June 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has suspended all imports of fresh beef from Brazil over safety concerns.
Since March -- when several other countries issued a ban on Brazilian meat -- the United States has been inspecting 100 percent of all meat products arriving from Brazil. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service rejected 11 percent of fresh beef products, or 1.9 million pounds.
"That figure is substantially higher than the rejection rate of 1 percent of shipments from the rest of the world," the USDA said Thursday.
The meat was rejected out of health concerns, sanitary conditions and animal health issues.
Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Thursday announced the products intended for the U.S. market would be suspended until the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture takes corrective action. Brazil's government said it intends to fix the problem by suspending five facilities from shipping beef to the United States.
"Ensuring the safety of our nation's food supply is one of our critical missions, and it's one we undertake with great seriousness. Although international trade is an important part of what we do at USDA, and Brazil has long been one of our partners, my first priority is to protect American consumers," Perdue said.
In March, dozens of Brazilian government officials were suspended amid allegations that some of the country's largest meat processors had been selling rotten and salmonella-tainted meat for years.
Officials said food company employees oversaw a scheme that included bribing inspectors to allow the tainted meat to be served in public schools and exported to Europe. Brazil is the world's largest exporter of red meat.
The country's federal police, similar to the FBI in the United States, said raids on some of the largest meat producers uncovered some 30 instances of bribes being paid to officials. Some 33 government officials were suspended.
Investigators said employees at the food-processing giants JBS and BRF paid federal inspectors to ignore problems with meat. More than 1,100 agents were involved in Operation Weak Flesh raids.
Amy R. Connolly contributed to this report.