Romania Denies Horse-Meat Contamination as Scandal Widens
Romania denied its abattoirs misrepresented horse meat as beef and said its agriculture minister will talk to his U.K. and French counterparts in Brussels this week as the scandal spread throughout Europe.
France will seek sanctions for negligence or fraud and put the meat and fish industries under surveillance to restore confidence. Investigators were at the offices of wholesale food distributor Comigel today, Benoit Hamon, junior minister for consumer affairs said at a press conference in Paris.
Tesco Plc, the U.K.’s biggest supermarket chain, said three tests it carried out on frozen Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese supplied by Comigel contained as much as 60 percent horse DNA. Supermarkets in France, the U.K. and Ireland have removed frozen beef products from their shelves since undeclared horse meat was first discovered by the Irish Food Standards Authority last month.
While officials have assured the public that the mislabeled food doesn’t pose health risks, U.K. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said it involved “criminal substitution” and that the meat probably originated in Romania.
“It’s unfair for Romania to have a credibility deficit and accept a statute of usual suspect,” Prime Minister Victor Ponta said. “We have done our job and we have every interest that those who are guilty of this fraud are sanctioned.”
France will push for origin labels for processed meats. Consumers should also be cautious about deeply discounted foods, Hamon said.
“If you buy meat at a price that is clearly lower than the market average, that’s maybe an alarm bell about the nature of the meat you’re buying,” he said.
The multiple intermediaries involved make it tough to nail down who’s responsible, French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said on RTL radio today.
The meat originated in Romania, went through a Dutch trader before making its way through an entity in Cyprus to the French company Spanghero and then on to Comigel, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the French agriculture ministry.
Casino Guichard-Perrachon SA, Carrefour SA and four more retailers yesterday withdrew frozen lasagna, moussaka, cannelloni and hachis parmentier made by Findus Group Ltd. and Comigel after some products were found to contain horse meat.
Findus said it is seeking legal advice about whether it has grounds to pursue a case against its suppliers.
In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, supermarket chain Kaiser’s Tengelmann GmbH removed its own-brand frozen lasagna as a precaution as it tests for traces of equine matter in the products, Der Spiegel reported today.
The U.K. Food Standards Agency last week gave food makers until Feb. 15 to test beef products. Public bodies such as schools, prisons, hospitals and the armed forces are responsible for their own food contracts, procurement and finding reputable suppliers, the agency said on its website.
Romania said it has investigated the abattoirs named by the the French company at the center of the investigation. The country hasn’t exported minced meat, Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin said.
“So far, there is no indication that the meat mislabeling was done in Romania,” he told reporters in Bucharest earlier today. “From Romania’s point of view the matter is closed” until new information appears.
Paterson said that under European Union rules, the U.K. can only ban food imports if there is a risk to human health. The Food Standards Agency has asked Findus to test for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, known as “bute,” which in large doses may pose a threat to humans.
In the U.K., routine testing of meat to see if it was horse was stopped by the previous Labour government in 2003. Mary Creagh, Labour’s environment spokeswoman, said Paterson should have acted sooner to order tests after horse meat was found in beef products in Ireland.
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