Brazil, facing an increasing number of countries putting restrictions on its meat exports, has attempted to emphasise its probe into alleged corruption in the country’s meat industry is focusing on specific incidents and to talk up the quality of production.

However, Brazil’s agriculture minister has reportedly warned the country could see its share of meat exports fall by 10%, predicting it could take the industry five years to recoup sales.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and South Africa have joined the markets to have placed restrictions on meat shipments from Brazil. The industry has also seen Wal-Mart’s Brazilian arm suspend the sale of products from the 21 processing plants named in the investigation probing the alleged corruption.

In a joint statement, Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply and its federal police said the investigation “focuses on the possible practice of crimes of corruption by public agents”.

The statement added: “Although the investigations of the federal police aim to determine specific irregularities identified in the federal inspection system, such facts are directly related to deviations of professional conduct practiced by some and do not represent a general malfunction of the Brazilian health integrity system. The Brazilian federal inspection system has already been audited by several countries that have testified to its quality. SIF guarantees quality products to the Brazilian consumer.

At a joint hearing of the agriculture and economy committees of Brazil’s Senate, Blairo Maggi, the country’s agriculture minister, reflected on the impact of the investigation on the reputation of the industry abroad. He said: “I am worried but confident that we will solve the problems with the countries that have trade with Brazil.”

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Maggi said he had talks with government officials in Brazil’s export markets to set out “the real size” of the investigation and the actions that had been taken, such as suspending exports from 18 cold stores under suspicion.

Police accuse executives from large meat processing companies of paying politicians and inspectors from Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture to overlook unsanitary practices, allowing them to manufacture adulterated products. Police claim ministry officials in the states of Paraná, Minas Gerais and Goiás acted to protect the companies.

Brazil’s federal revenue agency allege the corrupt inspections resulted in adulterated products being allowed to be sold for human consumption circulating freely in the domestic market, serve as school snacks or being exported.

Saudi Arabia has suspended imports from four plants, including one operated by JBS and another by BRF, according to reports.

South Africa said it would halt meat “from establishments suspected to be involved in the Brazil meat scandal”.

South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said it had asked Brazil to give it a list of “establishments that have been identified in the issue”.

The department said: “It is not known how many consignments may have already left Brazil and are on their way to South Africa, however, DAFF is in the process of ensuring that the establishments implicated are suspended from exporting meat to South Africa until the Brazilian Veterinary Authority
have fully investigated the matter and can give the necessary assurances for compliance to the South African requirements for importation of meat into South Africa.”

On Friday, JBS, the owner of household meat brands including Seara, issued a statement to say police had conducted raids at several Brazilian companies, which involved three of its own facilities – two in Paraná and one in Goiás.

The company said no judicial measures have been taken against the company’s executives and underlined its headquarters were not a target of the operation.

However, JBS admitted “a judicial measure” was issued at one of its facilities in Paraná against one of its veterinarians, who performs auxiliary inspections services for the Ministry of Agriculture.

“The company strongly repudiates any practices related to product adulteration or tampering, whether in the production or sale of products, and it is available to address any concerns with the authorities,” JBS said.

On Monday, BRF revealed operations have been suspended at one of its plants.

The group, one of Brazil’s largest meatpackers, said its facility in the city of Mineiros, in the south-western state of Goiás, had had its operations halted “in a preventative and temporary manner” by the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply, or MAPA.

However, BRF also on Monday sought to “clarify” information published by media outlets since news of the allegations broke on Friday.