Countries that imported meat from the Brazilian meat scandal companies

Oxford, April 12th, 2017

“It will be hard for the world to reach its goals of a deforestation-free economy if we can’t see what is happening in the world’s supply chains.”

New information shows that a total of 60 countries have been at risk of importing contaminated meat from Brazilian companies fined in a food scandal that has shaken confidence in the world’s biggest meat exporter.

The Brazilian meat investigation, known as ‘Carne Fraca’, centres around tainted meat, bribery and other malpractice in the multi-billion dollar meat industry.

Data compiled by Trase (Transparency for Sustainable Economies), an initiative launched in November 2016 and led by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), and the Oxford-based Global Canopy Programme (GCP), shows that three of the Brazilian companies indicted specifically for supplying tainted meat regularly exported to countries including the USA, Canada and several European nations.

Though Brazilian police announced they were investigating 21 beef, pork, and chicken processing plants out of thousands, until now there has been little or no information made available about how many or which countries could have imported products tainted with masking agents or repackaged after passing its sell-by date.

Dr Sarah Lake, Head of GCP’s Supply Chains Programme, said: “Thanks to previous, well-established trading patterns, it is possible to identify where tainted meat may have gone.”

Using official customs data and business registries from the Brazilian government, Trase researchers, in collaboration with Brazilian organization Imaflora, determined that meat supplied by three Brazilian firms, Seara Alimentos, BRF, and Central de Carnes Paranaense, was shipped to 60 countries in 2016. These three firms were the only ones under investigation for tainted meat who also exported chicken, pork, or beef.

Trase researchers used Brazilian customs data to show that these companies shipped over USD152.6million worth of meat in 2016 to Japan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and China alone, and smaller amounts to countries such as the USA, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Singapore.

The annual value of these companies’ meat exports to the 60 countries in 2016 was just under USD250 million. Whilst it is impossible to determine what fraction of these exports in 2016 may have comprised tainted meat, even a preliminary assessment of export data illustrates the potential scale of exposure that this scandal may have precipitated.

When the Carne Fraca investigation was announced last month, some countries, including China, imposed total bans on Brazilian meat imports, with many more, including the EU, imposing partial bans.

But an investigation by the Trase initiative suggests that 12 countries banned meat entirely from Brazil, or from specific facilities, although they did not receive any meat in 2016 from the three companies caught tainting meat. Those countries included: Egypt, South Korea, Vietnam, and Panama.

The Brazilian scandal has demonstrated the need for increased transparency in the global food supply chain, so governments and consumers can take action only against companies involved in illegal activities.

Marina Piatto, Manager of the Climate and Agriculture Supply Chain Initiative at Imaflora, said: “A blanket ban punishes a whole nation, or every company in a country, which can be very tough on producers and processors who are trying to do the right thing.

“Of course, consumers and officials in consumer countries will be concerned, but blanket bans are not necessarily the appropriate response in such a situation. Responses to the sort of misconduct exposed in Brazil should be robust, but should also be based on reliable information – information Trase is working to make available for the first time.”

Dr Lake added: “One of the main goals of Trase is to help ensure that more accurate judgments can be made about the sustainability of companies involved in global supply chains. By making global supply chain maps more accessible, the Trase platform enables governments, companies, investors and others to better understand and address the environmental and social impacts linked to their supply chains, including the risk that they may be somehow associated with illegal activity.”

The goal is to expand Trase to cover the trade of other forest-risk commodities elsewhere in the world. One of the initiative´s central aims is to help producer countries, importing countries and the private sector meet their various deforestation commitments by enabling them to check if products from illegally deforested land are being processed and exported.

The Trase platform maps exports of such commodities and links those flows to social and environmental data, including on deforestation, to identify threats to sustainable production.

Dr Toby Gardner, Senior Research Fellow, SEI, said:

“This is not just about Brazil but about the much wider issue of a need for transparency in supply chains broadly. It will be hard for the world to reach its goals of a deforestation-free economy if we can’t see what is happening in the world’s supply chains. Trase will make our ability to do that much greater.”

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