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Brazil meat processors want to keep output, food security

SAO PAULO, March 26 (Reuters) - Brazil will continue to play a key role in guaranteeing global food security in the face of widespread lockdowns to contain contagion from the novel coronavirus, an industry group executive said on Thursday.

Franciso Turra, ABPA president, said governments are yet learning how to deal with the health crisis and adaptations to the coronavirus-related lockdowns are unavoidable.

ABPA, whose members include listed food companies like BRF and JBS SA, has been busy lobbying to ease curbs on the circulation of goods and people that could potentially disrupt the supply chain, he said.

The lockdowns have threatened transportation of feed and finished products, which is detrimental to the industry's ability to deliver food to people's tables.

"Our companies are functioning well, almost normally," Turra said by telephone on Thursday. The group acted to persuade some state governments that had passed quarantine measures that ABPA considers "excessive" to ease them. "The food industry cannot stop," he said.

Turra cited curbs in Santa Catarina, a major pork and poultry producer and exporter, which have been removed but spooked the local food supply chain.

Since lockdowns were enforced, municipal decrees threatened operations of grain processors and grains shipments in key farm towns.

More recently, Turra said, truck drivers involved in moving inputs and finished goods to and from food factories reported problems finding dining places. To deal with the issue, ABPA members began supplying their food. Truckers even found people along the way who offered meals, which Turra called in "an act of solidarity."

At the factory floor, ABPA said members are taking precautions to protect workers. These include taking workers' temperatures and ensuring that everyone gets a clean uniform every day. The latter became an issue after laundries closed in certain towns.

With around a fifth of the world's population already under lockdown to fight the coronavirus pandemic, Brazil's food processors' stance comes as a balm amid food global security concerns.

As the crisis escalated, some governments mulled restrictions to the flow of food staples to ensure their own populations have enough while supply chains are disrupted by the pandemic.

In Brazil, Turra said ABPA is keeping output and export projections, and the prospect of hiring more people exists because of strong demand from Asia, where animal diseases are driving food imports.

Yet hurdles exist.

While explaining that China's logistics bottlenecks were overcome after port disruptions in February, export demand remains strong putting a strain on cargo movements.

"We don't have enough refrigerated containers," Turra said. (Reporting by Ana Mano Editing by Leslie Adler)

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