Brazil's BRF flags challenges of coronavirus testing for meat, guarantees safety

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian food company BRF SA faces challenges meeting Chinese demands to test meat for potential coronavirus contamination, executives said on Thursday, adding the company lost export business in the second quarter amid the pandemic.

BRF told journalists on a conference call that despite the logistical difficulties with testing cargos, which it said was “extremely complex,” it could guarantee its products were safe for consumption as they are produced at “sanitized” factories.

After outbreaks at facilities including a pork plant in the town of Lajeado and a chicken facility in Dourados, China blocked the two BRF factories over coronavirus concerns.

BRF said it has spent millions to control and prevent contamination by the virus, confirming higher expenses related to the health crisis had weighed on its financial performance.

Outbreaks at BRF plants also disrupted production, including at its massive Rio Verde plant, which was closed for testing of its 8,600-workforce in June.

BRF shares were down more than 5% in afternoon trading.

BRF’s managers noted there were no employees who had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, currently working at its factories.

“No doubt there is contamination at slaughterhouses, and when that happens we suspend the employee,” Chief Executive Officer Lorival Luz said.

He declined to say whether any BRF employees had died from COVID-19.

On Wednesday, BRF said it had to preemptively suspend about 8,200 employees, with pay, after the pandemic struck. It also hired about 6,700 temporary workers to replace those in high-risk groups who had to shelter at home, while also suspending other potentially infected employees after BRF actively tested them.

Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bernadette Baum