Written by Staff Writer at CNN From CNN London
Brazilian officials on Monday arrested more than a dozen members of a criminal gang that allegedly sold tens of tons of horse meat disguised as beef.
The case was uncovered after police raided 30 meat processing plants, slaughterhouses and warehouses, seizing 30,000 tons of raw horse meat, the agriculture ministry said in a statement.
Rafael Martins, general secretary of Brazil’s agriculture ministry, said police believe the gang, which operated in six states, sold tons of the beef to Europe.
“Those in charge of this gang, when confronted with the significant legal risks and the risk of confiscation, sold the meat abroad in good faith and continued to continue to cook and prepare it,” Martins said.
“The following facts … should clearly serve as a warning: It is quite true that we have for some time been seeing an increased presence of this type of organized crime.
“The industry doesn’t do enough to fight such criminals, as they are known to be highly organized and predatory.”
CNN understands that a sample of the horse meat sold abroad by the gang contained traces of phenylbutazone, a drug used to treat some human disorders that can cause drowsiness and muscle weakness.
Neither the Brazilian government nor the European Union’s public health agency has confirmed the horse meat’s authenticity.
No injunctions have been issued yet, but officials will look at whether those who produced the horse meat had licenses to do so.
Rafael Martins, general secretary of Brazil’s agriculture ministry, said in a statement Monday that 80% of the horse meat seized had been processed between 2016 and 2018.
Brazil had a beef export record of $16.2 billion in 2017, a 57% increase on the previous year, according to Euromonitor. Brazil exported 712 tons of beef to the UK in the first nine months of 2018.