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By Seow Bei Yi
The Straits Times
Mar 20, 2017
Singapore does not import any meat from the 21 Brazilian meat processing establishments which have been placed under a special surveillance regime amid an investigation into possible corruption involving major meat exporters, said the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).
"None of them are approved to export to Singapore," AVA added in a statement on Monday (March 20).
Three of these establishments have been suspended.
AVA has stepped up surveillance of imported meat and meat products from Brazil, and is "monitoring the situation closely", while liaising with Brazilian authorities for more details, it said.
It is also working with meat importers to monitor the situation and to be prepared to ramp up alternative sources, if necessary.
The allegations of tainted meat from Brazilian producers are a "fairly limited problem", said Brazilian ambassador to Singapore Flavio Soares Damico, who also confirmed that this does not affect exports here.
Speaking to The Straits Times over the phone on Monday, he said that while Brazil has 4,800 slaughterhouses and meat manufacturing plants, only 21 have been slated for additional investigations.
"None of those facilities have exported to Singapore," he added.
He also said that imports which arrive in Singapore are inspected by local authorities randomly, emphasising the relationship of trust and confidence between Brazilian authorities and importing countries' health authorities over the years.
"We will try to improve our system even further so as to avoid impact on the health and security of our importers. We take these matters very, very seriously," said Mr Damico.
Said the AVA: "Meat and meat products can only be imported into Singapore from AVA accredited sources."
The accreditation process involves two levels of checks. The first assesses the "robustness" of an exporting country's national animal health and food safety system, as well as authorities powers to enforce requirements.
This includes minimising microbial contamination and chemical residues, said the AVA.
If the country is approved, each meat establishment within the it will then be individually evaluated to ensure that they meet AVA's food safety requirements before the processed meat can be exported to Singapore, it added.
Upon arrival, "every meat consignment is physically checked for spoilage".
The health certification is also verified at the point of import, said AVA.
Samples are taken for laboratory testing as well, for food safety hazard such as chemical residues, antibiotics and microbial pathogens, as well as authenticity to deter fraud.
"Products that fail our tests will not be allowed to be sold," said AVA.
To date, there have not been any significant instances of non-compliance in meat shipments from Brazil, it added.
The Straits Times understands that AVA is expected to hold a briefing for meat importers on Monday regarding this issue.
Supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice said on Monday that it is aware of ongoing investigations against two companies in Brazil which supply poultry products to its stores and other retailers here, and is seeking clarification with its suppliers about the matter.
The two firms are Brazilian food giant BRF, which owns the Sadia and Perdigao brands, and JBS, a global firm in meat sales and owner of the Big Frango, Seara Alimentos and Swift brands.
The scare started on Friday when police said a two-year probe had found major meat producers bribed health inspectors to certify tainted food as fit for consumption, according to an Agence France-Presse reposcrt.
About 150 countries buy meat from Brazil, with principal markets as widespread as Singapore, Saudi Arabia, China, Japan, Russia, the Netherlands and Italy.
Brazil exported about US$5.9 billion (S$8.3 billion) in poultry and US$4.3 billion in beef in 2016, according to Brazilian government data.
AVA has since clarified that Singapore does not import from the 21 meat processing establishments involved.
"NTUC FairPrice is aware of ongoing investigations on JBS SA and BRF SA in Brazil," said a spokesman in response to queries.
"As a responsible retailer, we take matters of food quality and safety very seriously. We are currently in contact with our suppliers to seek clarification from them while awaiting the investigation results from the authorities, as we monitor the matter closely."
When contacted, a Sheng Siong spokesman said: "Besides clarifying with our suppliers, we are also waiting for AVA's findings and will continue to closely monitor the situation."
Meat Traders' Association mentor Chung Suan Lim, who was also its president for eight years, said his checks with the network of importers here have turned up no complaints about imports from Brazil so far.
He noted that the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) only approves certain processing plants within these companies.
Checks are also underway to see if the affected plants are those that were approved, he said.
Mr Chung added that Singapore imports some 70 per cent of its frozen chicken from Brazil, but this is not the case for beef.
According to the AVA's list of approved countries to export raw and processed meat products, as well as processed eggs, to Singapore, Brazil is allowed to export beef, pork and poultry here.
But the meat must be derived from AVA-approved establishments.