| BRASILIA, March 19
BRASILIA, March 19 President Michel Temer,
confronting a corruption scandal tarnishing Brazil's lucrative
meat industry, met on Sunday with executives and foreign
diplomats to assuage health concerns tarnishing a sector
responsible for $12 billion in annual exports.
The hastily called meetings, following raids by police on
Friday investigating whether companies paid bribes to conceal
unsanitary conditions at meatpackers, come as Temer works to
protect one of the few vibrant sectors in Latin America's
biggest economy, hit by two years of recession.
Addressing concerns by officials from Europe and other big
importers, Temer hopes to portray the raids as isolated, if
necessary, efforts against corruption and dispel fears they
reveal systemic flaws in a sector that is now the world's
largest exporter of beef and several other meat products.
Despite allegations by police that some producers had sold
rotten and adulterated meat products, Luis Eduardo Rangel, a
senior Agriculture Ministry official at the meetings, said:
"There is no sanitary risk."
The allegations, he added, were "worrisome from a corruption
and crime point of view," but "from a health perspective we are
very confident that the sanitary issues alleged do not represent
a risk for consumers or exports."
Diplomats from Europe, the United States, China and other
export markets attended Sunday's meeting. "You cannot play
around with food," said André Regli, Switzerland's ambassador to
Brazil, adding the problems were "worrying."
On Saturday, officials from the European Union said they
sent two letters to Brazil's government seeking details about
any systemic risks to imports. Brazilian officials told the
European Union's ambassador to the country they would address
the concerns on Sunday.
On Friday, regulators from the United States, which recently
began importing fresh beef from Brazil, said they were
monitoring the issue but that inspections at import terminals
there should prevent any health risks.
In damage-control efforts of their own, Brazil's two biggest
meat companies launched a public relations campaign over the
weekend to make clear they did not sell rotten beef.
JBS SA, the world's largest meat producer, and
rival BRF SA, took out full-page ads in Brazilian
newspapers and magazines on Saturday defending their business
practices and internal controls. They condemned any wrongdoing
uncovered by the probe.
(Additional reporting by Paulo Prada; Editing by Peter Cooney)