Still reeling from “Operation Car Wash,” Brazil has a new corruption scandal on its hands, this one dubbed “Operation Weak Flesh.”
Brazilian enforcement authorities are currently investigating some of the world’s largest meatpackers over allegations that agribusiness leaders bribed inspectors from Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture to overlook unsanitary practices—such as processing rotten beef and poultry, and shipping exports with traces of salmonella—so that their sales to domestic and foreign meat and poultry buyers would be approved.
Operation Weak Flesh is one of the largest scale operations on record in Brazil. Federal police last month announced that 1,100 federal agents carried out 309 judicial warrants across multiple Brazilian states.
Among companies at the center of the investigation are Brazil-based poultry-exporter BRF and meat-producing giant JBS, which owns Swift Foods and holds a majority share in Pilgrim’s, both well-known brands in the United States.
In a statement, JBS confirmed that the Brazilian Federal Police had conducted raids in several regions of Brazil, including three JBS facilities—two in Paraná and one in Goiás. “No judicial measures have been taken against the company’s executives,” Jeremiah O’Callaghan, JBS’ investor relations officer, said in a statement. “In addition, the company's headquarters were not a target of the operation.”
JBS did admit, however, that a “judicial measure” was issued in its facility located in Lapa, in the state of Paraná, against one of its veterinarians, a JBS employee, who performs auxiliary inspections services for the Ministry of Agriculture.
“The company strongly repudiates any practices related to product adulteration or tampering, whether in the production or sale of products,” O’Callaghan stated. “JBS and its subsidiaries rigidly follow all regulatory guidelines in connection with the production and sale of food products in Brazil and globally, and supports all efforts aimed at punishing any violation.”
In a separate statement, BRF said it has taken measures “to clarify the facts around the recent events related to the investigation.” Specifically, BRF said it has established a quality certification group “to re-attest that the company adheres to international food safety standards. This group will be advised by renowned professionals and companies in the area.”
Additionally, BRF said it has formed a special response committee led by Luiz Fernando Furlan, former State Minister for Development, Industry and Commerce of Brazil and BRF’s board member. This committee will closely monitor the company’s current situation and recommend solutions, BRF stated.
“The internal investigation of the facts mentioned above will be led by the company’s statutory audit committee, with a mandate to conduct an independent investigation with the collaboration of the Brazilian and international external counsels, Pedro de Andrade Faria, global chief executive and investor relations officer, said in a statement. “BRF does not concur with illicit conduct and categorically refutes any insinuation to the contrary. If anything unlawful is discovered as part of this ongoing investigation, BRF will take all necessary and appropriate action to address the situation.”
A federal class-action lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, is already in the works against JBS. The lawsuit alleges violations of federal securities laws.