Employees in a butcher shop in Brasilia, Brazil. The EU said it was temporarily halting some imports of Brazilian meat amid an investigation into a massive scheme of meat adulteration.Photo: AP
Durban - The government on Wednesday suspended meat imports from Brazil as safety concerns escalated after Brazilian police accused inspectors in the world’s biggest exporter of beef and poultry of taking bribes to allow sales of rotten and salmonella-tainted meats.

The department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (Daff) said it would ban all meat imports as sanitary problems over the Brazilian meat scandal that hit the world this week increased.

The department also advised authorities to curb the importation of meat from establishments implicated in the scandal until the issue had been resolved to the satisfaction of the South African veterinary authority. Officials at all ports of entry had been instructed to test every container of meat from Brazil using the existing policies regarding testing of consignments.

“Daff wishes to assure consumers that the officials at ports of entry have always been vigilant on meat imports from any country to ensure compliance with sanitary requirements which are put in place to protect both consumers and animals against food hazards and animal diseases respectively,” the department said.

The ban comes a week after more countries, including Chile, China, South Korea and the EU halted meat imports from Brazil. It is not known how many consignments may have already left Brazil and are on their way to South Africa.

Earlier in the week Brazilian police raided the premises of global meatpacking companies JBS and BRF as well as dozens of smaller rivals in a crackdown on alleged bribery of health officials that could threaten the $12 billion (R151.5 billion) industry in annual exports.

BRF government relations executive Roney Nogueira was arrested and questioned by the police on his way from South Africa and more arrests were expected to follow. On Sunday, the Brazilian government said it would speed up the audit process of the companies implicated in the scandal.

“The objective of the investigation is not the agriculture and livestock defence system in place, whose rigour is widely recognised, but a few conduct deviations,” the government said. The Daff said it had requested the Brazilian authority to provide official information and a list of establishments that have been identified in the issue raised regarding unsafe meat being exported to various countries, which could include South Africa.

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Brazil is the leading exporter of poultry to South Africa with 41.7 percent out of 560 155 tons for 2016, according to the information provided by the South African Poultry Association (Sapa).

Sapa chief executive Kevin Lovell said the banning of the imports was prudent and appropriate. “The correct way for Daff to do this is by engaging in an official verification process of all Brazilian imports, including their plants until this issue has been resolved,” said Lovell.

The Association for Meat Importers and Exporters of South Africa (Amiesa) said it also supported the call for suspension of Brazilian meat imports into South Africa.

Amiesa chief executive David Wolpert said: “I heard that the government only suspended those producers that are involved in the scandal but not the entire imports from Brazil. As an industry we support the call by the government to isolate those companies that are involved until the situation has been resolved.”

FNB senior agricultural economist Paul Makube said the ban was inevitable, given the implication of big companies in Brazil in the scandal. “Those two companies were major exporters to the country, so it was important that our government acts in ensuring the safety of the consumers.”