.

Apparently, the issue has exploded on social media in Brazil, with people sharing pictures of meat with cardboard sticking out of it (one accusation is that the companies have laced their meat with cardboard).

Several countries, including Chile, China, Japan, and South Africa, and the European Union have taken various methods to address the issue, including outright bans. On Wednesday, Brazil’s agriculture minister said the country’s meat exports had essentially collapsed (the government has blocked exports from the companies under investigation).

A March 20 Bloomberg article (“Brazilian Meat Giants Rush to Contain Scandal”) outlined how the companies and government have been dealing with the crisis

According to the article, the two biggest companies, JBS SA and BRF SA, placed full-page newspaper and primetime television ads to insist their products are safe to eat.

JBS, which says its meat isn’t implicated, also fired up its Twitter account, which it stopped using in 2015, to address the crisis. Its pinned tweet is a 10-point statement about the crisis. “In the Federal Court order that triggered the operation, there is no mention of health irregularities or the quality of JBS products and their brands,” says one (according to Google Translate). The crisis is particularly acute for JBS because in its past advertising it emphasized the quality and safety of its meat.

Family Friendly

BRF ran family-friendly TV spots with the words “the food you are consuming in your home is the same food we’re consuming with our children,” according to Bloomberg. Visitors to BRF’s website are greeted by a pop up window inviting them to check out its link to a fact sheet.

Not everyone has been impressed by the response. “Considering the gravity of the accusations, they should have been faster and more precise to avoid bigger image damages,” Bloomberg quoted Pedro de Camargo Neto, a foreign trade expert and former industry leader.

JBS has been more forceful in its denials that it sells spoiled meat, while BRF has said it follows regulations and is cooperating with the probe.

According to Reuters, Brazil Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi called the investigation “alarmist” while saying the government had suspended exports from 21 meat processing units.

Brazil President Michel Temer has called the situation both a “fuss” and an “economic embarrassment.”

On Sunday March 19, Temer met with diplomats from importer countries to explain that Brazil’s meat is safe. He took some of them out to a steak dinner to prove the point.

It was an all-you-can-eat steak dinner.

Photo Credit: ABIEC