Trust in meat is back in the headlines after Brazil crisis


From horse meat being sold as beef in the UK, fox meat sold as donkey meat in China, and now serious allegations of meat adulteration in Brazil, it seems that the meat industry is rarely far from a scandal.

As has been reported in the last week, meat packers in Brazil – the world’s biggest red meat and poultry exporter – have allegedly been covering up and selling rotten and salmonella-tainted produce.

The European Union banned imports from packing plants implicated in the scandal, while Chile, Hong Kong and, crucially, China, went a step further, suspending all meat imports from Brazil. While many of these countries have now removed some of these restrictions, some bans still apply and the memory of this scandal will continue to affect consumer choices. 

China has continued to ban imports from producers under investigation, and though clean, trust in other Brazilian producers has diminished. With the tender for a large amount of Chinese meat imports now effectively open for bidding, and the need for transparency paramount, American and Australian meat producers will likely be beneficiaries of the scandal in the short term.

Smaller-scale exporters like Uruguay, who are rolling out ‘farm to fork’ traceability on red meat, look set to see the premium attached to this USP increase in value.

In the longer term, the whole meat industry will be negatively affected, as shockwaves from the Brazilian debacle reverberate across the wider industry. In recent years, large consumer-packaged goods companies  have felt significant backlash from consumers, resulting in stakeholders in the wider food and drink sphere risking being tainted by the ‘corporate big bad wolf’ brush.

Even when tier two suppliers – and not the entire supply chain – are the errant actors, consumer trust in all stakeholders is eroded, and therefore any messages communicated to consumers are in danger of not resonating. The upshot of all of this is that there is a serious possibility that ‘big meat’ is increasingly joining ‘big tobacco’, ‘big oil’, and ‘big sugar’ in consumers’ minds and conversations.