Barthelemy Aguerre, the president of French meat processor
Spanghero, speaks to the media outside their head office in
Castelnaudary, France. REUTERS/Jean-Philippe Arles
Accusations, denials and threats to sue reverberated
round Europe as meat traders, food processors, retailers and
governments all rejected blame for horsemeat found in ever more
beef dishes across the continent.
In France, wholesalers and officials traded grievances, while
more products were removed from sale in Britain, Germany,
Austria and Norway; police raided factories in several
countries and Dutch prosecutors accused one meat supplier
there of fraud.
No one is reported to have fallen ill from eating horse in
the month since it was first identified in Irish beefburgers,
but evidence of widespread mis-labelling and revelations of a
complex market in which produce crisscrosses the EU trading
bloc have damaged Europeans' confidence in the food on their
Governments have come under pressure to act and to explain
lapses in quality control, while supermarkets, fast-food
chains and ready-meal manufacturers are battling to save
reputations, some fighting for their very survival amid a
welter of lurid headlines playing on a popular queasiness
about eating horses.
A French meat company with a famous name accused by the
government in Paris of knowingly passing off horsemeat as
beef hit back angrily on Friday, accusing ministers of
jumping to a hasty conclusion, as its workers feared for
"This verdict arrived at by the ministers ... has condemned
300 families to death," said the Spanghero company's
marketing director Christophe Giry, referring to its 300
"We're being used as scapegoats for politicians and
everybody," he added. "They needed to find a head."
"The government has been too hasty," said company boss
Barthelemy Aguerre, a day after ministers said it could not
have failed to realise cheap meat from Romania was horse not
"I think we will prove our innocence," he added.
Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said: "At the very
least there was a lot of negligence ... Millions of consumers
have been duped, so we had to act quickly."
At Spanghero's factory - a red and white corrugated-iron-clad
building in Castelnaudary, a town famed for its cuisine near
the southern city of Toulouse - workers were throwing
carcasses, sausages and burgers into a dumper truck on
The Spanghero family, a dynasty of French rugby players who
founded the firm but sold it in 2009, bemoaned the loss of
their good name: "We have been plunged into dishonour," said
Laurent Spanghero, whose brother once captained the national
The Romanian government and abattoirs that routinely
slaughter horses have said their exports were properly
Dutch prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into an
as yet unnamed company believed to have been falsely
labelling beef mixed with horsemeat after searching a plant
in the south.
They said it was "suspected of forgery, fraud and money
laundering" and added: "It is believed the company processed
horse carcasses from Ireland and mixed them with beef."
In a separate development, a Dutch businessman who was
convicted last year of selling falsely labelled horsemeat,
denied suggestions of involvement in the latest scandal.
After a senior Romanian food safety official identified Jan
Fasen's company Draap Trading as a buyer of horse meat from
Romania, a lawyer for Fasen, who is based in Breda in the
southern Netherlands said in a statement he denied all
allegations, including of being a key figure in a fraud
He noted that Fasen was appealing against last year's
conviction, which court documents show involved the sale of
beef mixed with horse to two French companies.
Governments have highlighted that horsemeat poses little or
no health risk - though some carcasses have been found
tainted with a painkiller given to racehorses but banned for
human consumption - and have said retailers are ultimately
responsible for ensuring the products they sell are what they
claim to be.
One supermarket chain, Kaiser's Tengelmann in Germany, said
it plans to sue Comigel, a French supplier of frozen beef
lasagne and other ready meals, for selling it horsemeat: "We
feel cheated and deceived," Tengelmann boss Raimund Luig
"We will definitely file for damages."
German discount supermarket chain Lidl said it had taken beef
tortelloni off its shelves after Austrian health authorities
said they found horsemeat in one sample made by
Liechtenstein-based Hilcona. The latter blamed its supplier.
Compass Group, the world's biggest caterer, and Whitbread,
Britain's biggest hotel group, added to the list of firms
withdrawing beef products found to contain horse.
Also in Britain, leading chain Tesco, one of the earliest
casualties of horse-tainted beefburgers, highlighted a
different approach to defending its reputation, telling
customers they would be able to track the implementation of
systems it is putting in place to ensure the origins of its
food are clear.
British supermarket bosses signed an open letter to consumers
telling them they "share their anger and outrage" at finding
food safety "compromised by fraudulent activity or even, as
alleged, an international criminal conspiracy".
That move came after Prime Minister David Cameron, himself
under pressure from voters, appeared to chide the retailers.
Britain's Food Standards Agency, set up in 2001 after the
"mad cow disease" scandal saw British beef banned by European
neighbours, said on Friday that of 2,501 tests for horse DNA
in samples of beef products from shops, 29 had shown traces
above 1 percent.
Authorities in the northwestern English county of Lancashire
said they were recalling pies from 47 local school kitchens
after they provisionally tested positive for traces of horse
DNA. "This does not appear to be a food safety issue, but
I've no doubt parents will agree we need to take a very firm
line with suppliers," County Councillor Susie Charles said in
EU governments approved an EU-wide programme of DNA tests on
beef products to assess the scale of a food scandal involving
mislabelled horsemeat, the bloc's executive said on Friday.
The initial one-month testing plan will also check horsemeat
for potentially harmful drug residues, after six horses
slaughtered in Britain tested positive for the
anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone, which is illegal in meat
for human consumption.
The British government and the European Union have called for
a high-level meeting to investigate the scandal, and it will
be on the agenda of a Feb. 25 EU farm ministers' meeting.