EU-Brazil trade talks 'should be suspended over meat scandal'

Diplomats have been urged to suspend EU agriculture trade negotiations with Brazil following the government-linked rotten meat scandal.

Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) national livestock chairman Angus Woods made the call saying it was not credible for the EU Commission to remain engaged in negotiations while the investigation into the Brazilian corruption and food fraud was ongoing.

"The scandal in Brazil has shown that there are systematic failures in the controls in the country and the EU Commission can no longer credibly rely on the authorities there to certify meat exports to the EU," Woods said in an IFA press statement.

Other associations have also echoed the IFA's stance.

The calls follow news in March that a number of large meatpackers in Brazil – including JBS and BRF – were allegedly bribing political parties and the Agriculture Ministry to sell meat that had passed its use-by date.

According to reports, the meatpackers used chemicals to improve the look and smell of the rotten meat, which was also mixed with fresher meat to appear more palatable.

The Agriculture Ministry was said to have been "taken hostage", with the meatpackers exerting significant influence by being able to pick the inspectors who visited their plants.

During the course of the two-year investigation it was discovered that some of the dodgy meat had been exported to Europe.

In response to the revelations, several countries have placed restrictions on meat imported from Brazil.

Meanwhile, the EU has been negotiating a free-trade agreement with the four founding members of Mercosur – Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

According to the European Commission, the Mercosur countries exported €42 billion worth of goods to the EU in 2015, with the biggest exports being agricultural products where meat and animal products made up 6 per cent.

Woods described the Brazilian allegations as "shocking" and believed that continuing with the trade negotiations undermined the "hard-won position of European farmers and consumers based on high standards in the key areas of food safety, traceability, the environment and health standards".

This differs from the negotiating representatives' views when, back in March when news of the scandal broke, Eidta Hrdá, managing director for the Americas from the European External Action Service, said the scandal is "absolutely in no way an obstacle to the current negotiations".

Woods dismissed this and also called for the immediate publication of the EU Commission Food and Veterinary Office's recent investigations on standards in Brazil, which he claimed will point to a "systematic breakdown" of standards in the country, which already has a shaky track record of meeting EU quality levels.

"Standards and controls have to be at the centre of any trade discussions. The EU Commission cannot stand over negotiations with the Mercosur group against the backdrop of these very serious issues in Brazil," Woods said.

"It is incredible that the EU Commission was only made aware of the issue through media reports," he added, noting that the full details of the scandal had not yet emerged. "Attempts by the Brazilian authorities to try to confine the scandal to a limited number of establishments are not credible, when the reports indicate that the government inspection and control authorities were operating fraudulently and taking bribes from processors to buy certificates."

Besides the IFA, the Ulster Farmers' Union (UFU) has also voiced out against the Brazilian scandal, describing it as 'damning', and has gone a step further in its condemnation calling on the EC to remove agriculture from the negotiations and ban Brazilian meat imports completely, FarmingUK reported.

"The situation in Brazil continues to deteriorate as more reports emerge about the huge level of corruption in their meat industry and government," said Barclay Bell, president of the UFU. "The magnitude of this scandal is shocking and I can see no credible way for the EU commission to continue to include agriculture in the Mercosur trade talks. The Commission must take action by immediately banning all Brazilian meat imports to the EU."

Bell also criticised the EC for its "lax" approach. "It is unacceptable and immediate action must be taken," he said.

Meanwhile, the controlling shareholder of JBS has agreed to pay a £2.4bn fine for its role in the scandal.

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