Horsemeat scandal widens

February 10, 2013 - 2:12:57 am
A man poses holding a Findus 320g beef lasagne frozen readymeal near Sunderland on February 8, 2013. Tests confirming beef lasagne sold under the Findus brand contained up to 100 percent horsemeat sparked a wider food scare in Britain on February 8 with authorities ordering urgent tests on all beef products on sale. Findus tested 18 of its beef lasagne products manufactured by French supplier Comigel and found 11 meals containing between 60 percent and 100 percent horsemeat, the FSA said

LONDON: A Europe-wide food fraud scandal over horsemeat sold as beef deepened yesterday as Romania announced an inquiry into the origin of the meat and suspicions of criminal activity mounted.

Frozen foods giant Findus initiated legal action and said the contamination appeared to be “not accidental”, while a French meat-processing firm at the centre of the outrage also said it would sue its Romanian supplier.

British authorities announced this week that Findus frozen beef lasagne was up to 100 percent horsemeat, and equine meat has subsequently been found on the shelves in France and Sweden too.

The consumption of horsemeat is particularly taboo in Britain, whose food minister yesterday hosted a crisis meeting of retailers and officials amid growing public concern.

“This is a conspiracy against the public. Selling a product as beef and including a lot of horse in it is fraud,” said Owen Paterson, the environment, food and rural affairs secretary after the meeting.

British authorities have said they are testing to see whether the horsemeat contains a veterinary drug that can be dangerous to humans. Beef lasagne sold by Findus and two own brand meals sold by pan-European supermarket Aldi were found this week to contain up to 100 percent horsemeat. The meals were assembled by French company Comigel using meat provided by Spanghero, a meat-processing company also based in France.

Spanghero in turn is said to have obtained the meat from an abattoir in Romania, via a Cypriot dealer who had subcontracted the deal to a trader in The Netherlands. Romania’s agriculture ministry said yesterday that it would launch an inquiry into shipments of meat to France after French authorities said two Romanian abattoirs were implicated in the horsemeat scandal.

“If it finds that the meat came from Romania and that the law has been broken, the culprits will be punished,” the Romanian ministry said in a statement to AFP, adding however that the origin of the meat had not yet been proven.

Spanghero said it would sue the Romanian supplier on the grounds that it mislabelled the horsemeat but refused to identify the supplier or any intermediaries.

Findus also initiated legal proceedings yesterday but did not identify an alleged culprit in a criminal complaint lodged against persons unknown with the authorities in France. AFP

Photograph on page 18