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Meat scandal worries few Brazilians

Brazil has had its fair share of scandal and corruption allegations that generated widespread shock and the Operation Weak Flesh investigation adds to the pile. Although the global impact of this new probe has been negative, domestically it does not seem to have had such a big toll, as the media seems to say.

While fast-food companies in Korea such as Mom’s Touch stopped selling chicken nuggets at its 1,000 stores and Burger King stopped selling its chicken crunch burger, top Chinese retailers in the country removed Brazilian beef and poultry back in Brazil, and churrascarias did not have much cutbacks.

Brazilian newspaper Folha had reporters go to five restaurants in Sao Paulo on a Saturday to verify the impact of Operation Weak Flesh on consumers and reported that they did not notice much difference. The restaurants had only a few empty tables and in Fogo de Chao, one of the biggest churrascaria franchises in the country, in the span of 15 minutes, eight families arrived for lunch.

An employee of the restaurant affirmed that they had the best performance in March last week and no customers were worried about the origins of the meat.

In another restaurant called Bovinu’s, manager Marcelo Fernando Alves said, “On the 18th, a woman asked about the origin of the meat,” and according to him the products that are served are imported. “National meat is not quite as good as the ones that come from abroad, so we prioritize international ones.”

In Marginal Grill in Marginal Tiete, manager Gilmar Vieira said he did not see any changes and the customers did not seem worried about this topic.

“When this story started we thought it was weird. We thought it was to shift focus from the pension reform and outsourcing bill. We have eaten meat for so many years and never had a problem, nothing ever happened,” said Flavia Castilho, 35, administrative coordinator.

A Brazilian law student, 23, said he was not concerned at all and that the operation was exaggerated abroad, saying “I am not going to stop my habit of eating meat over this news.”

According to Inacio Sousa, the manager of Jardineira Grill in Itaim Bibi, there has been an increase in customers asking to see the grill to see the meat being prepared, which is a rare request, and he confirmed none of his suppliers were being investigated and they were more selective of their meats.

In Novilho de Prata and Pobrejuan customers made jokes about the topic and asked if the meat had cardboard and acid or if pigs’ heads were used in sausages in a humorous manner.

Several countries have banned beef and poultry from Brazil due to sales of tainted meat, and investigators say they have evidence that 21 meat companies bribed government inspectors to approve sales and exports even when the meat and poultry was contaminated or spoiled. Currently, 33 federal inspectors are being investigated; Brazil’s two biggest meat suppliers ― JBS SA and BRF SA ― have been named. Agriculture makes up almost a quarter of the economy so it has been a setback in the government’s efforts to turn Brazil around.

There is no indication that the probe is connected to other corruption investigations but Operation Weak Flesh has been ongoing for at least two years in Curitiba, Parana state, the same place where the Car Wash investigation was and the police claim some of the bribes by the meat companies were intended for political parties.

Investigators say they have more information that has not been released while JBS and BRF have been marketing heavily on newspaper ads and prime time TV spots to recover their image. The government also tried to assure consumers by providing information on the investigation about the sanitary inspection system. The Brazilian government put much effort to have foreign countries lift bans and China, Chile, Egypt, and South Korea have already lifted import restrictions, so the supply disruption may pass soon.

The writer has lived in Brazil for 18 years and studied at Graded School. She currently studies at Seoul National University and works at Arirang TV. Her email address is: elainechyung@gmail.com.


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