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08/03/18: More fraud in Brazil food industry; labs falsified pathogen tests

meat-testing-iphoneBrazilian police made new arrests this week in an investigation into a meat scandal that erupted last year. This time the target of “Operation Weak Flesh” is laboratories accused of covering up salmonella in products from food giant BRF SA, also known as Brazil Foods.

“The investigation showed that five laboratories and the company’s analysis departments falsified results” shown to health inspectors, federal police said in a statement reported by New Vision news.

Brazilian Agriculture Ministry representative Alexandre Campos da Silva said the department received 410 notifications of salmonella presence from 12 countries that imported the meat in question last year, 80 percent of which were in the EU.

Monday’s sweep — the third since the scandal was uncovered — involved 270 police officers and 21 health agents across five Brazilian states.

Federal Police Commissioner Mauricio Boscardi Grillo said 10 of 11 people targeted with arrest warrants were detained, including Pedro de Andrade Faria the former CEO of Brazil Foods. The business is one of the largest food companies in the world, exporting products, primarily meat, to more than 120 countries.

During the first stage of the investigation in March 2017, widespread corruption was uncovered among food safety inspectors who certified rotten meat in exchange for bribes.

Brazil’s huge export industry has been thrown into disarray as countries have temporarily banned imports of its beef and poultry. Accusations included sales of spoiled food and meat tainted with materials like cardboard and acid.

Last year, results of a two-year probe came to light when federal authorities revealed how meatpackers paid off the inspectors and politicians, including the Brazilian president, to overlook improper practices.

The newest development in the probe comes as Brazil’s once-tottering economy improves and its stock market posts one of the world’s best rallies. So far, investors have been mostly unfazed, but the scandals could cause more volatility ahead of October’s presidential election, in which many of the potential candidates have been accused of corruption.

The resurfacing of the so-called Operation Weak Flesh investigation comes after processed foods and poultry giant BRF has seen four chief executive officers in five years. Its shareholders are at odds over how to revive the company and are looking to replace the board. The stock lost 20 percent of its value Monday, the most since 1998, according to Bloomberg.

BRF said in a statement that issues being investigated by police pose no health threat and that the company follows all domestic and international regulations regarding food safety.

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