The meat counter at a supermarket in Dubai. For illustrative purposes only Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

The United Arab Emirates has suspended shipments from six Brazilian meat plants and told importers to recall any of their products from local stores.

The six plants are operated by JJZ Alimentos, Frango D M Industria E Comercio De Alimentos, Frigorifico Larissa, Breyer & Cia, Seara Alimentos and BRF, the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment said in an emailed statement.

It cited Brazil’s decision to suspend activities of 21 domestic companies allegedly involved in “unhealthy practices in the production process.”

The six facilities ship products outside of Brazil, while only one of them exports directly to the UAE, the ministry said.

Imports are banned for all products from the plants, including frozen beef and poultry, some frozen vegetables, honey and frozen fish, it said.

Importers were told to withdraw these products and destroy them if necessary or return them to the country of origin under the supervision of the food safety authorities in each emirate.

Brazil's JBS SA, the world's biggest meatpacking company, announced on Thursday that it had suspended beef production at 33 of its 36 plants amid the corruption scandal that has caused some of the country's biggest export markets to ban Brazilian meats.

Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said a police investigation, which alleges that meat processors paid bribes for inspectors to turn a blind eye to unsanitary or irregular activity, was exaggerated and wrongly challenged the quality of one of the country's most important exports.

But it has battered demand for Brazilian meats since Friday nonetheless.
JBS and BRF SA, the world's largest poultry exporter, are among dozens of firms targeted in the meatpacking/sindustry investigation by Brazil's Federal Police. Both companies have denied any wrongdoing.

Egypt became the latest country to halt imports of Brazilian meat on Thursday. The move followed partial or complete bans by China, Mexico, Canada, the European Union, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Switzerland, Hong Kong and Chile over the past week.

Australia is expected to seize on China's suspension of meat imports from Brazil, to clinch a deal soon on beef exports.

JBS shares fell 1 percent in Sao Paulo on Thursday, accumulating a 10 percent drop over the past week.

Saudi Arabia

On Thursday, Saudi Arabia stopped beef and poultry imports from four Brazilian companies over concerns about food safety after accusations that individuals had been bribed to allow sales of rotten and salmonella-tainted meats.

Following a two-year investigation of Brazil's meatpacking industry, police have accused more than 100 people, mostly health inspectors, of taking bribes for allowing the sale of rancid products, falsifying export documents or failing to inspect meatpacking plants.

China suspends imports

In Sao Paolo, Brazilian President Michel Temer says he will try to convince President Xi Jinping of China to resume importing Brazilian meat.

Earlier this week, China and several other countries suspended imports of Brazilian meat amid a scandal in which health inspectors allegedly were bribed to overlook expired and rotten meats. The government has tried to downplay the extent of the corruption saying that only a handful of 4,000 plants were involved.

On Thursday, Temer said he planned to speak to Xi to sort things out, but did not say when he would do so. His press office would only say that details are being negotiated.

China is a major importer of Brazilian meat. Last year it imported more than 735,000 tons worth $1.75 billion.

EU asks Brazil to suspend meat shipments

The European Union has asked Brazil to voluntarily suspend all shipments of meat to its member countries to avoid imposing a ban that would take time to lift, but the Brazilian government has not agreed, EU diplomats in Brasilia told Reuters on Thursday.

Brazilian meat exports have in any case ground almost to a halt following a police investigation into corruption involving food-sanitation inspectors and accusations that rotten products were sold.

A spokeswoman said Brazilian Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi was not aware of the request.

The Brazilian government suspended meat shipments from the 21 meat-packing plants under investigation by the federal police, while insisting the quality of Brazilian meat was not in doubt.

But European farm groups called on the EU Commission on Thursday to take stronger action against Brazilian meat imports because of the scandal. EU experts meet in Brussels on Friday to decide on possible further measures.