Some of the world’s biggest food importing countries have announced full or partial suspensions of shipments from Brazil amid a scandal over tainted meat.
Police have targeted plants belonging to meat companies BRF, JBS and Grupo Peccin in response to allegations that corrupt officials had let rancid products to be exported overseas.
Following a two-year investigation of the meatpacking industry, police have accused more than 100 food inspectors and officials of accepting bribes in exchange for overlooking unsanitary factory conditions and potentially contaminated meat and falsifying export documents.
Brazilian federal prosecutors heading the investigation allege some sausages and cold cuts contained animal parts such as pig heads, some meat products were adulterated with cardboard, and that in some cases, acid was used to mask the smell of tainted meat, according to Bloomberg.
China, the largest importer of Brazilian chicken and beef, temporarily suspended shipments, while Hong Kong and Switzerland have enforced an outright ban of all meat from the South American country.
The European Union, Chile, Japan, Canada, Mexico and Argentina have restricted purchases in response to the corruption probe.
Singapore’s authorities announced they would monitor meat shipments from Brazil, while South Korea lifted its short-lived ban on chicken imports from BRF after confirming it had not purchased rotten chicken from the country.
The US department of Agriculture said it would step up inspections on all imported Brazillian meat products but stressed that none of the processing facilities implicated in the investigation had shipped meat into US.
European Commission spokesman Erico Brivio said Brazilian authorities confirmed that the companies implicated in the probe had been suspended from exporting to the EU.
“We have asked our member states to be vigilant,” he told reporters in Brussels.
“The commission remains in constant contact with the Brazilian authorities and is following this matter very closely.”
The EU is the second-biggest destination for beef exports from Brazil and the third for chicken, accounting for less than 10% of total shipments.
Brazil exported $12.6bn of meat last year, with China and Hong Kong accounting for about a third of the shipments, according to Capital Economics.
China said they would not accept meat shipments until Brazil provided further clarification on the probe. The Brazilian government confirmed China had blocked some shipments of beef and chicken from clearing customs at ports, pending consultation between ministers of the two countries.
The Brazilian government sought to downplay the scandal and stressed it involved isolated cases in a usually rigorously-regulated industry.
“In 2016 alone, Brazil sent over 835,000 shipments of animal products to other countries,” it said.
“Of those, only 184 were considered to be non-compliant by their importers, often not because of health issues but rather due to incorrect labelling or incorrectly filled forms or certificates.”
President Michel Temer described the scandal as a “fuss” but acknowledged that it had caused “an economic embarrassment for the country” at a conference organised by the Council of the Americas.
Brazil’s trade associations for beef, pork and poultry producers also warned that the scandal could have a massive effect on the economy as the sector’s exports represent 15% of total exports, according to The Australian.
The investigation is the latest involving federal police and prosecutors and comes in the wake of a massive corruption scandal involving billions of dollars in political kickbacks made by construction giants to win contracts with state-controlled firms, according to CNBC.
The probe has involved scores of top politicians, including several ministers in Temer’s government.
Both JBS and BRF deny malpractice and have taken out full-page newspaper adverts and paid for prime-time television spots to reassure consumers their meat is safe to eat, according to the Financial Times.
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