Open

Coming up

Don't miss

Replay


LATEST SHOWS

MEDIAWATCH

No strategy and a beige suit

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 29 August 2014 (part 2)

Read more

THE WORLD THIS WEEK

The World This Week - 29 August 2014

Read more

ENCORE!

Alain Choquette: A Hilarious Magician in Paris

Read more

FOCUS

France welcomes Iraqi Christian refugees

Read more

FRANCE IN FOCUS

Emmanuel Macron: A new economy minister with a pro-business agenda

Read more

THE OBSERVERS

More of this year's best Observers stories

Read more

#TECH 24

Changing the world, one video game at a time

Read more

IN THE PAPERS

Socialist Party summer conference kicks off in explosive atmosphere

Read more

  • Exclusive: Fabius warns of further sanctions against Russia

    Read more

  • Experimental Ebola drug ‘ZMapp’ heals all monkeys in study

    Read more

  • IMF stands behind Lagarde amid French corruption probe

    Read more

  • Ukraine to relaunch NATO membership bid

    Read more

  • Suriname leader’s son pleads guilty to courting Hezbollah

    Read more

  • British killer escapes from French psychiatric hospital

    Read more

  • Chelsea’s Torres set for AC Milan switch

    Read more

  • Police hunt for British boy with brain tumour taken to France

    Read more

  • France shines in IMF list of world’s promising economists

    Read more

  • Mapping Ukraine: Canada and Russia in ‘tweet for tat’ row

    Read more

  • First case of Ebola confirmed in Senegal

    Read more

  • Obama has 'no strategy yet' on potential Syria strikes

    Read more

  • Netflix to woo French with ‘House of Cards’ set in Marseille

    Read more

  • French businesses ‘hoping for a new Thatcher’

    Read more

  • Syrian refugees surpass 3 million, UN says

    Read more

  • West backs Ukrainian claims of Russian incursion

    Read more

  • Libyan PM resigns as Islamists set up rival administration

    Read more

  • UN says 43 peacekeepers captured in Golan Heights

    Read more

  • The deleted tweets of Manuel Valls

    Read more

  • Peru seizes record 6.5 tonnes of Europe-bound cocaine

    Read more

France

Horsemeat scandal highlights lack of traceability

Video by Luke SHRAGO , FRANCE 2

Text by Priscille LAFITTE

Latest update : 2013-02-14

The discovery of horsemeat in "beef" lasagna sold by a European frozen food conglomerate has revealed the uncertainty surrounding the production of frozen meals. An investigation is underway into where exactly the error, or fraud, occurred.

There is no health risk, as the spokesman for the European Commission has repeated.

But the discovery of horsemeat in “beef” lasagna produced by Europe-wide frozen food conglomerate Findus and sold in the UK could mask some serious problems, according to Jacques La Cacheux, an agricultural economist at the French Economic Observatory (OFCE).

The food-labelling scandal has indeed created an uproar in the beef industry and among consumers, with many supermarkets removing the affected frozen meals from their stock.

UK food agency raids slaughterhouse

Britain's food safety regulator has raided a slaughterhouse and a meat processing firm after finding evidence they sold horsemeat labeled as beef. The Food Standards Agency says the Peter Boddy slaughterhouse in northern England and Farmbox Meats in west Wales - which it supplied - had both been shut down.

(AP)

Benoît Hamon, the French minister for consumer affairs, told reporters after an emergency meeting on February 11 that it was too early to say whether this was a case of “negligence” or “deliberate fraud”, and that more information would be available within 48 hours. Anti-fraud investigators have already begun inspections of multiple food production sites in France.

Horsemeat, once eaten rather commonly in France, has become increasingly rare on French menus and in French food markets, though horse butchers still exist.

But the latest scandal over meat has revealed the uncertainty that surrounds the sale of horsemeat, especially when it comes to pre-prepared frozen meals. The main problem that has come to light is that when meat is just one ingredient among others in a frozen meal, the producers are not legally obligated to communicate it.

A lack of ‘traceability’

“90% of the animals slaughtered for consumption in France is sold as fresh meat in butcher shops and supermarkets, and the system is very strictly controlled ever since the “mad cow” disease crisis in the 1990s,” explained meat industry specialist René Laporte, author of a book called “La viande voit rouge” (or “Meat Seeing Red”). “Frozen meals use the 10% remaining, which consist of spare bits and connective tissue that is placed in 10-kilogram plastic bags, frozen, packaged in boxes, and sold to the food industry.”

But according to the specialist, while beef used in frozen food is just as traceable as beef sold by butchers (it goes from the slaughterhouse to the chopping block, and each animal is clearly identified), equivalent scraps of horsemeat are not necessarily subject to the same procedures and transparency. “The beef industry ended up benefiting from the ‘mad cow’ crisis in the 1990s,” Le Cacheux said. “On the other hand, the lack of transparency and traceability is flagrant when it comes to poultry, pork and horse meat.”

Why doesn't the French industry just use local meat?

The investigation into the lasagna scandal will aim to identify where exactly blame for the error, or fraud, lies: with the producer in Romania (which Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta has denied), the initial salespeople (which René Laporte has deemed unlikely), the processors who prepared the meat to be used as an ingredient, or the frozen meal company Findus that added the meat to its frozen meals.

“Meat makes its way through a very complex chain of steps in the industry,” Le Cacheux explained. “Over the past several years, the priority has been getting meat for the lowest price possible, no matter where it comes from.”

Consumers and livestock farmers ‘in the dark’

The latest mishap has shaken consumers used to trusting a particular brand to exercise vigilance when it comes to tracing the meat used. “A brand is just a name on the package of a product prepared by suppliers in a factory,” Le Cacheux said. “A brand like Findus…depends on providers to control quality, and those providers only do so intermittently.”

Findus has filed a complaint and released a statement to the press reading: “How is it possible that in 2013 horsemeat could be sold with a French label advertising it as beef?”

But according to Laporte, Findus can hardly claim innocence. “It should be automatic to monitor the product,” he said. “When I receive 20 tons of meat, I don’t just close my eyes and hand over the money. Certain elementary rules of this job were not respected.”

French livestock farmers are using the horsemeat scandal to voice their demand: that ready-made and frozen meals clarify how exactly the meat went from the slaughterhouse to the supermarket. “Things need to change. We need transparency, and we especially need to prioritise French meat.” said François Thabius, president of the “Jeunes Agriculteurs (Young Farmers), a union for farmers under age 35. “Our job is so full of go-betweens. In this situation, it’s not only consumers who are in the dark, but also livestock farmers who don’t even know where their meat is going anymore.”

Date created : 2013-02-12

  • FRANCE

    French cabinet in emergency horsemeat talks

    Read more

  • FRANCE

    French retailers pull Findus amid horsemeat scandal

    Read more

  • SWEDEN

    Findus horsemeat scandal sparks “criminal conspiracy” fears

    Read more

COMMENT(S)