In Brazil 'I'm a carnivore,' Meat health inspector says

In the midst of a rotten meat scandal threatening one of Brazil's biggest industries, the three government scientists showed little concern at a pile of minced beef on a lab tray.

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Brazilian police allege that giant meatpackers BRF and other companies exported meat that had been certified by inspectors bribed to pass rotten or altered products play

Brazilian police allege that giant meatpackers BRF and other companies exported meat that had been certified by inspectors bribed to pass rotten or altered products

(AFP)
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In the midst of a rotten meat scandal threatening one of Brazil's biggest industries, the three government scientists showed little concern at a pile of minced beef on a lab tray.

"That looks pretty good," said Roberta Ribeiro, coordinator at Rio de Janeiro's Municipal Public Health Laboratory, as she peered at the reddish mound of meat.

Ribeiro said inspectors have opened a blitz on meat vendors across Rio in response to allegations that major meatpacking companies were falsifying health certificates and masking bad meat for export.

"With all the news in the media, with everything that's happened, we've decided to intensify our operation," Ribeiro said.

But the scientists, who work at a high-tech facility startlingly in contrast to the rundown Rio neighborhood outside, don't expect to find much of a problem.

Brazilian food production hygiene "is good. I think generally it's not a concern... so when there's a police operation like this it becomes a scandal," Ribeiro said.

Asked if the revelations had given her second thoughts about eating Brazilian produced meat or going to the country's beloved churrascaria barbecue restaurants, the 34-year-old, who wore a white coat and hairnet, laughed.

"I'm a carnivore."

'Foreign bodies'

Police allege that giant meatpackers BRF and other companies exported meat that had been certified by inspectors who had been bribed to pass rotten or altered products. Practices allegedly included increasing profits by mixing meat with cardboard.

The Rio lab, armed with a 3D imager and other complex gadgets, tests food sold locally, not for export, but the mission is the same.

"We're looking for foreign bodies and whether the product was altered, or masked with an illegal substance," Ribeiro said.

Common tricks used to pass off old meat as new include adding dye to give it a more red look.

The goal for inspectors now, Ribeiro says, to reassure the public.

But she agrees with President Michel Temer's insistence that the bad meat sales are an exception to the rule, and that consumers should not be overly worried.

"We have more or less 4,850 processing plants. Only three of them have been closed and there will be inquiries into 18 or 19," Temer said Monday. Brazil's agribusiness cannot be discredited because of "a small group."

In fact, scientists at the Rio lab aren't even sure meat is a particularly bad offender when it comes to health hazards. When not after meat, they probe everything from milk to eggs and water.

"I think fish is the biggest problem area because it deteriorates very quickly," said Ribeiro's colleague Julia Simoes, 31, mentioning the city's open air fish markets where produce sits sweltering under the tropical sun.

"Fish is great but it also has a lot of contaminants," Ribeiro said. "People say just eat a lot of vegetables but I don't agree. There's 'agritox.' Do you control the water, the soil?"

Simoes tried to think of something on the menu that's guaranteed to be clean. She couldn't.

"Really, food presents a risk," Simoes said.

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