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Why Im probably not going back to Brazil

Originally posted by Robson Alessandro Mattos Machado on 11/27/2013 10:02 PM.



As a Brazilian studying in the US I usually get asked if Ill return to Brazil after I earn my degree. I
always say that from a personal point of view, based on how I feel today, I would not go back. I like the
Penn State University, the Food Science department, State College, and I made good friends here. From
a professional perspective I always say no way! And before Im asked why, I try to explain that there
arent a lot of good jobs in food safety in Brazil.
You are probably asking yourself, what many have asked me before: How can Brazil, being the
large food producer that it is, not have good jobs in food safety? Well, to be very simplistic, Ill start by
saying that food safety is not a problem in Brazil. Just to give some substance to my statement, I
gathered data related to food recalls in Brazil. I found out that between 1999 and 2013 there were 13
recalls related to food or beverages. Out of these, only 2 could be due to microbiological contamination,
but the official records do not state so, they just say that there were a change in flavor not compatible
with the products standards and had some kind of gastrointestinal symptoms correlated to the
ingestion of the products. For the sake of argument, lets assume those 2 cases were due to
microbiological contamination. In almost 15 years we had two official products recalled because of
microbiological problems. In US, just in 2012, there were 82 food recalls and 23 were due to microbial
contamination. Whats the obvious conclusion? Brazil has one of the safest food supply systems, right?
Well, I dont want to be that guy talking bad about my own country, but Im pretty sure thats not the
case. Although there are far less food recalls, it does not mean that there are fewer cases of illnesses. In
2012 there were around 19,500 confirmed cases of illnesses in the USA (FoodNet-CDC) while there were
around 11,000 in Brazil (Secretaria de Vigilncia em Sade-SVS). Not a big difference. So, what does it
mean that Brazil has way less food recalls, but not that much less foodborne illnesses? In my
understanding, it means that companies in Brazil are not being held responsible for the diseases their
food cause. In other words, food companies are not being sued when they put a low quality product in
the market and make people sick; therefore, there is no need for recalls. Companies see no need to
order recalls since there are no economic losses that propels them to do so.
The discussion now strays away from food science and becomes a little bit broader. Thats the
only way to try to answer the next logical question: why are companies not being prosecuted for making
people sick in Brazil? I think its the time to make clear that whatever I say from here on is my sole
personal interpretation of the facts and should be treated as is, since it could be far from the truth as I
am a non-expert in the areas Ill be talking about. That being said, I think that the answer to the question
is threefold. i) patients having typical symptoms related to foodborne illnesses are not treated as a
priority and their cases are not fully investigated and/or reported; ii) Brazilian society is not very
litigious; iii) food companies have big lobbying power.
Healthcare is free and universal in Brazil and is provided by a system called SUS (Sistem nico de
Sade or Unified Health System in free translation) that is maintained by the government. Its 100% free,
but its an overall very precarious system. A good indicator of that is that people who can spare money
for healthcare will pay for a private provider. Roughly 1 in every 4 Brazilians has a private healthcare
provider (ANS Agncia Nacional de Sade Suplementar). Since SUS is a free system, it needs to keep its
cost at a minimum and prioritize where to put the physicians efforts and the systems money. In this
perspective, patients with symptoms of food poisoning will not be treated as critical and usually dont
have their cases followed-up. Especially because the physicians know that if they ask for tests related to
food poisoning, the results dont come fast enough and the patient will probably be healthy again when
it does. So, they just medicate for the symptoms and send the patient back to home, hoping the disease
will run its course without complications. If not, the patient will probably return and then they can
spend more effort on that. Also, Physicians usually will not spend their time reporting these cases and
we dont have an efficient integrated system to gather the data. With this scenario, we lack the
information needed to detect and confirm outbreaks which could lead to a search for the sources and
possible prosecution of the companies involved.
Another factor is that the Brazilian Society is not very litigious. Most Brazilians are used to see
how slow the justice system works and how unreliable it can be. Because of that, we just dont care
about suing, especially big companies that are expected to have resources to pay for good lawyers to
use the systems loopholes to make the litigious process go on for a long time, and probably end up
favoring the big companies. In simple words, Brazilians just dont think its worth the time and energy to
pursue the legal path. In the same line of thought, big companies have a huge lobbying power, especially
in a mostly politically corrupted country like Brazil. This is not a nice adjective to use for your own home
nation, but unfortunately its true. Most politicians in Brazil are involved with scandals and the big
companies influence permeates the system like a disease. Law makers and judges are not free from the
influences, which makes it very hard for the everyday citizens to have their rights protected by the
flawed system.
When you put all of this together, what you have is a country that virtually has no food safety
problems, at least from a legal point of view. So, why would food companies spent the extra dollar to
have a high-level food safety specialist to solve problems that do not exist? There are enough people
with degrees that give them the right to be the person in charge of the food safety that will work for the
offered salary and will probably look the other way to keep their jobs. Here we see that the corruption
of the politicians is a mere reflex of the overall corruption of the society.
So, I ask you: do you think I should go back to Brazil after I graduate in Food Sciences with focus
in food safety? There are two scenarios I can foresee if I go back. First, I keep to my moral standards and
fight against the system as hard as I can and probably will not last long in any job. Second, I relax and
start being part of the corrupted system to keep my job. None of these options seems good enough for
me. Moreover, I not trying to say the system is perfect here in the USA, but I believe it works a little
better. I could have a job where I could earn a decent salary doing what I love to the highest standards.
That is pretty much my perspective of why I should stay after I graduate, at least for a while to have a
better feeling of the system here in USA.