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Brazil meat plant inspectors resume protest, slowing oversight work

SAO PAULO, July 25 (Reuters) - Brazil's federal food inspectors, who claim they lack sufficient staff to ensure safety of the country's meat shipments, resumed a protest this week, slowing certification work at meatpacking companies and oversight at several ports and airports, their labor union said on Tuesday.

Inspectors union Anffa Sindical recommended in a statement that members refrain from accessing the Agriculture Ministry's databases linked to foreign trade activities on July 24-25. This could delay export checks and on-site oversight.

The protest is taking place at 100 inspection units at Brazilian ports, airports, and agricultural laboratories, Anffa said. It did not specify the locations.

Anffa has demanded that the government hire 1,600 more inspectors. The union is also asking authorities to add veterinarians to handle food inspections more efficiently.

Last month the United States banned shipments of fresh beef from Brazil, saying it had found abscesses in the meat and signs of systemic failure of sanitary inspection. European and Canadian officials told Reuters that they had sent back some shipments of tainted meat this year.

This followed a bribery investigation of health inspectors in March, which implicated meatpackers including BRF SA and JBS SA, and prompted foreign markets including China and Hong Kong to ban Brazil's meat products temporarily.

The union said there are far too few inspectors to police Brazil's powerful protein industry, which exports about $14.5 billion in meat annually.

"Over the last 20 years, Brazil's agribusiness grew over 200 percent but the number of federal inspectors fell by 35 percent," Anffa said. The union said this compromises oversight work and leads to problems such as those that prompted the United States to ban Brazil's fresh beef.

Last week, the union organized a similar protest meant to last 24 hours. At the time, it said it would repeat the act for 48 hours if demands were not met.

The Agriculture Ministry did not have an immediate comment.

Industry groups ABPA and Abiec, which represent Brazilian chicken and beef exporters, did not reply to requests for comment. (Reporting by José Roberto Gomes and Ana Mano; Editing by David Gregorio)