Hong Kong recalls suspect Brazilian meat

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Hong Kong, the biggest market for Brazilian beef, issued a ban on all meat imports from the country last week

Hong Kong said Friday it will recall Brazilian meat from 21 processing plants under investigation over a rotten meat scandal.

The city, which is the biggest market for Brazilian beef, already issued a ban on all meat imports from the country earlier this week.

It comes after police in Brazil said they had uncovered a scheme to bribe corrupt health inspectors at processing plants to certify tainted meat.

China has also suspended all imports and Brazilian officials say exports have dropped from $63 million a day to just $74,000.

Hong Kong's health secretary Ko Wing-man announced a "comprehensive recall" of all "chilled, frozen and poultry meats" which had already been imported from the factories at the heart of the crisis.

"We couldn't completely eliminate hidden dangers in terms of food safety," Ko told reporters when explaining the decision.

Ko said six of the affected Brazilian plants had exported meat to Hong Kong.

He hoped the move would help restore customer confidence in Brazilian meat that had not been brought in from the factories involved.

Hong Kong imported $718 million worth of beef in 2016, according to Brazilian government figures.

It is the second biggest importer of all Brazilian meat behind China, which has also suspended imports.

Other important markets, notably the European Union, have stopped any imports from the 21 businesses under investigation.

Japan, Brazil's third-biggest market for chicken with $720 million in sales, imposed a similar limited ban, while Mexico has stopped imports of chicken produced by the 21 companies under scrutiny.

Brazil's government has appealed to the World Trade Organization's (WTO) 163 other members not to impose "arbitrary" bans on the country's more than $13 billion meat export industry.

Officials have been scrambling to contain the damage since police announced the results of the two-year investigation last week.

According to police, the health inspectors involved were bribed to certify meat no longer fit for consumption, while additives were used to mask problems in the produce.

Exports have been stopped from all 21 meat processors under investigation, and at least 30 people have been arrested.

Hong Kong's Ko said the city's blanket ban on imports of Brazilian meat would stand.

"If we get assurance from the Brazilian departments that their investigation is limited to the 21 factories, we will respond accordingly by limiting the ban," he told reporters.

Ko said any products that were on their way to Hong Kong would be allowed into the city but would be sealed until the investigation was over.

In its letter to the WTO, Brazil pressed its message that a few bad apples were at fault for the scandal and that the Brazilian food industry itself was in good health.

It pointed out that of 11,000 employees at the agriculture ministry, 2,300 work as inspectors on animal products and "only 33 individuals are being investigated for improper conduct".