Ban on Brazilian meat leaves customers in limbo

Some of China's largest food suppliers have pulled Brazilian beef and poultry from their shelves in the first concrete sign that a deepening scandal over Brazil's meat processing industry is hitting business in its top export market.

Rotten meat scandal hits importers, shippers, food processors and consumers worldwide

SHANGHAI • Mr Zhang Lian has 270 tonnes of frozen Brazilian beef on a ship steaming towards Shanghai that he may not be able to get through Customs when the vessel arrives next month.

Mr Zhang's Shanghai Yadong- sheng Import-Export Ltd trades US$200 million (S$280 million) of meat annually, part of the global supply chain that keeps China fed.

China's decision to halt imports of Brazil's meat until the authorities are sure it is safe has left Mr Zhang with some worried customers.

"It's a bad situation," said Mr Zhang, an import manager. "We're telling customers who ordered those containers to be patient. We are advising new customers to avoid ordering Brazilian beef for the foreseeable future."

Brazil is the world's largest beef and chicken exporter, accounting for almost a fifth of global exports, and its investigation into the possibility that some of that food is tainted has hit importers, shippers, food processors and customers around the world.

The crisis arose after the Brazilian authorities announced on March 17 they are investigating evidence that food producers bribed government officials to approve the sale of spoilt meat. Prosecutors said some sausages and cold cuts contained animal parts such as pig heads, and there were cases where cardboard was added to meat products or acid was used to mask the smell of tainted meat.

It takes a month or longer for meat from Brazil to reach Asian ports, so cargoes already loaded are now in limbo. China is the biggest export market for Brazilian meat, buying about a third of the US$5.5 billion of beef shipped from Latin America's largest economy last year. Japan, Canada, Mexico and Switzerland have also curtailed meat imports from Brazil.

In Brazil, the biggest meat packers are trying to limit damage from the probes. JBS and BRF took out full-page newspaper ads and paid for prime-time television spots to reassure consumers that their meat is safe. Two executives at JBS and three at BRF are among those being investigated, police said.

Brazil's President Michel Temer hosted an all-you-can-eat steak dinner on Sunday for ambassadors of major buyers. The Chinese envoy sat next to him at the restaurant.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2017, with the headline 'Ban on Brazilian meat leaves customers in limbo'. Print Edition | Subscribe