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.  © Ricardo Funari / Lineair / Greenpeace

Cattle in Santa Amalia do Tangara livestock farm. © Ricardo Funari / Lineair / Greenpeace

Have you heard about the shocking rotten meat scandal that’s shaking the Brazilian society and economy this week? Over the weekend, Brazilian police unveiled an investigation exposing systemic bribing of Brazilian meat inspectors by major meat-packing companies (some of them top global companies) 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. Some families are afraid to eat the meat in their freezers. 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.

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.

The same mega-corporations behind these scandals are pushing their dangerous industrial meat and dairy model 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.

Marfrig Slaughterhouse Facilities in Brazil © Ricardo Funari / Lineair / Greenpeace

Marfrig Slaughterhouse Facilities in Brazil © Ricardo Funari / Lineair / Greenpeace

A worker handles butchered livestock in a Marfrig slaughterhouse facility. Marfrig is the world’s fourth largest beef trader.The best way to protect your family from outbreaks is to change this system and commit to less and better meat, if you 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. With new meat-free alternatives emerging on the market and plant-rich cooking on the rise, now’s the time to think seriously about less meat and more plants.

And if you do eat meat, “better meat” simply means to know where it comes from and how it’s produced. The Brazilian scandal makes it clear: better meat does not come from mega-corporations. It comes from 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 your 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). A plant-based diet is best for health, climate, forests, global food security and your own health.

Whether vegetarian or reducetarian, we all can be part of solutions by committing to plant-rich diets which reduce this runaway global demand for meat. We also must hold our governments accountable for protecting public health and the health of the planet so we can make scandals like this a story of the past.

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.