A follow-up audit by EU authorities in Brazil has found measures have been put in place to prevent a repeat of the meat scandal uncovered last year, but some areas still need further action.

A criminal investigation, Operation “Carne Fraca,” revealed alleged bribery of food inspectors in beef and poultry plants to allow sale of product unfit to eat and to falsify documents. 

Twenty-six officials were prosecuted. Six have been acquitted of all charges. Those six have resumed official tasks that do not include EU certification.

An audit by the Directorate General for Health and Food Safety conducted from Jan. 22 to Feb. 5 this year was a follow-up procedure to check on recommendations made in May 2017 and actions promised by Brazilian authorities. It covered the production of beef, poultry meat, meat preparations and derived meat products.

They visited nine poultry and four bovine slaughterhouses, 13 cutting plants, nine meat preparations establishments in poultry slaughterhouses and eight meat products sites; two stand-alone and six in slaughterhouses. 

An audit in May 2017 resulted in horse meat exports being halted and demands for 100 percent pre-export checks for Salmonella in poultry meat, meat preparations and meat products exported to the EU. A regime of re-enforced checks for Brazilian meat, preparations and products was also introduced at EU border inspection posts.

Brazilian officials raised concerns about EU restrictions on poultry meat due to Salmonella detection at a November and March meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

Auditors said an overhaul of the competent authority organization is underway to enhance accountability by the state level to the central level and reduce the risk of conflict of interest. They also said full implementation of the new system will require a long time and political support.

Since December 2017, employment of a number of official veterinarians (OVs) on a temporary basis, helped provide the required EU guarantees. A shortage of OV’s in EU-approved slaughterhouses had meant requirements were not fulfilled regarding presence during slaughter and ante and post-mortem phases performed by OVs.

The audit found slaughterhouse staff performed post-mortem inspection in cattle slaughterhouses, which violates Regulation (EC) No 854/2004. Brazilian authorities argued that the controls, although different from those of the EU, still provided an assurance of safety. 

Examples of enforcement actions seen by the audit team included slaughter line stoppages and reductions of line speeds.

At the time of the audit, 15 out of more than 230 active establishments listed for exports to the EU were suspended. Several were banned for up to six months, while developing and implementing action plans to address RASFF notifications.

After an establishment has its certification for export suspended, and if shortcomings are not addressed within 90 days, state authorities must request DIPOA to de-list the plant for these activities. The audit team found the procedures available for suspension and delisting of sites for the EU market are not adequate.

“The provisions in place for suspension and de-listing of non-compliant establishments do not ensure that, where warranted, non-compliant establishments are de-listed swiftly. In addition, there is no framework in place to notify the Commission of the prolonged suspension of certification out of listed establishments,” they said. 

“The EU border inspection posts, the Commission services and the competent authorities of other non-EU countries (risk of triangular trade) are not aware that these establishments are suspended for export to the EU.”

The previous audit found five unit samples were not taken from the same batch which was not in line with legislation. Food business operators are now required to collect daily a minimum of five unit samples, from the same batch to test for the presence of Salmonella for meat products. 

A requirement for testing poultry carcasses for enumeration of Campylobacter spp was also introduced.

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