Brazilian authorities discover group selling horse meat to restaurants

Authorities arrested six people after discovering horse meat was sold for use in burgers in a state in southern Brazil.

They were arrested in Caxias do Sul as part of an operation led by the Rio Grande do Sul public ministry.

Operation Hipo began two months ago after authorities received a complaint about a possible sale of meat and unauthorized slaughter of horses that could have lasted at least seven months.

About 70 officials from the ministry and other agencies participated in the action, which included 15 search and seizure warrants. The objective was to break up the suspected criminal group and investigate crimes against consumer relations and public health.

Horse meat found in burgers
Investigators found the group was supplying city sites with large quantities of meat in the form of burgers and steaks from slaughtering horses.

Photo courtesy of Tiago Coutinho and MPRS

The meat was minced or minced and sold to commercial establishments that use ground beef in Caxias do Sul and the surrounding area.

Analysis of two burgers in Caxias do Sul revealed the presence of horse DNA. Turkey and pork were also mixed in burgers.

Alcindo Bastos, who coordinated the operation, said the scale of the fraud involved the distribution of around 800 kilograms of meat per week. He added that the results reinforce the importance that establishments never purchase products that have not been inspected. Work is underway to find out whether companies knew they were buying horse meat and other meats instead of beef.

Preliminary information suggests that around 60% of hamburger vendors in Caxias do Sul have purchased products from the group involved, officials said.

The site has not been approved
The group’s operation was not licensed for the slaughter and sale of meat. The authorities noted that the processing area had poor hygiene and sanitation and also raised concerns about animal welfare and slaughter conditions. Other findings point to the use of rotten meat that had been washed and mixed with other meats to make the burgers.

Three people were responsible for the slaughter and processing of the meat; one man ran his marketing in the form of burgers and steaks in restaurants and another found and bought the horses that would later be slaughtered.

The seizures included five horses and three cattle. About a ton and a half of produce was confiscated for lack of inspection, including burgers and meat. Some were sent for analysis to verify if they were from horses.

Horse meat issues have already arisen with operations in Europe targeting horse passports and equine meat. In 2013, Irish authorities discovered that horse meat was sold like beef in burgers and the fraud spread across Europe, leading to the recall of millions of products.

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