China, Egypt resume Brazilian meat imports

People work at a production line of the JBS-Friboi chicken processing plant in Lapa, Brazil on March 21, 2017.
People work at a production line of the JBS-Friboi chicken processing plant in Lapa, Brazil on March 21, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

CAIRO (REUTERS) - Egypt has resumed imports of Brazilian meat, the agriculture ministry said on Saturday (March 25), two days after it said it was suspending them until the meat was confirmed safe for consumption.

The ministry said in a statement it had resumed imports from authorised Brazilian slaughterhouses, adding shipments would be subject to checks both in the country of origin and on arrival in Egypt.

Brazil has been investigating how meatpackers allegedly paid off inspectors to overlook practices including processing rotten meat, shipping exports with traces of salmonella and not carrying out inspections of plants.

The companies involved have denied any wrongdoing and authorities have said that no cases of death or illness have been linked to the tainted meat investigation.

Brazil’s Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said China has also lifted its suspension on imports of Brazilian meat on Saturday following a clarification of inspection irregularities uncovered in a police investigation into the alleged bribery of health officials.

Chinese authorities will keep the ban in place for only one chicken processing plant in the southern Brazilian state of Parana operated by Seara Alimentos Ltda, another senior Brazilian agriculture official said. 

Sources in China also said that Beijing had forbidden the entry of meat approved by seven Brazilian veterinary experts. Brazilian meat imports have already started being cleared in Shanghai, one of the sources said. 

“Lifting the suspension was the result of a giant effort by Brazil to explain that the investigation targeted the conduct of individuals and not the quality of the meat,” Maggi told Reuters.

“China has accepted our explanations and we will continue sending products there without restrictions except for the plants that we ourselves decided to suspend.”

Brazil is the top supplier of beef to China, accounting for about 31 percent of its imports in the first half of last year. The second supplier, Australia, is still rebuilding its herd after drought and is not seen as able to meet China’s fast-growing demand. 

The South American country also supplies more than 85 per cent of China’s poultry meat imports, according to the United States agriculture department. 

Other major producers, such as the United States and some smaller European markets, are banned from supplying to China due to bird flu outbreaks. 

Brazil President Michel Temer plans to call Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the coming days, an aide to Temer aide told Reuters. 

Brazil suspended exports from 21 meat processing plants following the federal police investigation in alleged bribery of health inspectors made public last week.

Only one is authorized to export directly to mainland China – the plant operated by Seara Alimentos Ltda, which is owned by Brazil’s JBS SA , the world’s biggest meatpacking company. 

On March 20, China suspended imports of all meat products from Brazil, the world’s top beef exporter, as a precautionary measure after inspectors there were accused of taking bribes to allow sales of tainted food.