A Brazilian meatpacking company BRF SA marketplace is seen in Sao Paulo
Washington - A scandal over allegations of bribery in Brazil’s meat-packing industry to allow the sale of expired meat deepened as the European Union (EU), China and Chile decided to halt some meat imports from Latin America’s largest nation.

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, EU 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 did not name the companies or say how long the ban would last.

Read als: Brazil firms probed over bribery at meatpacking facilities

A few hours later, Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said that 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,” Maggi told reporters in Brasilia. “What we have are containers there that can’t leave the port to local markets.”

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

Chile followed suit, announcing the temporary suspension of Brazilian meats.

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

In a statement on 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.”

Late on 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 was improved by using chemicals and cheaper products such as water and manioc flour. Three plants have been shut down.

Brazil was the world’s largest producer of beef and veal in 2016 and one of the top exporters, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. 

AP