By Alberto Alerigi
SAO PAULO, March 27 (Reuters) - Brazil’s Agriculture Ministry said on Monday that it ordered three more food processing facilities to suspend production amid an investigation into alleged corruption of inspectors and unsanitary conditions in the world’s biggest meat producer.
That brings to six the number of food processing plants that have been ordered temporarily closed by Brazilian authorities. A total of 21 plants are included in a police investigation, and are not allowed to export any product, although they can still produce for the domestic market.
All three plants ordered closed on Monday are in Parana state, where the scandal has been centered. They include units of Souza Ramos, Industria de Laticinios SSPMA and Fabrica de Farinha de Carnes Castro.
Several major meat importers issued bans after Brazilian federal police on March 17 unveiled an investigation into alleged payments to government health officials by meat processing companies to forgo inspections and ignore abuses, code-named “Operation Weak Flesh.”
The investigation hit hard at one of the few strong sectors in Brazil’s economy, which is experiencing its worst recession on record.
But on Saturday, China, the biggest buyer of Brazilian meats, along with Egypt and Chile, lifted the suspensions, bringing hope of an end to a crisis.
Hong Kong, Brazil’s No. 2 market, along with the European Union, have maintained full or partial bans. (Reporting by Alberto Alerigi; Writing by Brad Brooks; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Peter Cooney)