UFU calls for full import ban on Brazilian meat

Barclay Bell's farm, Rathfriland.
Barclay Bell's farm, Rathfriland.

This week the Ulster Farmers’ Union called for a full ban on all Brazilian meat being imported to Europe. This follows revelations by Brazilian police who have been conducting a two year investigation into alleged fraud and corruption in the Brazilian meat industry.

Reports emerged last weekend that a number of high profile Brazilian meat processors have been selling spoiled meat onto Brazil’s domestic and export markets in recent years. It is also alleged that some of the products have been treated with uncertified chemicals and that the companies involved bribed government officials to secure hygiene certificates so that the meat could be marketed.

Since these reports have emerged a number of countries have suspended imports from Brazil, including China, Hong Kong, and South Korea. The European Commission also took action to ban imports from the companies which are involved in the scandal until further notice.

Europe has up until now been one of Brazil’s largest export markets and is estimated to be worth in the region of €1.65billion for beef and poultry products combined. While there has been no beef exported directly to Northern Ireland it is notable that almost 2800t of Brazilian chicken entered Belfast docks in 2016. It is also estimated that over 30,000t of beef (the majority of which is corned beef) products entered UK ports directly during this same period. It is however unclear how much Brazilian meat will have entered other European ports before moving onto the UK and Ireland.

With the European Union currently involved in trade discussions with the Mercosur countries of South America, the UFU believes that the credibility of these discussions have been further undermined by the revelations of the past week which clearly show that Brazil cannot meet EU standards for traceability and food safety. This comes on top of a recent EU report which identified that European beef production would be extremely vulnerable to any export growth from Mercosur countries to Europe.

While the UK is now in the process of leaving the EU the arguments which have historically been made at a European level about the threat of South American meat will be equally as relevant in future trade discussions that the UK will have with new trading partners.

Farmers in the UK have to abide by very strict requirements for food traceability, animal welfare, hygiene and protection of the environment. These standards have ensured that the food we produce is to some of the highest standards in the world and which provides consumers with safe and healthy products.

The UFU believes that the actions taken to date by the EU Commission to only ban products from companies involved in the Brazilian meat scandal do not go far enough. We believe that a full ban should be imposed on all Brazilian imports to Europe, while the EU should also withdraw from Mercosur trade discussions given the seriousness of this ordeal. This situation also serves as a warning for the UK government that equivalent standards must be demanded when it comes to agriculture and food production in any future trade negotiations. To do otherwise will only serve to undermine domestic food production and pose risks to consumers should they ever be exposed to scandals such as that which has developed in Brazil.

The UFU is encouraging all members to contact your local MLAs, MPs and MEPs (via phone, letter, email or social media) to raise your concerns about the Brazilian meat scandal and to ask for a full ban on Brazilian meat imports to the EU. We would also encourage you to ask for your elected officials support in putting forward agriculture’s concerns about the risks of importing cheap food from countries which do not produce to UK equivalent standards and which pose a major risk to domestic production. The Union will continue to put forward your concerns in Belfast, London and Brussels and appreciates your efforts in re-affirming these views with our local elected officials.