A change in inspection procedures for imported products of animal origin has been causing delays in the entry of cargo into Brazil. The new rule, which came into effect in August, exposes the precariousness of the agricultural inspection sector, with possible impacts for the consumer.
As revealed by the newspaper Economic value, five agribusiness entities sent an official letter last week to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (Map) warning of the risk of “cost increases”, “inflationary pressure” and “restriction on food consumption” due to queues at the borders .
Among the entities that expressed concern with the subject are the Brazilian Association of Animal Protein (ABPA) and the Brazilian Association of Fish Industries (Abipesca), in addition to representatives of industries dedicated to animal feed.
The food items most affected by inflation in the last year in Brazil are oils and fats (64.8%), cereals and nuts (51.7%) and meats (27.5%), according to data from July 2020 to July 2021.
What has changed
Until August 18, the importer sent a documentation of the country of origin of the cargo to the Brazilian government, which determined the place where the product would be reinspected – factories, slaughterhouses or establishments registered by the SIF.
With the new rule, documents are received by a virtual analysis center, which distributes the files to veterinarians of the International Agricultural Surveillance (Vigiagro), who work at the borders. In other words, cargoes are only allowed to enter the country after re-inspection at the primary station – ports, airports and customs.
“This is a rational change. It turns out that its effectiveness depends on training and availability of personnel. And there are no auditors available to meet this demand. The change was very sudden”, explains veterinarian Antônio Araújo Andrade Júnior, director of communication and public relations at the National Union of Agricultural Federal Tax Auditors (ANFFA-Sindical).
According to the organization, queues were reported at the Port of Santos (SP) and São Borja (RS).
Imported animal foods, which tend to become more expensive due to queues at the border, are not the daily consumption of most Brazilian workers – premium beef and lamb, salmon, hake and hake.
However, the queues reveal a problem that concerns everyone: the weakening of inspection processes.
“Today, the ministry has sent task forces to work in the most critical, riskiest places. But the auditor who is sent to a task force fails to carry out his work at the place of origin, which is uncovered”, reports the director of the ANFFA-Sindical.
“We have auditors analyzing up to 28 processes a day. In the slaughterhouses, the auditors are working overtime, and they can’t even take advantage of them due to excessive work”, he concludes.
The number of active employees in this function in Brazil has not kept up with the growth of agribusiness. Between 2006 and 2007, there were approximately 3,000. Today there are 2,550, the same as 19 years ago.
“During this period, several electronic instruments were implemented. Even so, this does not justify the reduction, because the growth of the agricultural sector was very intense”, analyzes Andrade Júnior.
“Many retired, mainly in the period [de votação] of the Social Security reform, fearing the disastrous consequences of that change”, he recalls. No new vacancies have been opened, through public tender, since then.
O Brazil in fact contacted ABPA, Abipesca and Mapa.
ABPA did not return until the closing of the article. Abispesca responded through a note, noting that Brazil “has been experiencing difficulties in nationalizing and internalizing goods from bordering countries.”
“The transfer of administrative and inspection routines for the reinspection of these animal products to the primary areas of the country, now under Vigiagro’s responsibility, collapsed the Federal Inspection Service (SIF), with very serious consequences for industries and the entire population,” he says the association.
In the note, Abipesca also reports the emergency suggestions that it has been proposing to the competent authorities to minimize the problem.
Map informed that the document analysis for the air and land modes is up to date.
“The Ministry of Agriculture changed in August the process of importing products from the animal area in order to reduce the cost of moving servers and streamline the internalization of products, thus reducing the cost for the private sector,” said the ministry, also by way of note.
After noticing delays in the processes due to the changes, the Ministry said it had activated a “contingency plan”, prioritizing processes of live animals and fresh fish.
“The delay of more than two days for internalization can occur due to factors such as problems in the documentation: around 30% of the processes presented to the Map have problems in the documentation and need correction by the company, which ends up causing delays because they have to be analyzed twice”, adds the Ministry.
“There are also issues related to the lack of sufficient personnel to carry out the physical inspection and the retention of the goods to await laboratory analysis”, he concludes.
The agricultural inspector acts not only in the inspection of imported items. The work starts still in the field, in the coordination of disease prevention programs, in quality control and in the use of inputs.
The auditors also inspect the stages of processing food of plant and animal origin, in addition to ensuring border surveillance and attesting to the safety of products exported by Brazil.
In establishments where there is slaughter, the inspector must be permanently inside the plant. This is not a specificity of Brazil: the same occurs in the United States or in countries of the European Union, to guarantee the safety of the product.
In establishments where there is no slaughter, inspection is periodic.
“Due to a lack of personnel, today, the auditor who should be permanently in a slaughter plant is also in ten establishments with periodic inspections”, says the director of the ANFFA-Sindical.
“To make up for the lack of personnel, non-auditors have been hired, but veterinarians on a temporary basis, circumventing the principle of public tender. They are professionals who do not have administrative police power, that is, they cannot interdict or issue a fine”, he completes.
Agricultural defense, along the chain, is traditionally an activity shared between public and private agents. With the lag in the number of auditors, the union of the category reports that functions of the State are being increasingly assumed by agribusiness companies.
“Today, there is a deliberate policy of reducing the State, mainly in the supervisory role. In the agricultural sector and in agribusiness, specifically, this is even more intense and visible”, says Andrade Júnior, master in Animal Health and director of the auditors union.
“In parallel to this reduction in competitions for replacement of personnel, there are a series of measures put into practice that transfer some attributions of control and inspection to the private sector – without effective monitoring”, he warns.
Thanks to the work of federal auditors, recent cases of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, the scientific name for the “mad cow” disease, have been identified. The diagnosis was made by public servants, in a public laboratory, preventing Brazil from losing millionaire figures, contaminating herds and the final consumer.
In July this year, a survey by the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (FGV) showed that the performance of federal agricultural tax auditors contributed R$ 44.9 billion to the national economy, that is, the equivalent of 8.65% of agribusiness exports Brazilian during the pandemic.
The study points out that, between January and November 2020, the demand for International Health Certificates (CSI) for the purpose of exporting animal products from Brazil grew 17.3% compared to the same period in 2019.
Also according to FGV, if these professionals had halted activities in the pandemic, agriculture would lose R$ 25.7 billion, and agribusiness, around R$ 17.9 billion.
Edition: Leandro Melito