The fallout from a corruption scandal in Brazil's massive meat industry is spreading, with China and South Korea suspending some imports and the European Union calling for a partial ban.
- Inspectors and politicians allegedly bribed to ignore rotten and salmonella-infested meat
- China suspends Brazilian meat imports worth billions per year with the EU also taking action
- Meat has been one of Brazil's few thriving industries during its two year recession.
China, which accounted for nearly one-third of the Brazilian industry's $17.9 billion in exports last year, decided to suspend imports of all meat products from Brazil as a precautionary measure.
Police named BRF, the world's largest poultry producer, its giant rival JBS SA, and dozens of smaller rivals in a two-year probe into how meatpackers allegedly paid off inspectors and politicians to overlook practices including processing rotten meat and shipping exports with traces of salmonella.
The companies have strongly denied any wrongdoing.
In a major operation last Friday, police issued 38 arrest warrants and accused some major meatpacking companies of widespread bribery of health inspectors to hide unsanitary conditions.
"Until it receives more information, China will not unload meat imported from Brazil," the Brazilian agriculture ministry said in a statement.
The Brazilian police operation codenamed "Weak Flesh" was likely to deal a heavy blow to one of the few sectors of Latin America's largest economy that has thrived during a two-year recession.
South Korea's agriculture ministry said in a statement that it would tighten inspections of imported Brazilian chicken meat and temporarily bar sales of chicken products by BRF.
More than 80 per cent of the 107,400 tonnes of chicken that South Korea imported last year came from Brazil, and BRF supplied almost half of that.
Authorities have emphasised that no cases of illness have been linked to the investigation.
In an attempt to minimise the scandal, Brazil's President Michel Temer said the probe involved only 21 of Brazil's more than 4,800 meat processing units.
"Agribusiness for us in Brazil is incredibly important and cannot be devalued by a small group, by a minor thing that can be investigated, regulated and punished if needed," Mr Temer told business leaders in Sao Paulo.
"But it cannot compromise the entire system that we have created through the years."
However, Francisco Turra, head of Brazilian beef producers association ABPA, told a separate news conference that the scandal had put the entire sector in jeopardy and "destroyed" a hard-fought image of quality products.
The European Commission called on Brazil to immediately halt exports by the four companies implicated in the scandal.
The Commission said the scandal would not affect negotiations between the European Union and South American bloc Mercosur about agreements on free trade.
Chile's Agriculture Minister Carlos Furche confirmed on Twitter that the Chilean Government was imposing a "temporary" ban on meat imports from Brazil.
That ban would stay in place until Brazil was able to confirm companies exporting meat to Chile had been adequately vetted.
On the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's second-largest city, the scandal left many consumers in doubt.
"My freezer at home is full of meat, and I don't know what to do," said Maria Fonseca, a saleswoman. "Should I eat it or just throw it all away?
"It is an enormous waste. If I lived in the countryside, I'd start raising my own cows and chickens!"