In this file:
· Special Report: How COVID-19 swept the Brazilian slaughterhouses of JBS, world's top meatpacker
· Brazil's Marfrig to set up joint venture company in Paraguay
Special Report: How COVID-19 swept the Brazilian slaughterhouses of JBS, world's top meatpacker
Ana Mano, Reuters
September 8, 2020
SÃO PAULO (Reuters) - JBS SA, the world’s largest meatpacker, has vowed to keep the world fed during the coronavirus pandemic. Executives say the company has added more than 15,000 new workers in Brazil this year to crank out cuts of chicken, pork and beef, a lot of it for export. The meat giant’s $629 million second-quarter net profit was almost twice what analysts expected.
But that windfall has come at a cost: More than 4,000 JBS employees in Brazil are known to have tested positive for coronavirus and at least six have died from COVID-19, according to records from local health authorities and information gathered by prosecutors and three employee unions investigating the company. Outbreaks have struck at least 23 plants in seven states, prosecutors, health officials and union representatives told Reuters, helping to fuel the pandemic across South America’s largest country.
JBS, based in São Paulo, denied wrongdoing. The company repeatedly has defended its response to the pandemic in Brazil, saying publicly that the health of its workers is the “principal priority.” It declined to comment on infections and fatalities, saying it shares COVID-19 data only with authorities.
With more than 4.1 million confirmed coronavirus cases, Brazil trails only the United States and India in the size of its outbreak; almost 127,000 Brazilians have died. Some JBS plants have become a locus of community spread, Brazilian health officials and prosecutors said.
JBS’s initial brush with the virus came in its U.S. operations in March when it cut production at a Pennsylvania beef plant after managers displayed flu-like symptoms. The temporary closing of two JBS facilities due to major outbreaks, one at a Colorado beef plant, the other at a pork facility in Minnesota, also made headlines.
Less well-known are its difficulties in Brazil, where the company has become a magnet for litigation. Since April, prosecutors in some of the nation’s biggest agricultural states have filed 18 lawsuits in the country’s specialized labor courts to force JBS to implement stricter worker protections in at least 17 of the meatpacker’s Brazilian plants that have experienced coronavirus outbreaks.
Other meatpackers, too, have battled the virus in their plants. Brazil-based companies including Marfrig and BRF have reached agreements with prosecutors to conduct systematic, ongoing testing of their workers to minimize spread and keep operating.
JBS, in contrast, largely has resisted prosecutors’ calls to perform such testing, which is not expressly required under Brazilian law.
“There is no obligation coming from the government, the regulatory or the health agencies for meatpackers to carry out tests,” JBS said in a statement.
Reuters reviewed judges’ rulings and information submitted by prosecutors as part of their JBS investigations. The news organization also interviewed more than 30 people with knowledge of the infections at JBS plants in Brazil, among them prosecutors, former and current health officials, union leaders and workers.
Among the claims made by prosecutors as well as by government labor inspectors who documented conditions at two JBS plants: The virus spread at JBS because the company did not perform its own workplace testing, failed to provide frontline employees with sufficient masks and other safety equipment, and did not quickly isolate workers who tested positive or showed symptoms of COVID-19.
Prosecutors are seeking rigorous testing and quarantine protocols, adequate personal protective gear and greater spacing between laborers in the Brazilian meat factories. They are also asking JBS for damages ranging between 3 million reais ($566,091) and 20 million reais ($3.77 million) to help local communities near most of the affected plants procure medical equipment and fund social projects.
“JBS is a world leader in its industry and should set an example,” said Heiler Natali, a prosecutor overseeing legal action against the company in southern Paraná state. “JBS does not want to test workers and take responsibility.”
The legal disputes resulted in the temporary shutdown of six JBS plants in Brazil this year, according to prosecutors.
JBS said only five of its hundred-plus Brazilian facilities were affected by the shutdowns, and that the sixth factory cited by prosecutors was never closed.
The sixth plant is a pork operation in Três Passos in southern Rio Grande do Sul state. A local labor judge ordered that plant to furlough with pay for 14 days all workers who had tested positive for COVID-19, and to test the rest for coronavirus, according to a June 22 court order seen by Reuters.
Some 40% of that facility’s workforce of 1,017 tested positive for coronavirus, and one died, according to prosecutors.
JBS declined to comment on pending litigation. It defended the measures it has taken, telling Reuters that, among other steps, it has hired consultants to advise it on health protocols such as proper physical distancing at plants. The company in July arranged for mass testing of workers at a pork plant in the southern city of Dourados in southwestern Mato Grosso do Sul state under a deal worked out with prosecutors.
Chief Executive Officer Gilberto Tomazoni said on an August 14 earnings call that he was “proud” of JBS’s response to the crisis, which he said included $400 million in investment worldwide to safeguard workers and communities surrounding its facilities.
All told, JBS operates 135 facilities in Brazil, including beef, chicken, pork and leather plants, as well as offices and distribution centers. Those operations account for about one-fifth of its global revenue. JBS employs 240,000 people worldwide, including 135,000 in Brazil.
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Brazil's Marfrig to set up joint venture company in Paraguay
By Andy Coyne, Just-Food
8 September 2020
Brazilian meat heavyweight Marfrig has revealed it is planning to establish a joint venture business in neighbouring Paraguay.
In a statement to the Brazilian stock exchange, Marfrig said it has executed a non-binding agreement of intent with the Paraguayan Association of Meat Producers and Exporters – APPEC – to jointly constitute a new company in Paraguay with the aim of exploring potential investments in the country.
Marfrig's stake in the new company will be 85%, with 15% of the share capital belonging to APPEC. The company said its investment in the country could reach US$100m over a two-year period..
The processor claimed it would contribute its know-how in terms of technology, production, marketing and logistics while APPEC will seek to guarantee a significant amount of raw material and bring its "vast knowledge in the local market" to the venture.
Marfrig said the operation will seek to replicate the model the company has been developing at National Beef Packing Company...
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