Brazil uncovers rancid meat scam with ties to government

There was something rotten in the state of Brazil when police discovered that some of the world's largest meatpackers had allegedly been bribing political parties and the Agriculture Ministry to sell dangerous, out of date meat to the unsuspecting public.

The meatpackers were said by investigator Mauricio Moscardi Grillo at a recent news conference to have used chemicals to improve the look and smell of expired meats, and that the rotten meat was mixed in with normal meat to make it appear less rancid to consumers.

Other products, including water and manioc flour as well as potato and cardboard paper were also blended with meat sold by the two companies, according to police.

Grillo, who helped run the so-called 'Operation Weak Flesh', also said that this was being sold to families and their children: "They [children] are getting food made of outdated, rotten and many times cancerous products so the economic interest of this mighty crime gang is obeyed," he said, as quoted by ABC News.

The ties to Brazil's government are also said to run deep: There are allegation that the two meatpacking companies, JBS (one of the largest meatpackers in the world) and BRF, gave money to two major political parties – including president Michel Temer's party.

This is according to police and comes after a two-year investigation – this month, they issued dozens of arrest warrants, with three plants associated with the companies now also shut down with investigations ongoing at 21 more plants.

But some of the rotten meat was exported to Europe, according to Grillo, with four containers of BRF meat contaminated with salmonella being stopped from entering in Italy last year; he added, however, that the company was never penalised.

Judge Marcos Josegrei da Silva, who authorized the arrests, said the country's Agriculture Ministry "was taken hostage by a group of individuals that repeatedly betrayed their obligation of serving society."

The meat companies were said to have significant influence over the Agricultural Ministry and were thus able to pick the inspectors who visited their plants.

Eumar Novacki, a spokesman for the Agriculture Ministry, said at a news conference that the inspectors had been suspended immediately: "We will take action to punish those who committed this. It is 33 servants in a group of thousands. It is not a routine problem; it is an isolated issue. Brazilian meat is in 150 countries because it has good quality. Those countries also have their agencies that inspect products."

Novacki said the risk in eating meat from the companies was "very small" and did not impact the majority of the meat sold from the meatpackers.

Both of the companies have since released statements "vehemently repudiating" the allegations and assured consumers of the "quality and safety" of its products.

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