Monday

30th May 2016

Horsemeat scandal widens to France, Sweden, Romania

  • Accusations are flying about who is responsible for the growing horsemeat scandal (Photo: European Commission)

Europe's horse meat scandal has widened to affect several member states, with Romania emerging as the possible source.

Britain first discovered the presence of horse meat in what were supposed to be beef burgers in late January, but subsequent investigations quickly found the tainted products in Ireland and now other EU countries, including France and Sweden.

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The trail highlights the labyrinthine path of food from slaughterhouse to consumers' tables.

Benoit Hamon, French junior minister for consumer goods, in a statement on Sunday (10 February) said that French company Poujol had bought the meats from a Cypriot supplier who in turn had sourced the meat from a Dutch company which had been supplied by two Romanian abattoirs.

Poujol then supplied a Luxembourg factory, owned by French group Comigel. Sweden-based Findus brand then sold meat in packets of lasagne.

The French authorities have called for an emergency meeting with meat industry chiefs on Monday (11 February) . Meanwhile, six supermarket chains in France have withdrawn beef meals by Findus and Comigel from their shelves.

While there may not be any negative health effects from the horsemeat - still a popular food in some member states - companies risk suffering reputational damage.

The legal actions and accusations are already starting.

Both Findus Sweden and Findus France have said they want to take legal action.

French media is reporting that Spanghero, a Poujol subsidiary, bought the original meat. Spanghero, for its part, says it bought products labelled as beef from Romania and is also threatening to take legal action.

However, some in Romania are saying the beef industry was also implicated.

Sorin Minea, head of Romania's food federation, said that French importers must have known that they were not buying beef.

"Horsemeat has a particular taste, a particular colour and a particular quality," he said, according to Germany's Sueddeutsche newspaper.

For his part, EU agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos is to meet Romania's foreign minister on Monday to discuss the possible links to Romanian slaughter houses.

Ahead of the meeting, Romanian President Traian Basescu warned that his country would face loss of credibility and export restrictions "for many years" if the allegations prove to be true.

The number of countries affected by the scandal could rise - Comigel markets ready meals in 16 countries.

Experts suggest the horse meat scam will have proven highly profitable to those involved.

"Beef sells for around €4 a kilo while horse meat costs no more than 90 cent," Patrick Wall, an associate professor of public health at University College Dublin, told the Irish Times.

"So what we are seeing here is fraud on an absolutely huge scale … And the people behind this fraud would have been making enormous sums of money," he said.

Finance ministers baulk at tax-avoidance rules

Member states will discuss again in June a proposed directive to outlaw practices used by large companies to avoid paying taxes. Meanwhile, the European Parliament makes progress on its probe of Panama Papers.

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