SAO PAULO, March 13 (Reuters) - Brazil has improved its food safety standards and is working with trade partners to prevent importers from banning Brazilian meat products in the fallout from an inspection bribery scandal, Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi said on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Latin America World Economic Forum in São Paulo, Maggi said it was possible some meatpacking plants could be banned by importing countries due to new investigations of companies accused of evading safety checks and bribing inspectors to conceal problems.
Last week, Maggi's ministry pre-emptively suspended meat exports by plants in the towns of Rio Verde and Mineiros, in Goias state, and Carambeí, in Paraná state.
All belong to food processor BRF SA, which was the main target of the third phase of the so-called Weak Flesh investigation.
The suspension concerns shipments to 12 countries that require specific controls for the Salmonella spp bacteria, including South Africa, South Korea and the European Union.
"Europe is very critical of Brazil since the first phase of the Weak Flesh probe," Maggi said. "We've been telling them we raised the bar and are enforcing stricter controls."
Asked whether the probe could be expanded, Maggi said there are several lines of investigation, and new evidence may surface from testimony given by individuals cooperating with authorities through plea bargain agreements. (Reporting by Ana Mano; Editing by Dan Grebler)