Farmers unfazed by horsemeat scandal at agricultural fair
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The 50th edition of France’s annual International Agricultural Fair opened in the capital Paris on Saturday amid a horsemeat scandal that has rattled the European food industry.
France’s 50th annual International Agricultural Fair, a vibrant and bustling showcase of the country’s agricultural sector, opened in Paris on Saturday amid a Europe-wide horsemeat scandal that has shaken the food industry.
Held in a sprawling exposition centre on the southwestern fringes of the capital, the fair was staged in several different buildings, each divided by theme. In a pavilion dedicated to cattle, bulking steers, brown cows, Holsteins and calves – the unsuspecting victims of a food-labelling controversy – stood idly tethered to platforms covered thick with hay.
In the weeks leading up to the International Agricultural Fair, much of Europe was shocked after it emerged that horsemeat had been sold as “beef” in pre-made frozen meals in numerous countries. France soon found itself at the heart of the scandal when it was discovered that French company Spanghero had allegedly bought around 750 tonnes of horsemeat over an estimated six-month period from foreign slaughterhouses to be deliberately re-labelled and distributed as EU-origin beef.
Despite widespread outrage, the mood at the fair seemed largely unaffected by the issue. Event attendees milled through the aisles, perusing stands and gawking at the displays of cattle.
“It’s not a health crisis where people are completely turned off by meat,” Yves Berger, general director of France’s national interprofessional livestock and meat association (Interbev) told FRANCE 24. “It’s quite the contrary. People are now going to retailers, to butchers and making their own lasagnas. We’ve noticed a greater interest in meat sections even in supermarkets.”
‘It’s all about traceability’
Regarding frozen foods, Berger added that Interbev had already sat down with ministers responsible for the country’s food safety and agriculture departments to discuss introducing more stringent rules on labeling meat in pre-prepared meals.
“We have to limit the risks. That doesn’t mean that fraud will no longer exist, but we have to limit it by all means possible. And in order to do so, we’ve proposed imposing the same regulations that apply from fresh meat to pre-prepared meals that contain meat,” Berger said. “For example, labels that declare where the meat was raised and the country where it was slaughtered.”
Jean-Jacques Leru, a livestock farmer from Côtes d’Armor in France’s western Brittany region, agreed that in the end the issue came down to one major theme.
“It’s traceability again. It’s all about traceability,” Leru told FRANCE 24. “We buy meat from Romania despite the fact that there is some in France... It’s not Romania’s fault, but if the rules of the game were clearer, if the packaging was labelled with where the meat came from, there wouldn’t be a problem anymore.”
French President François Hollande, who also made an appearance at the opening of the International Agricultural Fair, echoed Berger and Leru, calling for a Europe-wide labeling system ahead of talks with European farm ministers next week.
“There needs to be traceability, that is what I want from talks on a European level,” Hollande said. “We need compulsory labeling on meats that will be used in processed food.”
The event, which attracted more than 680,000 people last year, runs from February 23 until March 3.