China urges harsh punishments over Brazil meat scandal

A man cuts a piece of beef at a butchery after the Chilean government suspended all meat and poultry imports from Brazil, in Santiago, Chile March 22, 2017. REUTERS/Pablo Sanhueza

BEIJING (Reuters) - China urged Brazil to hand out harsh punishments to those involved in a tainted meat scandal on Thursday, and offered no time frame for lifting a ban on imports from the South American country.

In its first official comment, China’s Commerce Ministry confirmed it had suspended all shipments from Brazil, the world’s top beef exporter, and said it was extremely concerned with quality issues in the country’s meat industry.

“China has promptly adopted temporary measures and suspended Brazilian meat imports,” spokesman Sun Jiwen told reporters at a regular briefing in Beijing.

Some of China’s largest food suppliers have pulled Brazilian beef and poultry from their shelves, while countries including Japan and Canada have also banned imports from Brazil after inspectors there were accused of taking bribes to allow sales of tainted food.

Brazil is the top supplier of beef to China, accounting for about 31 percent of its imports in the first half of last year. Much of it is used in canteens and foodservice.

Sun said China expected Brazil to investigate the issues thoroughly and adopt effective measures to ensure the safety of its meat.

“China hopes the Brazilian government will punish firms and individuals that broke the rules harshly,” he added, calling for more cooperation between the two countries to ensure Brazlian meat imports are safe.

“We hope responsible departments in both countries can further collaborate to prevent and deal with possible issues in the meat trade,” Sun said.

Reporting by Beijing Monitoring Desk and Yawen Chen; Editing by Richard Pullin