Local experts to inspect Brazil's meat processing plants
A Jamaican technical team, which leaves this week for Brazil, will undertake a fact-finding mission to determine the validity of reports of tainted meat being processed into corned beef.
During the visit, the team will inspect facilities that manufacture the product for export to Jamaica.
Dr Osbil Watson, the island's chief veterinarian, will lead the team comprising scientists with expertise in various aspects of food safety and phytosanitary and sanitation skills.
Watson defended the wholesale ban on the local sale and distribution of corned beef, almost all of which the country imports from the South American country as a justifiable precautionary response given the potentially far-reaching and devastating implications.
"We are treating the reports as allegations so far based on the things (news) that we are getting indirectly. So we have to hear from the authorities in Brazil and see for ourselves so we can make an informed determination. So we are going in search of credible evidence, which you must have to know whether this thing is tainted or not," he told The Gleaner.
"So the measure is precautionary. It's pretty much a safety measure and will go a far way in boosting consumer confidence when they know their regulatory authority will go so far to ensure that what they consume is safe."
Watson continued: "Among other things, it's a verification process to ensure that meat products, that is corned beef, produced for export to Jamaica, is produced under the required hygiene and sanitation conditions in keeping with international guidelines. That is the main thing, and the other is to get the guarantees or assurances that the government authority, that is the inspectors, carry out their required functions as is required in keeping with international standards."
The Government has resisted a call by the Brazilian embassy to lift the ban. The embassy said that none of the meat-processing plants implicated in the corruption scandal exports corned beef to Jamaica, However, The Gleaner has learnt that JBS, one of the companies named in an exposÈ by the Financial Times, does manufacture for the Jamaican market. In a recent article headlined 'Meat crisis causes wider stink in Brazil's corporate sector', it provides details of bribery of meat inspectors who sign off on meat-inspection documents for produce they have not even seen.
The Financial Times article describes a police sting operation that captures bribery payments, as well as conversations on the corrupt practices inside the meat-processing plants, a situation the Brazilian government has sought to downplay.
"We have about 4,850 meat-packing plants in Brazil," Michel Temer, the Brazilian president, told an investor conference last week. "Only three have been suspended, and another 18 or 19 are being investigated."
Despite this pronouncement, Watson is convinced that there is a need for an investigation.
"We'll allow time to indicate what the findings are, but we cannot be careless, and we have to continue to safeguard what our people eat," he declared.