SDGs: Valuable allies amid the crisis “Operação Carne Fraca”

By Aikaterini Tsakanika

After two years of investigating the operation “Carne Fraca”, the Federal Police of Brazil announced last week suspicions of illegal industrial and commercial practices related to the market of meat and byproducts involving 22 industries in 9 different states including enterprises with large scale commercial activities.

The practices of the meat industry compromised the quality of the products, transforming them into a threat for public health when consumed, or, otherwise, into waste for not complying with national regulated standards for the public benefit. This behaviour reveals that the entrepreneurial culture of social responsibility is not sufficiently embedded into the Brazilian meat industry, so that to be held accountable for both scenarios.

Given that the national nutritional culture in Brazil commonly includes meat consumption, the destination of the suspected bad meat that is yet to be identified is a source of unease and preoccupation for the health of a considerable number of Brazilian citizens. Also, the extent of national industries involved triggered a sense of insecurity and a loss of confidence in regard to available services in the whole food industry as well as in the capacity of the government to regulate and monitor efficiently the relevant processes.

In all, the illegal activities as depicted in the “Carne Fraca” generated a multidimensional impact on the Brazilian economy, the well-being of its citizens, and equally on the countries where the crisis infiltrated through the market, affecting possibly thousands of consumers around the world. These revelations resulted not only in temporary suspension of the meat industrial and commercial activities nationally, but also internationally, foremost exportation activities in China and EU. Since Brazil has traditionally made up a great share of the international beef market and a significant weight in the national economy, with the total national meat industry representing 8% [1] of the total exports of Brazil, restoring access to those markets is crucial.

This situation highlights why and how the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can prove to be valuable guiding tools not only for the direct mitigation of the impacts, but also to create a new long-term strategy for the elimination of such behaviour.

The SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production) points out that the impact of food consumption is significantly influenced by household dietary patterns that are sustained due to strong cultural traditions. For instance, in Brazil, the constant, unvaried demand for a specific range of food products, meat in particular which is regarded as a fundamental nutritional source, define the kind of industries that prevail in the market, leaving few space for small-scale food producers, especially women, indigenous people, family farmers etc.

In light of these recent revelations, Brazilians seem to be surprisingly firm in keeping their food patterns, showing indifference and a poor understanding of possible impacts on health. The causes for this behaviour could be attributed to the lack of proper information on the cycle of meat industry operations, the conditions of the commercialization of the products, the national regulation prevision and the controls, as well as to the limited or no access to affordable quality food products. All in all, this under-valorization of quality food products, in combination with institutional and organizational gaps that delegitimize the operations, weaken the reflexes of civil society to take a stand in protecting public health and well-being.

Still, this crisis can be viewed as a window of opportunity for the Brazilian government to prioritize the reinforcement of its health risk management capacity, while providing the necessary resources for more and new actors to participate in the food market, as well as an opportunity to promote sustainable practices for consumers: all measures in accordance to Brazil’s international commitment to achieve the SDG 3 (Good Health and well-being), SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) and the SDG 12 by 2030.