A Brazilian food security official warned Thursday that 70 tons of horse meat destined for French and other international markets had entered the country after being sold as beef.
Federal police and food security officials intercepted the shipment in August when a cargo shipment was tested by Brazilian customs, the source said.
The shipment was bound for Paris and thus went unnoticed, the source said. Though police suspect it has entered market, they have not yet seized it, according to the source, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The source noted that “there has not been any demand [for horse meat] in recent years, but this has been sold as beef because of trade regulations.”
Horse meat is unique in the way it is processed, with meat from the carcass cooked down in a way that makes it more tender, the source said.
Foreign buyers purchased the horse meat with the expectation that it would be used to make steaks, according to the source.
According to a Brazilian government official, who also asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak with reporters, this is the first such case reported since the country’s horse meat scandal broke in February.
At the time, Brazilian investigators said that a network sold 20 tons of horse meat masquerading as beef in supermarkets, groceries and restaurants across the country in a bid to get people to eat their horse instead of cows.
Consumers were not alone in potentially eating horse meat, which is a legal delicacy in several Latin American countries including Mexico, Colombia and Uruguay.
Several wealthy Brazilians, including real estate developers, sought horse meat for centuries to feed their farm animals, the source said.
But the ethical debate over the ultimate fate of a slaughtered horse is immense, including the slaughterhouses in which it is slaughtered, and some counties in Latin America have prohibited horse slaughter for cultural reasons.
In Paraguay, for example, horse slaughterhouses are illegal under local law.
The Brazilian horse meat scandal – which began in late January when inspectors raided four of the country’s largest meat processors – eventually exposed that a protein that was not tested for salmonella was laced with traces of two types of pathogens.
A report said that between September 2013 and January 2015, nearly 1,000 tons of horse meat had been exported to 31 countries, including the United States, Mexico, Japan, Taiwan, Greece, Italy, Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom.
The inquiry into the tainted horse meat scandal is ongoing, according to a government source.
A spokesman for Food and Agriculture Minister Luiz Fernando Pezao declined to comment on the matter.
(Note: This story has been updated to include comment from a Brazilian food security official.)