Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil meat-packing giants 'exported rotten beef'

An employee carries pieces of meat at a butchery in Sao Paulo, Brazil October 10, 2014. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Brazil is one of the world's top meat producers and exporters

The authorities in Brazil suspended 33 government officials amid allegations that some of the country's biggest meat processors have been selling rotten beef and poultry for years.

Three meat processing plants have also been closed and another 21 are under scrutiny.

Much of the meat produced by the companies accused is exported to Europe and other parts of the world.

Brazil is the world's largest red meat exporter.

Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi will meet foreign ambassadors on Monday to reassure them and try to prevent sanctions being issued against Brazilian meat exporters.

Operation Weak Flesh was launched in the early hours of Friday in six Brazilian states after a two-year investigation.

Federal police carried out raids in 194 locations, deploying more than 1,000 officers.

The investigators allege that some managers bribed health inspectors and politicians to get government certificates for their products.

They accuse more than 30 companies of a number of unhygienic practices. Among them are JBS, the world's largest beef exporter, and BRF, the world's top poultry producer.

Brazilian federal police said they have evidence of at least 40 incidents.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Both JBS and BRF say they are co-operating with the police

"They used acid and other chemicals to mask the aspect of the product. In some cases, the products used were carcinogenic," the police said.

In other cases, potato, water and even cardboard paper was mixed with chicken meat to increase profits.

JBS said in a statement that it had followed rigorous quality standards and sanitary regulations.

It confirmed the raids, but said none of its top executives had been targeted.

BRF said it was co-operating with the investigation. The company also denied breaching regulations.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Temer (right) appointed Mr Maggi (left) to his cabinet in May 2016

Prosecutors say a percentage of the bribe money was paid to two parties from the governing coalition: PP and President Michel Temer's PMDB.

Shares of JBS and BRF have fallen by 10% and 8% respectively in the Sao Paulo stock exchange following the announcement.

JBS has a net revenue of $55bn (£44bn). It exports to some 150 countries.

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