Authorities in Brazil have suspended over 30 government officials in response to allegations that some of the country’s biggest meat processors have been “selling rotten beef and poultry for years”, according to the reports from the BBC this morning.

The BBC has said that “three meat processing plants have been closed and another 21 are under scrutiny”. While some of the meat produced by the factories is consumed domestically, much of it is exported here to Europe. Brazil is currently the world’s largest exporter of red meat.

Meanwhile, it is believed that Brazil’s Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi is hurriedly arranging to meet foreign ambassadors over the coming days in a bid to prevent sanctions being imposed on Brazil’s beef and poultry exports.

The so-called Operation Weak Flesh was launched by Brazilian authorities early yesterday, Friday, March 17 across multiple Brazilian states. This followed an apparent two-year investigation.

Raids were carried out by federal police, according to the BBC, in almost 200 locations. Over 1,000 officers and officials were involved in the large-scale operation.

Among the allegations is a charge that politicians and official health inspectors were, in some instances, bribed by plant managers.

‘Potato, water and cardboard mixed with chicken’

Police sources have claimed that some of the processing plants used acid and other chemicals – some of which were said to be carcinogenic – to mask or alter products. It is alleged that potato, water and cardboard were mixed with chicken meat to boost profits.

According to the BBC, more than 30 companies were involved in the raids, including JBS – reputed to be the world’s largest beef exporter. BRF – one of the world’s biggest poultry producers – was also targeted. Both companies deny the allegations.

According to reports from the New York Times, the alleged ‘scheme’ involved bribery allowing rotten meat to be served in Brazil’s public schools and salmonella-contaminated meat to be exported to Europe. It says that “bribes were channelled to the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party of President Michel Temer”.

Companies caught up in the investigation, including smaller meat-packing entities, have been accused of “delivering cash bribes in plastic containers, alongside prized cuts of beef”.