Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Police found over 5,800 samples of horse meat in a freezer at the favela
An international smuggling ring based in Brazil and operating throughout the Americas and Asia packaged horse meat as beef and sold it to unwitting customers, Brazilian officials say.
A judicial probe found that the ring operated in at least 10 countries – but that there was evidence the gangs were active in as many as 13, including Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, India, Thailand and the Philippines.
Criminal gangs could use horse meat as a means of laundering drug proceeds.
Brazil is on high alert following the discovery of massive cases of meat contamination.
The investigation, codenamed Carceria, was made public on Thursday by Brazilian Federal Police at a news conference in Brasilia.
The organisation, which is about to finish its investigation, said: “The imported horse meat that was then re-packaged in Brazil, the USA, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Hong Kong was the product of transnational criminal organizations that presented various brands.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The report says that the horse meat had been prepared under pressure from the Mexican and Chilean cartels
“The horse meat was sold as beef, in markets and supermarkets – even in supermarkets and markets – in various countries.”
Among the seizures made during the investigation was a freezer containing 6,000 horse carcasses, 1,700 kilos of horse meat, chicken parts, 60,000 pieces of yellow fever vaccine and more than 100kg of Viagra.
Much of the drug that was being supplied as horse meat was being shipped from Vietnam to the US, according to the police report.
US and Filipino police were involved in the investigation.
Image copyright EPA Image caption Police have seized 4,995 horse carcasses and more than 4,000 kilos of horse meat in raids across the Americas and Asia
The National Institute of Public Health in Bolivia has warned of potential health risks from the consumption of horse meat.
Brazilian and US officials have warned that Brazilian-style beef burgers – in supermarkets and supermarkets – may contain trace amounts of equine DNA.
The discoveries have put Brazilian authorities under particular pressure, say BBC Latin America Editor Andres Oppenheimer.
An internal government document has revealed that many Brazilians believe the government is not doing enough to combat an outbreak of listeria which has already killed at least 186 people.
In recent years the cattle industry has been weakened by a series of scandals, including the discovery of fake drugs, serious disease and the corruption of inspectors.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Horse meat was sold as beef in markets and supermarkets – even in supermarkets and markets – in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Thailand and the Philippines
President Michel Temer has promised that police will be “sober and clear-headed” in their approach to tackling crime in the cattle industry.
The country’s agriculture department is leading an inspection campaign across the country to ensure “quality and safety” of cattle slaughterhouses.
The international horse meat probe comes just days after police raided a factory in the state of Mato Grosso, in central Brazil, which they said had been manufacturing horse meat but having it disguised as beef.
More than 2,000 products were seized, as part of a wider operation called Vigilantia, that followed the same evidence as Carceria.