Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis said at the Council of EU agriculture ministers in Luxembourg this Monday that a European audit of the meat industry in the South American country exposed "a lot of deficiencies in the Brazilian official control system". "Our previous recommendations which we sent to Brazil were not met," he added.

Commissioner Andriukaitis said he wrote to Brazilian Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi last week to notify him of three European decisions:

  • A requirement for "100% systemic pre-export microbiological checks" backed up by supporting documentation on all meat products shipped from Brazil to the EU.
  • The suspension of new approvals for any Brazilian meat factory to export to the EU.
  • The withdrawal of Brazil's authorisation to export horsemeat to the EU.
  • The Commission will conduct a new audit in Brazil at the end of 2017 to review these measures. "They must fulfil their obligations, otherwise we will see how to act in a more restrictive way," Commissioner Andriukaitis said.

    100% testing on EU side

    Commissioner for Agriculture Hogan added his own comments, saying: “On the audit in Brazil, certainly it was a very difficult audit because it highlighted the fact that the random sampling process that my colleague Commissioner Andriukaitis and DG Santé does wasn’t enough to give reassurance to the market place in Europe about the importation of certain products from Brazil. Now we’re doing 100% sampling of all batches of products that are coming into the European Union because of what has happened in recent times.”

    Extra checks on the European side started after Brazilian law enforcement launched “Operation Weak Flesh” targeting fraud and corruption in the meat industry in March, as opposed to one in five consignments previously. Ireland has rejected two shipments under the new policy. Commissioner Hogan’s comments indicate that such systematic testing is likely to continue. “We have an obligation to our European consumers and therefore we will continue to have strong audits and controls in place at member state level to ensure that,” he said.

    Watch his statement below:

    Agriculture Minister Michael Creed welcomed the "harmonised approach being taken to the more intensified checks that are now being carried out on product from Brazil" and said: "We cannot tolerate a situation in which EU requirements are flouted, given the potential risks for food safety and consumer health."

    Mercosur progress

    Despite the Brazil audit, Commissioner Hogan hinted at progress on the proposed trade agreement with South American countries in the Mercosur bloc, including Brazil. “There has been a moderation of expectations on the Mercosur side in relation to agriculture and, of course, this is very welcome because some of the suggestions that were being made, particularly in relation to beef and ethanol production, was certainly not going to be acceptable to the member states,” he said.

    Food safety issues “won’t derail the process” as the EU “will be insisting on a very strong chapter on sanitary and phytosanitary issues,” Commissioner Hogan added.

    We continue to harbour reservations about Mercosur and the potential impact on the beef sector

    Minister Creed was a lot more prudent, saying: "While an EU Free Trade Agreement with Japan and the TTIP with the US potentially offer great benefits, we continue to harbour reservations about Mercosur and the potential impact on the beef sector in particular."

    Commissioner Hogan acknowledged that there will always be “sensitive subjects” and said: “There is a much more constructive and realistic approach now towards getting an outcome on Mercosur and agriculture will play its part.”

    Meanwhile, the EU is also working with Brazil on a joint diplomatic initiative to roll back agricultural export subsidies in the interest of fair competition under World Trade Organisation rules, to implement the principles agreed in Nairobi in 2015.

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