France to Boost Oversight After Horse Meat Discoveries

France will enhance oversight of meat- and fish-processing industries for the remainder of the year after horse meat was found in prepared meals advertised as containing beef.

Carrefour SA, Casino Guichard Perrachon SA and four other French supermarket chains withdrew frozen foods including lasagna Bolognese over the weekend due to mislabeling of the meat content. France plans to step up controls of wholesalers and importers as well as in supermarkets.

“We have here a serious deceit of consumers,” Benoit Hamon, France’s junior minister for consumer affairs, said at a news conference in Paris yesterday. “For all of 2013, we’ll be placing the meat and fish industries under surveillance.”

France, the European Union’s biggest food producer, will push to introduce compulsory labeling of origin for meat in processed food at a meeting in Brussels tomorrow, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said yesterday. Labels on processed food are now only required by EU rules to indicate the type of meat used, while fresh meat must specify country of origin, he said.

Supermarkets in the U.K., France, Ireland and Germany removed frozen beef burgers and lasagnas from shelves, and the food industry may be hit by “a blizzard of red tape” as a result, according to Bryan Roberts, director of retail at market researcher Kantar Retail on London.

Increased labeling requirements may raise administrative costs for meat processors, said Albert Vernooij, red-meat analyst at Rabobank International in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

“Processed meat often contains meat from multiple batches from multiple countries,” Vernooij said. “The supply chain will not change. Maybe it will reduce the number of parties in the supply chain. It will certainly raise costs.”

Prepared Meals

Prepared meals labeled as beef-based and containing horse were sold by Findus Group Ltd. and manufactured at a Luxembourg factory owned by French company Comigel, France’s consumer and anti-fraud office DGCCRF reported Feb. 9.

Comigel’s supplier was Spanghero SAS, which had bought the frozen meat from a Cypriot trader. The latter in turn sub-contracted a Dutch trader who sourced the meat from a slaughterhouse and a meat packer in Romania, according to the DGCCRF.

“There were signals that should have alerted the actors,” Le Foll said, citing questionable labeling and a below-market price paid for the meat. Le Foll said those responsible will be found by the end of the week.

France will pursue penalties against the companies involved in the horse-for-beef substitution, either for negligence or fraud, said Guillaume Garot, the country’s junior minister for the food industry. “Sanctions will be taken,” he said.

Alarm Signal

“If you buy meat at a price that is clearly lower than the market average, that’s maybe an alarm signal about the nature of the meat you’re buying,” Hamon said.

EU countries are individually responsible for verifying what is sold in their markets, including whether food is correctly labeled, EU spokesman Frederic Vincent said yesterday. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, can take measures when food safety is at risk, he said.

A squeeze on profit margins means processors may be eager to secure low-cost meat, as long as certification is in order, according to Rabobank’s Vernooij.

“The meat price is often at or below the cost of production,” Vernooij said. “In the stores, the cost increase of the past year hasn’t really been passed through, that’s an underlying problem.”

(French government corrects name of supplier in ninth paragraph of story published Feb. 12.)
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