Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Last week, the Federal Police announced their lastest investigation, entitled “Carne Fraca” or “weak flesh” in English. The primary targets were not politicians, but rather numerous meat processing and packing plants (“frigoríficos”) as well as Brazilian behemoth beef merchants BRF and JBS.
The charges are that the plants were selling, both in Brazil and abroad, meat that was spoiled but had been adulterated with chemicals designed to hide the rot. Officials of Brazil’s Agricultural Ministry (“MAPA”) regularly inspect the plants, and products they produce there can only be sold with a seal of approval.
It turns out that many of the MAPA officials had been taking bribes to overlook practices that are illegal, for instance injecting chemicals into spoiled meat to make it appear all right. Another alleged offense involved using meat from the heads of pigs to make sausage.
The Curmudgeon has, in his professional capacity, visited a meat processing plant in Brazil, and watched as steers were turned into steaks. Where he visited, the plant was, as far as he could tell, doing everything right. The plant was proud to announce that it could convert 97 percent of the steer, from hide to hoofs, into something people would buy and use.
We did discover that there are many areas where the MAPA inspectors could have looked the other way, for instance the absence of identifying ear tags on the steers to be processed, or the incorrect disposal of by-products, or a lack of proper temperature controls, but nothing that seriously endangered human life or health. After all, inspectors are people too.
MAPA inspectors typically spend at least a year assigned to a plant. Most plants are in small towns, where the inspectors reside and make friends. Plants are always tempted to cut corners, and once the inspectors have become part of the family, as it were, there are strong social pressures not to penalize or denounce a plant where friends and neighbors earn their livelihood. The spirit is as weak as the flesh.
So, yes, stuff happens, but it’s mostly small potatoes, compared to the billions involved in the Lava Jato and Petrolão schemes. Aside from the rare cases involving health hazards, petty corruption of this type does not merit the publicity the federal police have sought.
Moreover, it requires the government to prove to foreign countries that there really is no danger to consumers, which is extremely difficult where headlines fan the flames of suspicion.
So, where’s the beef? Will the police begin to talk turkey? Or will they play games of chicken with the public prosecutor to see who’s more macho?
The Curmudgeon wishes this distraction had not occurred and that the police would get back to investigating true criminals.