Authorities in Brazil have suspended 33 government officials, closed three slaughterhouses and placed a further 21 plants under government inspection after a massive police raid on Friday 17 March.
Brazil’s federal police launched operation ‘Weak Flesh’ on Friday with more than 1,000 officers raiding meat factories across six Brazilian states.
Investigators allege some factory managers bribed politicians and health inspectors to secure export certificates and food safety approval for meat that was never checked for hygiene standards.
The investigation is the largest ever carried out in the federal police’s history. The police said the operation was launched to dismantle a “criminal organisation” that used bribes to facilitate the production of adulterated beef and poultry.
As the crisis in the industry continued to grow, Brazil’s president Michel Temer met with ministerial aids and ambassadors from Europe, the US and China to tackle the controversy.
He said all countries importing Brazilian meat are welcome to inspect its slaughterhouses. After the meeting, Temer accompanied politicians to a steak house in the capital, Brasília, to demonstrate that Brazil’s meat is safe for consumption.
Food safety under fire
Brazil is one of the world’s largest meat exporters and in 2016 generated $13.9bn in global meat trade, according to World Trade Stats.
One of the country’s largest meat processors, BRF, said it was cooperating with the police investigation and stressed that it followed high sanitary and food safety controls.
Three abattoirs run by meat processor JBS have also been targeted by police: two in Paraná and one in Goiás. The company said a JBS veterinarian employed at the Lapa factory in Paraná has been served with a “judicial measure”. The veterinarian concerned carried out inspection services for Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture. It is unclear at this stage what the judicial measure entails.
Details around JBS’ exact involvement in the tainted meat scandal remain unclear. However, JBS said it followed “rigorous” quality standards and controls that guaranteed food safety.
The Brazilian Association of Beef Exporters (ABIC) has issued a statement to confirm that none of the 29 beef factories run by its members have been implicated in the scandal.
“ABIEC emphasises that the cases recently made public in Operation Weak Flesh are isolated incidents that do not represent Brazil’s enormous beef production chain,” the association said.
Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture has said no meat from the 21 factories under scrutiny would be transported out of the country without prior authorisation of government-appointed auditors.
It was unclear at the time of this article being published if any countries had banned imports of Brazilian beef or poultry over the rotten meat scandal.