The French government ruled on Thursday that meat wholesaler Spanghero knowingly sold Romanian horsemeat as beef, immediately withdrawing the French company’s license. In the UK, three men were arrested over separate allegations of horsemeat fraud.
A French investigation into how horsemeat found its way into ready meals in Europe found that a French processing company called Spanghero knowingly sold Romanian horsemeat labelled as beef, Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said on Thursday.
Hamon said the firm engaged in "fraud", and Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said Spanghero's licence was being suspended while experts carried out tests on products at its processing plant.
“The investigation shows that Spanghero knew that the meat labelled as beef could be horse. There was a strong suspicion,” Hamon told a news conference, adding that a Romanian supplier named in the affair seemed to have been acting in good faith.
He said Spanghero had received a shipment of horsemeat from a Dutch middleman and passed it off as beef upon reselling it to frozen food processor Comigel.
“Did the meat arrive at Spanghero with the same label of 'Beef, origin EU' which is the label that it left with?” he asked. “No. It arrived with a label that said 'product of Romania, meat on the bone', but on the bill and the carrier information there was a customs code for horsemeat.
'Much cheaper than beef'
“It would seem that the first agent in this chain to label the meat ‘beef’ was indeed Spanghero,” Hamon said, adding that the south-west based company could not have failed to notice that the meat in question was much cheaper than beef. He said a total of 750 tonnes of horsemeat was involved.
Hamon also said the processor, Comigel, should have realised the problem as soon as the meat was thawed if they had not already noticed the questionable paperwork.
In an emailed statement, Spanghero denied the accusations.
“Spanghero confirms having placed an order for beef, having been led to believe it received beef, and having sold back what it thought was beef, properly labelled as such, in line with European and French regulations,” the firm said.
The scandal has spread to involve 13 countries and 28 companies.
British police said Thursday that three men were arrested by officers investigating the scandal.
Police said the arrests were linked to suspected fraud offenses occurring at two plants which were inspected earlier this week by the UK’s Food Standards Agency.
Police said two men – aged 64 and 42 – were arrested at Farmbox Meats near Aberystwyth, in Wales while a 63-year-old man was arrested at the Peter Boddy Slaughterhouse in Todmorden, West Yorkshire.
The Food Standards Agency on Tuesday had “detained” all meat on the premises and seized paperwork and customer lists from the two plants.
Pan-European police agency Europol is coordinating a continent-wide fraud investigation amid allegations of an international criminal conspiracy to substitute horse for more expensive beef.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-02-14