A high-level investigation has revealed that top Brazilian meatpackers have been accused of selling rotten products for years.

Brazilian beef.
Brazilian beef. (TRT World and Agencies)

Brazilian President Michel Temer on Sunday met executives and foreign diplomats to assuage health concerns tarnishing a sector responsible for $12 billion in annual exports.

The meetings came after police raided top Brazilian meatpackers in a massive scandal involving bribery and selling rotten meat products for years. Temer said his government is confident of the quality of Brazilian meat.

Brazil is the world's biggest red meat exporter, and the scandal could tarnish a lucrative industry.

On Friday, Brazilian police raided the premises of global meatpacking companies JBS and BRF, as well as dozens of smaller rivals. They arrested three BRF employees and two from JBS, as well as 20 public officials.

Police are calling their investigation "Operation Weak Flesh." Authorities say they have found evidence of meatpackers bribing inspectors and politicians to overlook unsanitary practices such as processing rotten meat and shipping exports with traces of salmonella.

Brazil's Agriculture Ministry suspended three plants cited in the investigation, one run by BRF and two run by smaller rival Grupo Peccin, and began removing their meat products from supermarkets.

Police said they have evidence that meatpackers falsified documentation for exports to Europe, China and the Middle East.

TRT World spoke to journalist Sam Cowie in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Government says Brazilian meat is safe

Senior Agriculture Ministry official Luis Eduardo Rangel said, "There is no sanitary risk," associated with Brazil's meat exports.

He said the allegations of tainted meat were "worrisome from a corruption and crime point of view," but "from a health perspective we are very confident that the sanitary issues alleged do not represent a risk for consumers or exports."

Brazil's success as a meat producer in part stems from what has been an efficient and highly-regarded system of sanitary controls, the government said.

Authorities noted that none of the more than 150 countries that already buy Brazilian meat has suspended imports.

Importing countries not convinced

Customers are still wary.

"You cannot play around with food," said André Regli, Switzerland's ambassador to Brazil, adding the problems were "worrying."

On Saturday, officials from the European Union said they sent two letters to Brazil's government seeking details about any systemic risks to imports.

China's government asked for similar information.

On Friday, regulators from the United States, which recently began importing fresh beef from Brazil, said they were monitoring the issue but that inspections at import terminals there should prevent any health risks.

In damage-control efforts, JPS and rival BRF launched a public relations campaign over the weekend to make clear they did not sell rotten beef.

The two companies took out full-page ads in Brazilian newspapers and magazines on Saturday defending their business practices and internal controls.

They condemned any wrongdoing uncovered by the probe.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies