Hong Kong bans imports of Brazilian meat after food safety scandal
Centre for Food Safety says decision is precautionary measure following contamination scare in South American country
Local supermarkets and restaurants rushed to pull their stocks of meat and poultry from Brazil last night after the city’s food safety authority issued a ban on imports following a scandal over the sale of unsafe produce in the South American country.
The move came after the mainland, the European Union and Chile imposed similar full or partial bans following announcements by Brazilian authorities last week they were investigating evidence that some of the nation’s largest meat producers had bribed government officials to approve the sale and export of contaminated meat.
Hong Kong is the biggest market for Brazilian beef, importing US$718 million worth in 2016, according to Brazilian government figures. China is Brazil’s biggest market for beef and poultry overall.
BRF, one of Brazil’s largest meatpackers said to be involved in the scandal, said in a statement on Tuesday it had never sold rotten or unsafe meat, and it had never been accused of doing so.
It said it was working with the city’s Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Consumer Council to clarify this point.
Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety said last night that imports of frozen and chilled meat as well as poultry from Brazil would be temporarily suspended with immediate effect.
A centre spokesman said surveillance of meat and poultry from Brazil would be strengthened to safeguard food safety and public health.
But it also said Brazilian meat and poultry were not involved in 36 samples that had failed its tests over the past three years, in which 17,060 samples of meat and poultry were inspected.
The centre would closely monitor the situation and take suitable follow-up action, it said.
Supermarket chain Wellcome last night removed frozen and chilled meat and poultry from Brazil from its shelves as a precautionary measure. It offered refunds or item exchanges to affected customers.
A spokesman said the relevant meat had been sent for testing.
Rival supermarket chain ParknShop said it would pull Brazilian meat and poultry from its shelves and had sent samples of the concerned items for testing.
It also offered refunds or exchanges for affected customers, who were told to bring in receipts with their items.
All outlets of fast food chain Fairwood last night suspended the sale of barbecue pork dishes, which were made with meat from the country.
A spokesman said the suspension would be in force “until we receive a clear reply from the meat suppliers”. In the meantime, Fairwood was “looking for substitutes from other countries”.
City’super, another local supermarket chain, said it did not stock Brazilian meat.
Catering giant Maxim’s Group said all its outlets would stop using meat from Brazil from today and that it would turn to supplies from other countries.
The centre said it had notified the Brazilian authorities about the import ban, and advised the public to cook meat and poultry thoroughly before consumption.
Brazil is the world’s biggest meat exporter. Japan said it was considering issuing a notice to customers. Russia, which has heavily relied on Brazilian imports since banning US and European Union food imports, said it wanted clarifications from Brazil.
“We expect more than 30 countries to question Brazil about this issue,” Brazilian Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said Monday.
Officials have been scrambling to contain the damage since Brazilian police announced the results of a two-year investigation on Friday. According to police, health inspectors were bribed to certify meat no longer fit for consumption, while additives were used to mask problems in the produce.
With additional reporting from Agence France Presse.