Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

Too Fat to Die? 250,000 Turkeys Spared Knife Amid Brazil Probe

  • Animals have been awaiting slaughter for 12 days in Mineiros
  • BRF plant was shut down amid probe into bribes, tainted meat

There are 250,000 turkeys in the municipality of Mineiros, deep in Brazil’s agricultural heartland, with nowhere to go.

The birds had been scheduled to be slaughtered over the past 12 days at a plant owned by food giant BRF SA. The factory was shut down on March 17 amid a probe by Brazilian police into alleged bribes paid to federal agents to allow the sale and export of tainted meat. While the company managed to transfer the 120,000 chickens it processed each day to another facility, 4 million turkeys kept in farms in the region -- some of which have become too heavy to be slaughtered -- are still stranded.  

"Turkeys are born with a specific day to die. If they wait longer, they get too fat," Fabio Lemos, vice-president at a poultry producers group in Mineiros known as Avip, said in a telephone interview. Producers, who sell the poultry to BRF and have been stuck with the birds since the plant was shut down, are concerned about the possibility that the facility remains closed for a long period of time, he said.

Turkeys are usually killed weighing between 20 kilograms and 22 kilograms (44 pounds and 48 pounds), and won’t fit the machines that process them if they grow more than that. Among other potential problems, Lemos also lists increased risk of heart attacks for the birds and less profitable cuts due to difficulties in trimming the broilers’ carcasses.

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BRF’s plant in Mineiros usually slaughters about 25,000 turkeys per day, according to Lemos. With operations suspended since March 17, more than 250,000 animals are filling 219 farms in the municipality. The closest BRF could send the turkeys is Uberlandia -- a municipality more than 500 kilometers (300 miles) away in the state of Minas Gerais, which would be a costly move and require permission from Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry.

BRF is awaiting authorization to send the turkeys to its Uberlandia unit and declined to comment on the costs of the operation, the company’s press office said in an email. BRF has denied wrongdoing in the so-called Weak Flesh probe, saying it abides by all regulations and that it’s cooperating with authorities. The Mineiros plant follows strict rules and the salmonella found in containers shipped to Europe originating from it is harmless and permitted by European standards, the company said.

Sao Paulo-based BRF is the country’s biggest chicken producer and largest food company, selling over 2 million tons of fresh poultry in 2016. Brazil exported 139,742 tons of chilled, frozen and processed turkey meat last year, according to government data. The main destination was the European Union, which suspended imports from the Mineiros plant after the probe.

— With assistance by Gerson Freitas Jr

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