Food scandals like this happen more often than you think and may affect you more than you know — even if you don’t live in Brazil.

Livestock Farm in Brazil. 30 Mar, 2009  © Ricardo Funari / Lineair / Greenpeace

Have you heard about the shocking rotten meat scandal? Brazilian police unveiled an investigation exposing systemic bribing of Brazilian meat inspectors by major meat-packing companies, some of these top global companies trade in Southeast Asia, to conceal dirty meat by paying them to issue false “fit-to-eat” certifications.

Details emerging from the investigation include practices such as adding chemicals to meat to conceal rotting odor, adding pigs’ heads to sausages and adding cardboard to processed poultry as filler. Local press is also reporting that Brazil’s former agriculture minister admitted to caving into political pressure to appoint a livestock superintendent who would support the rotten meat cover-up scheme.

More than 30 companies were implicated in the sting including JBS, the world’s largest beef exporter, and BRF, the world’s largest poultry exporter. China, Hong Kong, Chile and the European Union have issued temporary bans on Brazilian beef imports until its safety can be confirmed.

In Southeast Asia, Vietnam is mulling a ban while authorities in Singapore and Malaysia said that the countries are not importing meat from the Brazilian companies involved. Authorities in other Southeast Asian countries have yet to issue a statement. In 2016, the Philippines imported 18.5M kg of beef, 32.3M kg of poultry and 158,563 kg of corned beef from Brazil. In Thailand, Brazilian meat import, ranks only 6th  valued at THB 27M.

Hours after the scandal broke, Brazilian President Michel Temer went into damage control mode by inviting 19 ambassadors to a Brazilian steakhouse to send the signal that the country’s meat is safe to eat.

But sadly, this is not a problem that can be fixed in a single meal. And it’s not a problem confined to a single country. All of this points to a deep disease in the industrial meat and dairy system worldwide. Industrialized farming has been linked time and time again to outbreaks of E. coli, salmonella, listeria, bird flu, swine flu and even Mad Cow disease.

Just yesterday, less than one week after the rotten meat scandal broke, Brazilian meat corporations were caught yet again, this time in a separate investigation buying 58,000 cattle from illegally deforested lands, even after signing an agreement promising to protect the Amazon from deforestation. More here.

How many more meat scandals do we need, in order to realize that there is something wrong with this industrial meat and dairy model being pushed by these corporations, across the globe. The whole industrial meat model relies upon one basic principle: raise and slaughter animals as quickly as possible and by whatever means necessary to  maximize profits. This often means keeping cows, swine and chickens in high-density confinement with other animals, surrounded by their own fecal matter, making them petri dishes for disease.

A worker handles butchered livestock in a slaughterhouse facility in Brazil. 1 Apr, 2009  © Ricardo Funari / Lineair / Greenpeace

The best way to protect our families from outbreaks is to change this system and commit to less and better meat, if we choose to eat it at all. The reality is that when it comes to meat, we need a new normal. We don’t need it in every meal to be happy and healthy.

And if we do eat meat, go for “better meat” produced by our local farmers who use nature and biodiversity, not chemicals, to grow animals with high welfare standards, rejecting antibiotics, monoculture of genetically-engineered feed and accelerated lifespans for profit.

In addition to protecting our health, less meat protects the planet. Humanity’s appetite for meat and dairy and expanding industrial production are catastrophic for the environment — from destruction of forests and grasslands to pollution of water and air and major contributions to global climate change (more than 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions).

It is time for us to re-examine our diets and switch to a more plant-based (less meat), diverse diet for health, climate, forests and global food security. Let’s all be part of the solution with every meal we take and together hold our governments and corporations accountable for protecting public health and the health of the planet so we can make scandals like this a story of the past.

Wilhelmina R. Pelegrina is Food and Ecological Agriculture Campaigner at Greenpeace Southeast Asia

Davin Hutchins is a Food For Life Campaigner at Greenpeace International

This blog is the first in a series on Greenpeace’s less and better meat campaign against industrial livestock

 UPDATE: Less than one week after the rotten meat scandal broke, Brazilian meat corporations were caught in a separate investigation buying 58,000 cattle from illegally deforested lands, even after signing an agreement promising to protect the Amazon from deforestation. More here.