Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Spanghero SAS, the French meat-processing company accused by the government of shipping horse as beef, denied responsibility for the scam and said it may have been negligent about labeling the origin of the meat.
“We didn’t change the labels,” Chief Executive Officer Barthelemy Aguerre said in an interview today on Europe 1 radio. “We receive, and we have a paper trace for that, beef and we resell beef, without touching it.”
Spanghero received at least 750 tons of meat coded as horse from Romania that left its facility labeled as European Union beef, Benoit Hamon, junior minister for consumer affairs, told reporters in Paris yesterday. The meat was supplied to Comigel, which used it to produce prepared meals including beef lasagna and spaghetti bolognese later found to contain horse.
The horse-meat scandal has shown European consumers and regulators the global and opaque nature of the food chain that serves them. The horse-for-beef switch affected more than 4.5 million processed products representing at least 1,000 tons of food, the French finance ministry said yesterday.
Supermarkets in the U.K., Ireland, France, the Netherlands and Germany have pulled tainted frozen beef burgers and lasagnas from shelves in the past month. U.K. food processor Greencore Group Plc plunged as much as 22 percent today after the company said it supplied beef bolognese sauce withdrawn by retailer Asda Group Ltd. after traces of horse DNA were found.
In France, Aguerre refuted Minister Hamon’s charge, saying “it wasn’t Spanghero that created the scam.”
“There may have been a little negligence,” he said on Europe 1. “We put EU instead of EU-Romania, we didn’t put Romania. That can be held against us.”
Recent tests by Spanghero found horse meat and beef mixed in blocks of meat it received, which Aguerre said shows the French company isn’t responsible. He said the government has been “a bit quick” to accuse the company.
France will hand over information on Spanghero to prosecutors who will determine if charges will be filed, Hamon said yesterday.
“It’s either a major case of absentmindedness or a massive deceit,” he said. “It’s very possible that complicity exists on a European level.”
EU Health and Consumer Commissioner Tonio Borg told reporters after a meeting of European ministers in Brussels this week that criminal investigations will be coordinated by Europol. Comigel should have been alerted about the meat it received, according to Hamon.
“Once the meat was unpacked and unfrozen, Comigel could have questioned the fact that the color and smell of the meat was not that of beef,” Hamon said. Also, fresh meat in the European Union must indicate the country of origin, he said.
EU nations should test thousands of processed beef products for horse meat to establish the scale of the labeling scandal and analyze slaughtered horses for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, known as bute, the EU said yesterday.
The U.K. Food Standards Agency will announce the results of industry tests on beef products for the presence of horse meat today. The FSA said yesterday that no bute was found in Findus Group Ltd. products withdrawn after horse meat was detected.
Six slaughtered horses that tested positive for bute may have entered the food chain in France, the agency said. The drug poses a very low risk to human health, the U.K. chief medical officer said in a statement. A person would have to eat 500 to 600 burgers of pure tainted horse meat a day to consume close to a human’s daily dose.
Three horse carcasses contaminated with bute entered France from the U.K., and French inspectors found the dead animals yesterday at a company in the northern Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll told reporters yesterday. The carcasses were found after France was alerted by U.K. authorities and will be destroyed, he said.
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