Doubtful Meat From Brazil Continues To Be Sold In Cuba / 14ymedio,
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 21 March 2017 — Cubans know a lot about
adulterations. For decades they have grappled with the "diversion of
resources" [i.e. stealing] from state stores and the practice of state
employees acquiring products elsewhere at low prices, bringing them into
the stores and selling them at high prices and keeping the profit for
themselves. Hence the scandal of the altered meat that involves two
Brazilian companies has hardly surprised anyone on the Island.
This Monday Brazilian meat products continued to be sold in Cuba's
retail network, where the frozen chicken of the brands Frangosul and
Perdix, from the companies JBS and BRF respectively, continue to be on
sale. According to an investigation by the Federal Police of Brazil,
both these companies adulterated these products.
In the case of chicken, the authorities have warned that it is more of
an economic fraud, consisting of adding water to the product to increase
the weight, without any risks to health.
The results of what was called "Carne Fraca" ("weak meat" in
Portuguese), confirmed the suspicions of those who warned that something
"doesn't smell right" in the world's largest exporter of these products.
Each year Brazil exports beef worth roughly 5.5 billion dollars and
chicken worth roughly 6.5 billion. This business represents 7.2% of
Brazil's Gross Domestic Product.
So far, no Cuban store or market has withdrawn the Brazilian frozen food
products. On the digital sites that offer a wide range of foods that
emigrants abroad can order for their families on the island, Brazilian
beef and chicken remain on sale.
The official media spread the news of the scandal, focusing on the
possible repercussions for President Michel Temer's government. The
Ministry of Public Health did not discuss the issue when asked by 14ymedio.
Cuba imports more than 80% of the food it consumes. For 2017, the bill
for these purchases is expected to exceed $1.75 billion, $82 million
more than the estimate for the previous year.
Each year, more than 120,000 tonnes of chicken meat are bought in the
international market, most of it hindquarters, also called "dark
parts." Alberto Ramírez, president of the Cuban Society of Poultry
Producers (SOCPA), recently confirmed to the official press that
"[domestic] meat production is practically zero."
In 2014, several representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture visited
Brazil to inspect the facilities of the dairy and beef plant managed by
JBS in Mato Grosso do Sul, with a view to importing its products to the
Island. Another 25 facilities approved for trade with Cuba are located
in the states of Tocantins, Rondonia, Rio de Janeiro, Rio Grande do Sul,
Goiás, Mato Grosso and Sao Paulo
The United States and Brazil are the countries supplying the greatest
amount of frozen products to the Cuban market. Faced with the lack of
supply and the lack of variety, chicken has become one of the most
common foods at the table of Cubans. Only the wealthy can afford beef.
"I came to buy a piece of top round steak," said a retired woman at the
butcher's in Plaza de Carlos III on Monday. She said, "it is a luxury
that I can only allow myself from time to time." The meat on offer in
that market comes from Brazil, according to an employee who preferred
anonymity, but who, so far, had received "no order to stop selling it."
On display in the meat case are several packages with prime ground beef,
stew meat, top round and tip steak. No merchandise specifies where it
comes from, but local workers confirm that it has been bought from
Brazil. The customers look longingly at the display; meat remains a
forbidden delicacy for many, even if it is wrapped up in
investigations and fraud.
"Here we work with Brazilian meat," explains one of the waiters at the
restaurant next to the Riviera cinema, formerly El Carmelo, on 23rd
Street. In their menu they offer sirloin, fillet mignon, fried beef
tender and ropa vieja (shredded beef in sauce), this last a very
traditional dish that is in high demand among tourists.
The select El Palco market, whose main customers are diplomats and
foreigners living in Havana, is also "especially stocked with Brazilian
meat," points out one of the local cashiers.
Some 27 people have been arrested in Brazil, and Federal Police
Commissioner Mauricio Moscardi warned of a corruption network inside the
government that allowed adulterated meat to be legalized. That chain of
infractions involved officials of the Brazilian Democratic Movement
Party, to which President Temer belongs.
The main Brazilian meat producers added chemicals to meats that were
"rotten" or unfit for human consumption. An extensive network of bribe
payments purchased approval from the Ministry of Agriculture.
"They used acids and other chemicals, in some cases carcinogenic, to
disguise the physical characteristics of the rotten product and its
smell," Moscardi explained. They treated the meat with vitamin C to give
it a more "appetizing" color, along with levels of preservatives well
above those allowed by health authorities.
Representatives of both companies have denied allegations by police
authorities, but the alarm has spread in the international market and
the companies' stock prices have tumbled sharply.
"BFR ensures the high quality and safety of its products and guarantees
that there is no risk for its consumers," said one of the largest food
companies in the world with more than 30 brands in its portfolio, Sadia,
Perdigão, Qualy, Paty, Dánica, Bocatti or Confidence.
The Chilean Ministry of Agriculture announced, a few hours ago, that it
would accept no more imports from the Brazilian beef market. Minister
Carlos Furche explained that the measure is temporary "until the
Brazilian authorities know exactly what facilities are being
investigated, and of those facilities which have exported to the world
and Chile," he said.
The Chinese authorities have responded unceremoniously. The Government
banned all such imports and prevented meat already shipped from being
unloaded in its ports. Last year the Asian country imported 1.6 billion
dollars from Brazilian meatpackers.
Europe has slowed shipments from JBS and BRF. This week the European
Commissioner for Health Affairs, Vytenis Andriukaitis, will travel to
Brasilia and the agenda revolves around the food scandal.
Cuban customers who are learning about the news coming from Brazil are
beginning to connect the dots. "The chicken no longer came with the
quality of before and had a lot of ice," complains Luisa Cordoves, a
housewife in Central Havana who says that "right now it's better to buy
the chicken boxes that come from United States, because the product
tastes better. "
She believes that the scandal will not dissuade domestic consumers from
acquiring these products. "People have many needs and there is no
choice: you take it or leave it."
Source: Doubtful Meat From Brazil Continues To Be Sold In Cuba /
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata – Translating Cuba -