PARIS (AP) - Europe's horsemeat scandal is spreading and threatening
cross-border tensions, as France says Romanian butchers and Dutch and
Cypriot traders were part of a supply chain that resulted in horsemeat
disguised as beef being sold in frozen lasagna around the continent.
No one has reported health risks from the mislabeled meat, but it has unsettled consumers across Europe.
Accusations are flying. In France, the foreign
minister called it "disgusting," and consumer safety authorities
increased inspections of the country's meat business, from
slaughterhouses to supermarkets. Romania's president is scrambling to
salvage his country's reputation. A Swedish manufacturer is suing a
French supplier central to the affair.
The motivation for passing off horsemeat as beef
appeared to be financial, and authorities are concentrating on pursuing
anyone guilty of fraud in the affair, said France's junior minister for
consumer goods, Benoit French Benoit Hamon.
The complex supply chain for the suspicious meat crossed Europe's map.
An initial investigation by French safety
authorities determined that French company Poujol bought frozen meat
from a Cypriot trader, Hamon's office said in a statement Sunday. That
trader had received it from a Dutch food trader, and that Dutch company
had received the meat from two Romanian slaughterhouses.
The statement didn't name the Romanian, Cypriot or Dutch companies.
Poujol then supplied a Luxembourg factory, Hamon's
statement said. The Luxembourg factory is owned by French group Comigel.
The lasagna was ultimately sold under the Sweden-based Findus brand.
French supermarkets announced Sunday that they've
recalled a raft of pre-prepared meals, including lasagna, moussaka and
cannelloni suspected of containing undeclared horsemeat. The French
ministers for agriculture, the food industry and consumer protection are
holding an emergency meeting Monday with meat producers.
While horsemeat is largely taboo in Britain and
some other countries, in France it is sold in specialty butcher shops
and prized by some connoisseurs. But French authorities are worried
about producers misleading the public. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius
called Sunday night on BFM television for "tough punishments" for what
he described as "abominable" fraud.
An affair that started earlier this year with
worries about horsemeat in burgers in Ireland and Britain has spread
into a Europe-wide scandal.
The EU commissioner for agriculture is meeting
Monday with Romania's foreign minister about the latest horsemeat
worries. Romanian President Traian Basescu said Sunday that his country
could face potential export restrictions and lose credibility "for many
years" if the Romanian butchers turn out to be the root of the problem.
"I hope that this won't happen," Basescu said in
televised statements. Romania's agricultural ministry has begun an
In the Netherlands, Esther Filon, spokeswoman for
the Dutch Foods and Wares Authority, said Sunday that the Dutch haven't
started investigating but they are ready to if necessary.
"We're a ways away from being able to confirm or
deny whether a Dutch company is involved," she said. "It would
presumably be a question of fraud, rather than food safety. Horse meat
can be sold legally in the Netherlands, as long as it is labeled as
Findus Sweden plans to sue France's Comigel for
breach of contract and fraud, Findus Nordic CEO Jari Latvanen said
Sunday. He said the company's deal with Comigel stipulates the beef in
the lasagna should come from Germany, France or Austria, but that has
not been the case.
"Customers must be able to trust the contents
declaration," he said. "We will take strong action to make sure those
who are liable in this affair are punished. Our reputation has been
damaged, and we do everything to re-establish confidence."
Officials with Comigel did not immediately respond to phone calls or emails.
French media says Poujol subsidiary Spanghero
bought the original meat in question. Spanghero says in a statement on
its website that it bought what was labeled beef products from Romania,
and threatened to take action against the supplier.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, and Malin Rising in Stockholm contributed to this report.
Wednesday, May 22 2013 11:12 PM EDT2013-05-23 03:12:46 GMT
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