Some of China's largest food suppliers have pulled Brazilian beef and poultry from their shelves in the first concrete sign that a deepening scandal over Brazil's meat processing industry is hitting business in its top export market.
The moves by Sun Art Retail Group, China's biggest hypermarket chain, and the Chinese arms of global retail giants Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Metro AG come days after China temporarily suspended Brazilian meat imports.
Safety fears over Brazilian meat have grown since police accused inspectors in the world's biggest exporter of beef and poultry of taking bribes to allow sales of rotten and salmonella-tainted meats.
A spokeswoman for Sun Art Retail, which operates 400 Chinese hypermarkets, said on Wednesday the chain had removed beef supplied by top Brazilian exporters BRF SA and JBS SA from its shelves from Monday.
Wal-Mart has also removed Brazilian meat products from its stores, said a person familiar with the matter.
Germany's Metro has withdrawn Brazilian chicken legs and wings from its Chinese stores, said a manager, who declined to be named as he was not allowed to speak to media. The retailer, with 84 stores in China, does not sell Brazilian beef.
Brazil's government attempts to contain crisis
Brazilian police and the agriculture ministry said late on Tuesday that sanitary and corruption problems found in the meatpacking industry were isolated incidents.
Since police launched raids on processing plants and company offices in seven states on Friday, President Michel Temer's government has sought to downplay the crisis in the meatpacking sector, one of the bright spots of an economy struggling with its worst recession on record.
BRF and JBS, the world's biggest meatpacking companies, are among dozens of firms targeted in the police investigation. Both companies have denied any wrongdoing.
"While the investigation by the federal police aims to uncover isolated irregularities in the sanitary inspection system, the facts are directly related to deviations of professional conduct practiced by a few workers," a joint police and agriculture ministry statement said.
Following a two-year investigation of the meatpacking industry, police have accused more than 100 people, mostly health inspectors, of taking bribes for allowing the sale of rancid products, falsifying export documents or failing to inspect meatpacking plants at all.
In a bid to assuage concerns, Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi donned white overalls and a white hood to inspect a poultry plant in Parana state on Tuesday.
The plant is one of 21 mentioned in the police probe that has now been barred from exporting meat, though its poultry is still being sold in Brazil.
Praising standards at the plant, Maggi said the problems identified by police were mostly related to allegations of isolated corruption in the regulatory system and not overall unsanitary processing practices.
"The problem isn't here at the plant; it's there in the office where there was a problem with one of our employees," Maggi said, after inspecting the factory where hundreds of workers cut and sorted chicken fillets along a whirring steel conveyor belt.
Maggi, a billionaire soy producer, criticised the "alarmist" way in which police announced their investigation and asked them to release exact details of the cargoes in which they found evidence of unsanitary product.