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Brazilian meat scandal leads USDA to redouble food inspection efforts

A butcher works at a public market on March 20, 2017 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Cris Faga | LatinContent | Getty Images
A butcher works at a public market on March 20, 2017 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday said it was taking additional steps to ensure the safety of beef products from Brazil in light of a spoiled meat scandal rocking the South American country.

It follows a raid last week by Brazilian federal police at several meat-producing plants and the arrest of more than two dozen people. The scandal is part of a corruption probe that involves allegations that government inspectors allowed rotten and salmonella-tainted meat products to be sold in exchange for bribes.

Yet the USDA stopped short of announcing an outright ban on Brazilian meat exports as China, the EU and others have already done.

Brazil's beef industry produced nearly $14 billion in exports in 2016 and is a major competitor in the global marketplace with U.S. beef. The probe also involves the poultry market.

According to the USDA, none of the slaughter or processing facilities implicated in the Brazilian scandal shipped meat products to the U.S. Even so, the department said it still was conducting "additional pathogen testing of all shipments of raw beef and ready-to-eat products from Brazil."

"Keeping food safe for American families is our top priority," Mike Young, acting deputy secretary of the USDA, said in a release.

In a release, the USDA said its Food Safety and Inspection Service increased its examination of all Brazilian meat products at ports-of-entry across the nation. It indicated that the agency will indefinitely maintain a policy of "100 percent re-inspection and pathogen testing of all lots of FSIS-regulated products imported from Brazil."

Also, the government promised to take immediate action to refuse entry of product into the U.S. if there are findings of food safety concern.

"USDA already possesses the necessary authority to prevent products which do not meet the high standards of American consumers from reaching our markets, and we expect USDA to rigorously enforce their existing authority to ensure the safety of the beef supply," Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association said in a statement.

Brazil has been a major supplier of beef to China, a market that could one day become lucrative to American beef producers following the easing of barriers. South Korea, which also has announced restrictions on Brazilian beef, already is a major importer of American beef.

Two Brazilian companies at the center of the investigation are JBS and BRF, which both deny any wrongdoing. JBS, a meatpacking giant, last year announced plans for a U.S. stock listing of its international business. BRF, a major exporter of poultry, also has sought an initial public offering in Europe for one of its subsidiaries.