May 21, 2015 / 2:30 AM / 4 years ago

Brazil's JBS looking for deals in Americas, Australia: CEO

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brazil’s JBS SA, the world’s largest meatpacker, this year will look at opportunities for acquisitions in North and South America and Australia, Chief Executive Wesley Batista said on Wednesday.

Batista, in a wide-ranging interview with Reuters at a BMO investor conference in New York, also predicted that Zilmax, a controversial growth enhancer for cattle, will not return to market. Zilmax’s maker, Merck & Co, could not immediately be reached.

Batista’s comments about the search for potential deals come after the company said in recent months that it was focused on organic growth, not on acquisitions.

JBS will “for sure” be looking at potential acquisitions in the chicken, pork and branded, packaged food sectors during 2015, Batista said.

“I cannot say that, second half of this year, we are not going to be preparing ourselves, to (maybe) look something for late this year or next year,” he added.

JBS in November struck a deal to buy Primo Group, a leading producer of ham, sausage and bacon in Australia and New Zealand, for A$1.45 billion ($1.25 billion) in a bid to increase its access to fast-growing Asian markets.

Four months later, JBS’ director of investor relations, Jerry O’Callaghan, told analysts the company’s top priority for 2015 was to focus on organic growth. Last week, Batista said on a conference call that the company was open to deals but still “very focused on our current business.”

“I’m more focused on some internal things, but this does not mean we are not going to be looking,” he said on Wednesday.

Regarding Zilmax, Batista predicted the product will not return to use in U.S. beef production after Merck suspended sales in 2013. Major beef processors at the time stopped accepting cattle fed Zilmax following reports it may cause lameness.

Merck has previously said Zilmax is safe and that it planned to resume sales after doing more tests.

“It’s not going to happen,” Batista said about a return of Zilmax.

Reuters reported in 2013 that packer Tyson Foods Inc had stopped taking Zilmax-fed livestock after more than two dozen animals that had been fed the drug arrived at one of its slaughterhouses with missing hooves.

“The product was not a good fit for cattle production,” Batista said. “Everybody stopped. Some issues came about animal welfare and this kind of thing, and they just decided to stop. I don’t see this changing.”

(This story has been corrected to change million to billion in paragraph 6)

Reporting by Tom Polansek; Editing by Leslie Adler

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