A board showing cuts of horsemeat hangs on the wall at Le
Taxi Jaune restaurant in Paris. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
An investigation has identified a French meat-processing
firm as a likely culprit in the horsemeat scandal that has
enraged consumers across Europe and implicated traders and
abattoirs from Cyprus to Romania.
Separately, British police investigating alleged mislabelling
of beef products arrested three people on Thursday (local
time) at facilities in Wales and Yorkshire which had handled
horsemeat and were raided by police earlier, British media
No further details on the British arrests were immediately
The French probe into how horsemeat found its way into ready
meals sold across Europe found that the Spanghero firm
labelled meat as beef when it knew what it was processing may
have been horse, the government said on Thursday.
Spanghero, based in the town of Castelnaudary near Toulouse
in southwest France, could have its operating licence revoked
and will face legal action if the suspicions are confirmed,
France's consumer affairs and farm ministers told a news
"It would seem that the first agent in this chain to label
the meat 'beef' was indeed Spanghero," Consumer Affairs
Minister Benoit Hamon said. "This was either a very big
mistake or a deception for profit."
There was no indication that a Romanian firm supplying meat
to Spanghero had mislabelled what was in fact horsemeat, he
said, arguing that Spanghero could not have failed to notice
the meat it was importing was much cheaper than beef.
"The investigation shows Spanghero knew the meat labelled as
beef could be horse. There was a strong suspicion," he said.
Spanghero denied the accusations and said it firmly believed
what it was selling was beef. "There is an inquiry under way
which will determine whether there was negligence or not," a
The privately-owned company, founded by two brothers of 1970s
French rugby star Walter Spanghero, produces thousands of
tonnes of processed meat, sold in nondescript blocks, and
jars of regional dishes like cassoulet from its premises in
The scandal, which has triggered recalls of ready meals and
shattered confidence in Europe's vast and complex food
industry, erupted last month when tests carried out in
Ireland revealed that meat in some "beef" products was up to
100 percent horsemeat.
The British government and the European Union have called for
a high-level meeting to investigate, and the issue will be on
the agenda of a Feb. 25 farm ministers meeting.
The European Commission has proposed increased DNA-testing of
meat products to try to establish the scale of a scandal
which has exposed just how many countries a portion of mince
may have travelled through before ending up in a frozen
EU legislation states that horsemeat can be sold in meat
products on the condition it is declared on the label. Member
states are responsible for proper enforcement of the rules.
Hamon said the French investigation found that Spanghero had
generated a profit of 550,000 euros over six months by
selling cheap horsemeat as beef in a supply chain that
reached through 28 companies in 13 countries.
He also wagged his finger at another French firm, Comigel,
which used processed meat from Spanghero to make frozen
"beef" ready meals, saying it should have noticed when it
thawed the meat blocks that they did not look and smell like
Comigel said in a statement it paid market prices for what it
thought was beef. It said it had alerted the authorities as
soon as it became aware of a problem and had filed a legal
complaint as a victim of fraud.
It also said its frozen meat had not been thawed for
inspection before entering its factory for cooking, so its
staff would not have noticed anything unusal in its
appearance or smell.
As regulators across Europe raced to test food products,
Britain's Food Standards Agency said six horses slaughtered
in Britain that tested positive for the drug phenylbutazone
were exported to France and may have entered the human food
Phenylbutazone, known as bute, is an anti-inflammatory
painkiller for sporting horses which is banned for animals
intended for human consumption as it is potentially harmful.
Asda, one of Britain's biggest supermarkets, said it was
recalling its beef bolognese sause after a preliminary test
result suggested the presence of horse DNA in the product.