Changes at Brazil farm ministry raise concerns

Food safety and security at risk, they say
calendar icon 16 January 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

Changes by the new government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to a federal agency tasked with upholding the sanitary standards of Brazilian agricultural products are drawing criticism from civil servants in the Agriculture Ministry, Reuters reported, citing documents.

An internal ministry memo seen by Reuters warns that a decree published on Jan. 1 reshuffling staff at the agency could undermine food inspection services and a critical network of six federal laboratories responsible for controlling vaccines, veterinary drugs and phytosanitary pesticides.

The ministry did not comment on the changes, which are part of broader efforts by the new administration to cut government spending.

The changes at the ministry, which affected 84 job positions according to a separate internal document, occur as the world is grappling with outbreaks of bird flu and the Brazilian meat sector is on high alert after cases reported in five South American nations.

In the memo, signed by a group of civil servants opposing the changes, they urge that the reshuffle be reconsidered "in the name of public health."

The union ANFFA, which represents federal auditors who inspect food plants in the world's biggest chicken exporter, denounced the overhaul.

"The federal laboratories network has struggled against drastic budget reduction and critical staff shortages for years," said ANFFA in a statement to Reuters. "Tensions rose after the decree's publication."

Meat lobby ABPA, which represents companies including JBS and BRF, told Reuters it supports maintaining the food safety agency's budget and strengthening inspection services.

"Active and passive oversight by the ministry are crucial for determining (animal) health status," ABPA said, adding this is a requirement from the nations that import Brazilian products.

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