Brazil's 'rotten meat' scandal grows as China, EU, South Korea ban imports

emAP Photo/em
AP Photo

A scandal over expired meats in Brazil deepened on Monday with the European Union and China deciding to halt some meat imports from Latin America's largest nation.

The developments represent a major blow to Brazil, one of the world's largest exporters of meat, which is struggling to emerge from its worst recession in decades.

The announcements come despite a flurry of meetings that Brazilian President Michel Temer held with ambassadors and numerous assurances that Brazilian meats in general were safe.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, European Union spokesman Enrico Brivio said Monday the companies involved in the scandal would be temporarily barred.

The EU "will guarantee that any of the establishments involved in the fraud will be suspended," said Brivio, who didn't cite companies by name or expound on how long the ban will last.

A few hours later, Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said that China had suspended the unloading of Brazilian meats in Chinese ports. Maggi downplayed the move, saying Chinese authorities were in the process of asking for more information.

"There is no Chinese embargo," said Maggi, speaking to reporters in Brasilia. "What we have are containers there that can't leave the port to local markets."

On Friday, police issued 38 arrest warrants involving the giant meatpackers JBS and BRF. Both companies have denied wrongdoing.

To improve the appearance and smell of expired meats, the companies used chemicals and cheaper products like water and manioc flour, according to investigators. Three plants have been shut down.

Temer called an emergency meeting Sunday with ambassadors of several countries. He assured them that national meats were safe and invited them to a Brazilian-style barbeque.

On Monday, Temer again sought to calm nerves, saying that Brazil meat industry should not be judged by this one investigation.

"The agro business for us in Brazil is very important and it should not be marred by a small nucleus (of bad actors), a small thing," he said, speaking to the American Chamber of Commerce in Sao Paulo.

Sanitation officials were also out in force.

Marcia Rolim, head of Rio de Janeiro's municipal sanitary inspections, said routine investigations were being intensified in light of the investigation. Investigators collected several carts of meats for analysis. Some of the packages from at least one supermarket appeared to be rotten, with a greenish color.

Browsing meats on Monday at a supermarket, Carla Simone Macedo said she had periodically seen products that looked to be repackaged.

Antonio Fernando, another customer, said called investigation "an exaggeration."

"We have very good meats," he said, adding it was good to see more inspectors.

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