KINGSTON –– Jamaica and Brazil appear to be heading towards a trade row over the island’s ban on corned beef imported from that South American country as both sides yesterday took hard positions on the measure.
The Brazilian Embassy in Kingston asked the Jamaican Government to lift what it described as the “unilateral ban”, pointing out that none of the 21 meat-processing companies under investigation in Brazil for selling rotten beef and poultry export to Jamaica.
However, Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Karl Samuda insisted that the ban on the product, more popularly known as “bully beef” in Jamaica, will remain in place until relevant tests have been completed.
A news release from Samuda’s ministry said that no permission will be given for the sale or distribution of corned beef from Brazil until the Government gets adequate assurance that the products are safe for consumption.
According to the ministry, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica is conducting chemical test profiles to ascertain the contents of corned beef on the market. At the same time, the Veterinary Services Division of the ministry is conducting microbiological and residue tests to ascertain whether contaminants are present in the products on the local market.
Jamaica imposed the ban on Monday this week as a scandal over alleged bribery by meat packers to allow the sale of expired meat in Brazil deepened, with the European Union, China and Chile deciding to halt some meat imports from South America’s largest nation.
The industry ministry had said the companies implicated by the Brazilian authorities supply 99.5 per cent of the corned beef on the local market.
However, on Wednesday, GraceKennedy Limited issued a release saying that its corned beef suppliers in Brazil are not under investigation by the authorities.
The company said it could confidently state that the factories that supply corned beef to GraceKennedy Ltd are not a part of the current investigation by the Brazilian authorities.
“Further, none of the meat plants listed by the Brazilian authorities supply corned beef to GraceKennedy Ltd,” the company added.
That point was supported in the Brazilian Embassy’s release yesterday as it stated that the companies that export to Jamaica are not under investigation and operate within all licensing and health regulations.
The embassy said that of the 21 companies under investigation only six have exported products within the last 60 days and none of those exports were made to Jamaica.
“The Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture has a rigorous inspection service for animal products with permanent auditing, monitoring and risk assessment,” the embassy said.
“The Brazilian Government is auditing establishments mentioned in the Federal Police investigation into allegations of irregularities in the agricultural inspection system. Of the 21 units under investigation, three have already had their operations suspended and all 21 have been placed under a special inspection regime conducted by a specific task force of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply. The investigation in question involves a marginal percentage, only one per cent, of all meat exports,” the embassy added.
It said that Brazil has 4,837 establishments which produce meat products. “Of these establishments, which are subject to federal inspection, only 21 (0.2 per cent of the total) are alleged to have been involved in irregularities, and of the over 11,000 employees in the agricultural inspection system, only 33 (0.3 per cent) are being investigated by the Federal Police for possible irregularities. That means that 99.8 per cent of registered companies and 99.7 per cent of inspectors are not involved in the allegations under investigation,” the embassy pointed out.
The embassy said it is in contact with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries for any clarification on the matter, and all exporting plants remain open to inspection visits by importing countries that wish to visit to clear up any doubts which they may have.
“Brazil is the most interested party in resolving and clarifying these issues, and in having the current unilateral ban lifted,” the embassy said.
Pointing to the fact that this year Brazil and Jamaica are celebrating 55 years of diplomatic relations, the embassy said “the relationship is based on mutual trust and respect and therefore, to ensure the continued safety of Jamaican consumers and fair trade for Brazilian producers, Brazil urges that the Jamaican Government review its policy towards Brazilian meat imports”.
However, Samuda, in his release, stated firmly: “The measures will not be lifted until we have received the all-clear. We have to ensure the safety of the public.”
He also said that Jamaican officials are to visit Brazil on a fact-finding mission.