Brazilian federal police raided dozens of meatpacker offices on Friday, including industry giants JBS SA and BRF SA, following a two-year investigation into alleged bribery of regulators to subvert inspections of their plants.
The probe, known as “Operation Weak Flesh,” had uncovered about 40 cases of meatpackers who had bribed inspectors and politicians to overlook unsanitary practices such as processing rotten meat and running plants with traces of salmonella, police said.
Police investigator Mauricio Moscardi Grillo said there was evidence of some companies manipulating certificates of meat for export to Spain and Italy, raising the risk of foreign restrictions on Brazil’s powerhouse protein industry.
Police said they arrested three BRF employees and two JBS employees, as well as 20 public officials.
Shares of JBS, the world’s biggest meat producer, and BRF, the largest poultry exporter, fell more than 7 percent each in Sao Paulo trading.
JBS said in a securities filing that three of its plants and one of its employees were targeted in the probe, but its executives and headquarters were not targeted. The company said it followed rigorous quality standards and sanitary regulations.
BRF did not have an immediate comment on the investigation.
Brazil’s agriculture ministry declined to comment immediately, calling a press conference for 4 p.m. local time (1900 GMT).
In a statement, police said more than 1,100 officers were deployed for 194 raids, and as many as 38 detention orders across six Brazilian states, in the largest-ever search and seizure operation by the federal police.
The food industry investigation is the latest of several sweeping probes into corruption in Brazil as a tougher judiciary takes on cozy relations between the government and powerful businesses amid public outrage during a deep economic depression.
Police said regulators in the food-producing states of Paraná, Minas Gerais and Goiás helped producers place adulterated products in the marketplace. Food processors would also bribe state food safety auditors to issue fake sanitary permits and forgo normal oversight work.