France Orders Inquiry on Use of Undeclared Horse Meat

French Consumer Minister Benoit Hamon said he ordered an inquiry into the use of horse meat in Findus Group Ltd. products and that the government is ready to press charges that could lead to imprisonment in the case.

So far the inquiry has determined that the supplier of a Luxembourg factory was Spanghero SAS, which bought frozen meat from a Cypriot trader, who had sub-contracted the order to a trader in the Netherlands, Hamon said in an e-mailed statement. The Dutch trader bought the meat from Romania.

“The operation was run above all on financial logic that brought in more than 300,000 euros ($400,650),” Hamon said.

The French government plans to prosecute if necessary under laws that can lead to half the profits being confiscated, or, in the case of fraud, lead to two years in prison and 37,500 euros in fines, Hamon said. The results of the inquiry will be made available by the middle of next week.

The French action comes after the U.K. Food Standards Agency gave food makers a week to test all their beef products after a range of lasagnas produced by Findus Group Ltd. was found to contain more than 60 percent horse meat.

The agency also said it involved the police in the U.K. and Europe as evidence of horse meat in burgers and lasagna “points to either gross negligence or deliberate contamination in the food chain,” according to a statement on its website today.

U.K. supermarkets including Tesco Plc, Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s Asda and Aldi have removed some ranges of frozen beef burgers from their shelves in the past month as concern has escalated over tainted meat. Tesco last week dropped one of its suppliers after the discovery of horse DNA in some products.

(France corrects name of supplier in second paragraph of story published Feb. 9.)
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