Consumers trust in the EU ‘shattered’ by Brazilian meat scandal

Trust in the ability of the EU to protect the interests of its consumers has been ‘shattered’ by the recent Brazilian meat scandal, according to Irish MEP Marian Harkin.

Harkin was among a number of Irish MEPs who raised concerns about inspection failures on Brazilian meat.

The Independent MEP questioned the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, on where responsibility lay for ensuring the safety of meat imported into the EU.

Inadequacies in the trustworthiness of inspections in Brazil had been revealed almost ten years ago, Harkin said.

“In a detailed research project by the Irish Farmers’ Association, the absence of traceability in the Brazilian beef herd was revealed and debated in the European Parliament, and now we are discussing an even bigger scandal of rotten meat.”

This revealed systemic failures in controls, including evidence of official bribery, constituting questionable actions at many levels in Brazil, the Independent MEP said.

European consumers rely on the Commission to ensure that only safe food is imported into the EU, and farmers rely on the Commission to ensure verifiable equivalence in the food products we import.

While some countries moved swiftly to ban Brazilian beef, the EU sat on its hands, Harkin added.

She believes this posed questions for how effectively the interests of EU consumers and farmers would be protected in ongoing Mercusor negotiations.

“It cannot be business as usual in the Mercusor negotiations. The mutual trust that should be there has been shattered,” she said.

‘A blind eye has been turned to poultry’

While there has rightly been a focus on the importation of Brazilian beef products into Europe, a blind eye has been turned to poultry, Sinn Fein MEP, Matt Carthy, said.

The Midlands North West MEP believes equally-concerning questions have been raised in relation to the poultry sector – in light of the Brazilian scandal.

Carthy questioned the European Commissioner’s commitment to protecting Irish poultry farmers and consumer interests amid ‘arrogant’ Mercosur statements.

In a letter from the Brazilian authorities to MEPs on the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, it emerged that 184 international notifications were received about products of animal Brazilian origin during 2016, the Sinn Fein MEP said.

These irregularities included microbiological, physical and chemical standard violations but were downplayed by the authorities, he added.

I find it extremely concerning that while we may have yet to discover the full extent of this scandal, no precautionary measures are being taken by the European Commission.

Less than a week after the discovery of the cover-up, the European Commission publicly repeated its intention to conclude a free-trade agreement with the Mercosur block, which includes Brazil, as soon as possible, he said.

“This is an insult to farmers and consumers alike, who are now questioning in whose interests this deal is being negotiated.

“Last May Commissioner Hogan announced that beef was temporarily off the negotiating table in Mercosur talks. However, no such promise or commitment was made in relation to protecting our poultry sector.

“Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of chicken, with its poultry exports to the EU far outweighing those of beef. Poultry is also the single largest category of meat consumed in Ireland, accounting for 37% of meat consumption,” he said.

With the Irish poultry sector already facing uncertainties as a result of Brexit and dealing with the fall-out from the avian flu crisis, it is time for Commissioner Hogan to give these farmers the same level of protection as other areas, according to the Sinn Fein MEP.

“This sector supports over 6,000 Irish jobs. However,  it’s 70% reliance on British markets and threats from cheaper products, from countries like Brazil, put its survival in real jeopardy.

“On Monday during a debate in the European Parliament, I reiterated my call for the European Commission to immediately suspend all meat imports from Brazil, pending a full investigation of the extent of the scandal, and to indefinitely cease trade negotiations with the Mercosur trading block.

“The Irish government must now adopt the same position,” he said.