Brazil's meat crisis worsens as EU, China and Chile halted imports

Brazil's meat crisis worsens as EU, China and Chile halted importsThe European Union, China and Chile decided to halt some meat imports from Brazil, deepening a scandal over allegations of bribery in Brazil's meat-packing industry to allow the sale of expired meat, The Associated Press reported on Tuesday.

The developments are 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 came despite a flurry of meetings that Brazilian President Michel Temer held with ambassadors and assurances from the government that Brazilian meats, in general, are safe.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, European Union spokesman Enrico Brivio said the Brazilian companies involved in alleged bribery would be temporarily barred from shipping meat to the EU.

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 say how long the ban would last.

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

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

A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman in Beijing said China has taken "preventive and temporary" measures but gave no details.

"We hope the Brazilian side can carry out a thorough investigation in an open and transparent way," Hua Chunying said at a regular briefing.

Chile followed suit, announcing the temporary suspension of Brazilian meats, said Angel Sartori, country's director of Agricultural and Livestock Service.

On Friday, police issued 38 arrest warrants related to the probe, naming several companies including giant meatpackers JBS and BRF. Both have denied wrongdoing.

In a statement Monday, JBS said it had been "inappropriately connected to this story."

"There are no allegations in the judge's order that JBS or its executive management violated food safety or product quality standards or engaged in any wrongdoing," it said.

"The investigation is focused on the actions of Brazilian Federal Meat Inspectors," the statement added.

Late Monday, the Brazilian government said it was barring the exports of meats from 21 plants being investigated, but that sales for internal consumption would not be affected.

Investigators charge that health inspectors were bribed to overlook the sale of expired meats. Police also allege that the appearance and smell of expired meats were improved by using chemicals and cheaper products like water and manioc flour. Three plants have been shut down.
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