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U.S. audit finds food safety problems continue for Brazil’s meat

The first U.S. audit of Brazil’s food safety system since Operation Weak Flesh exposed corruption in the South American nation’s meat industry fell short of being clean.

In transmitting the audit on Nov. 9, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) told Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA) that more work needs to be done to address concerns identified by the U.S. auditors.

FSIS personnel conducted the on-site audit from May 15 to June 2 to see if Brazil’s meat inspection system “remains equivalent” to that of the United States.

The timing meant the FSIS team was in Brazil after raids March 17 by that country’s Federal Police in connection with rampant bribery of meat inspectors. In June, after the U.S. auditors’ trip, the U.S. suspended Brazilian meat imports citing “recurring concerns about the safety of products intended for the American market.”

Operation Weak Flesh saw more than 1,000 armed Federal Police raid 194 locations, targeting managers who bribed health inspectors to get government certificates to export their meat products.

Initially, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue opted not to join other counties in late March by banning Brazilian meat. FSIS instead stepped up checks on meat shipments from Brazil. Between March and June, however, it refused entry to about 11 percent of the Brazilian fresh beef products, which amounted to 1.9 million pounds.

“The purpose of the audit was to determine whether Brazil’s meat inspection systems remain equivalent to that of the United States, with the ability to export products that are safe, wholesome, unadulterated, and correctly labeled and packaged,” according to the report.

At the time of the audit, Brazil “was approved to export raw intact, ready-to-eat (RTE), not-ready-to-eat (NRTE) processed, and thermally processed commercially sterile (TPCS) meat.”

The audit report includes findings in six areas including oversight, authorities, sanitation, HACCP systems and chemical residue testing. Under each subject area, FSIS looked at the “equivalence components” and then expressed its concerns.

Oversight
Brazil “has not developed policies and procedures to identify potential areas where conflicts of interest could arise between inspection personnel and the regulated establishments where they work,” the audit report says.

Nor does Brazil have any way to verify that information provided to supervisory veterinarians gets communicated to subordinates, or that in-plant inspectors do their assigned duties. Brazil also does not have a system for assessing the competence of in-plant inspection personnel assigned to U.S. certified establishments.

Statutory Authority
Concerning food safety and other consumer protection regulations, FSIS says Brazil’s high-level officials do not review and follow up on supervisory reports. Brazil’s post-mortem inspection procedures are inadequate, according to FSIS auditors. They also pointed to “a trend of abnormal container violations” for thermally processed, commercially sterile meat exported to the U.S.

Sanitation
FSIS found Brazil’s inspection personnel do not adequately enforce sanitation regulatory requirements to prevent unsanitary conditions and direct product contamination.

HACCP
FSIS auditors found Brazil’s inspection personnel do not accurately assess the design and implementation of establishment Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) systems and do not conduct adequate verification product sampling.

Chemical residue testing
The audit team visited three government laboratories to conduct a chemical and microbiological analysis. It found Brazil uses methods that are inconsistent with FSIS requirements. And in-plant inspectors do not hold livestock carcasses selected for residue sampling until results are known.

Brazil has responded to the FSIS audit findings in writing, and the meat and poultry exporting country also promised to address “all outstanding concerns” as identified in the draft final audit report.

For its part, FSIS says it “will evaluate the adequacy of the proposed corrective actions and base its activities for future equivalence verification on the information provided.”

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