As the scandal of horsemeat masquerading as beef takes on a pan-European dimension, the French authorities are keen to identify exactly who is responsible for a fraud that threatens lasting damage to the European food industry.
French food ministers are due to hold emergency talks Monday with key players in the meat industry in a bid to understand how horsemeat found its way into ready-meals claiming to be beef products.
Donkey meat in the mix?
Much of the “horsemeat” found in beef products could in fact be donkey, UK daily The Independent has speculated.
The newspaper explained that Romania had recently enacted a law banning horse-drawn vehicles from the country’s roads, and that consequently the price of horsemeat had tumbled as the animals were sent to abattoirs.
But many of the animals pulling “horse-drawn” carts in Romania are donkeys, now equally redundant, and may have been sold to manufacturers of “beef” products.
As the so-called “cheval-gate” [horse-gate] affair widens, the French authorities want to pin down who exactly is responsible for the “fraud” that led to consumers across Europe being duped into eating meat of dubious origin.
The scandal of horsemeat entering the processed-food-chain erupted in January when tests revealed burgers sold in Ireland and the UK contained some horsemeat.
And last week it was revealed that frozen lasagne products manufactured by Swedish producer Findus in a French factory contained up to 100 percent horse.
“We are opening an inquiry to determine the truth and to find out who is responsible,” French Food Minister Guillaume Garot told BFM TV late on Sunday. “The inquiry will allow us to trace the entire supply chain and see exactly what has happened.”
France’s junior Minister for Consumer Goods Benoit Hamon promised that the government would pursue anyone suspected of fraud in the affair.
He told Le Parisien newspaper he suspected the scam “may have been going on since August 2012.”
The ministers have their work cut out. Initial inquiries by France’s consumer safety authorities confirmed the presence of “horsemeat mixed with beef” in a number of supermarket products, which had found its way through a collection of European intermediaries “with poor traceability.”
A complex supply chain
The horsemeat trail
So far, the investigation had determined that a subsidiary of French company Poujol had purchased frozen meat from a Cypriot trader, who in turn had received it from a Dutch trader, according to statement from Hamon’s office.
The unnamed Dutch trader had been supplied by two Romanian abattoirs.
Poujol then supplied the meat to a Luxembourg factory, which is owned by French group Comigel.
The factory produced the frozen lasagne products, which were then sold under the Swedish-owned Findus brand name.
Legal action all round
As French supermarkets were removing a range of pre-prepared meals from their shelves, the companies in question began their own blame game, promising legal action against each other as the scandal risked huge damage to their commercial reputations.
Findus Sweden plans to sue Comigel for breach of contract and fraud, pointing out that the French company was obliged to use beef from Germany, France and Austria, which Findus said was evidently not the case.
Meanwhile, Poujol subsidiary Spanghero, which signed off for the meat, said on its website that it had bought what was labelled beef, and would be taking action against its supplier.
Romania has also scrambled to save its reputation and launched its own investigation at the weekend.
On Sunday, Romanian President Traian Basescu said his country could face export restrictions and “be discredited for many years” if it was found that abattoirs in his country were deliberately supplying falsely-labelled meat.
“I hope that this won’t happen,” he said in televised statements.
Date created : 2013-02-11