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French Police Investigate Trade in Horsemeat Unfit to Eat

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Dec. 16 (Bloomberg) -- French police conducted searches across the nation’s south as part of an investigation into trafficking of horsemeat unfit for human consumption that was entering the food chain, the Agriculture Ministry said.

The case involves fraudulent identity papers for horses, Brice Robin, the public prosecutor in Marseilles, said at a press conference today. Twenty-one people were arrested in France as well as Spain for reselling horse meat from animals used in the pharmaceutical industry, broadcaster France 3 reported, citing law-enforcement officers.

Sanofi, France’s largest drugmaker, said its vaccines unit is a victim of the fraud, and is assisting authorities in the investigation. The company uses live horses when producing serums such as anti-tetanus shots. Horse meat is eaten in parts of France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy, according to the website of Humane Society International.

“There are horses that should not end up in your plate nor at the butcher, and that is the topic of this investigation,” Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said in an interview with broadcaster RTL.

The horses used to produce serums on average stay at the drugmaker’s premises for three years, after which they’re sold “in good health” to equestrian centers, veterinary schools and professionals, Sanofi Pasteur, the drugmaker’s vaccines unit, said in an e-mailed statement.

Not Food

“Though they represent no danger, Sanofi Pasteur always informs buyers that these horses must not be used in the food industry,” the company wrote. “Sanofi Pasteur will exercise its right to pursue in court any buyer who did not abide by this obligation, of which they were informed at the time of purchase.”

The attorney general of Marseilles led an operation today involving about 100 officers across 11 administrative departments, the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement.

“The current operation seeks to dismantle an organized traffic of which the scope, including in other countries, will be determined by the results of the investigation,” the Paris-based ministry wrote.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris at rruitenberg@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at ccarpenter2@bloomberg.net

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