Written by By Staff Writer
In an investigation dubbed “Operation Bloque de droga,” Brazilian federal police in January tracked down 48 gang members who they said were involved in a scheme to sell millions of dollars of horse meat disguised as beef. The shipments were intercepted at various borders across Brazil, the country’s federal police said in a statement.
Over the last five years, at least 30 shipments of horse meat with false labels arrived at Brazil’s borders, the statement said. The individuals involved in the scheme carried out the fraud in several countries, including Canada, Uruguay, Australia, Hong Kong, Chile, Argentina, and Ireland.
The group of fraudsters was led by a Uruguayan immigrant, police said. According to the statement, the horses were bought from owners on the street, and were eventually slaughtered in stalls sold in a slaughterhouse and then resold. Authorities did not reveal the exact whereabouts of the stall.
The scheme is connected to a Paraguayan meat distributor who police believe was an intermediary in the fraud. About $40 million worth of horse meat, worth more than $16 million, was transported throughout the country, while another $16 million in export shipments was disguised as beef, according to the statement.
Brazil is a major producer of horse meat. It has an estimated 30 million horses and ponies, according to the Livestock Federation of Paraguay. Horse meat is popular in the country, and exported to various Asian and European countries, as well as the U.S.
Like most developing countries, Brazil is under extreme pressure to cut down on its population of wild horses. These “wild” horses — the majority are Andean Tiassa’s — are also favorite food for elk, and so last year a number of ranchers and environmentalists claimed that strict land boundaries were allowing dangerous overpopulations of elk, which have fed on their herds. In May, a Brazilian court authorized the government to cull or remove the animals.