Tue, Feb 12, 2013 - Page 3 News List

Anti-fraud agents search French firms in horsemeat probe

AFP, PARIS

French anti-fraud agents yesterday inspected two French food firms at the center of a scandal over horsemeat sold as beef in supermarkets across Europe.

Directorate-General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Repression of Fraud (DGCCRF) inspectors visited the Comigel and Spanghero plants, through which the meat passed before reaching supermarkets.

“The teams are on the company sites for checks after the horsemeat scandal erupted. They are at several sites at the moment,” a DGCCRF official involved in the searches said.

The checks came one day after leading French retailers pulled products from their shelves and threats of legal action flew.

France promised the results of an urgent inquiry into the scandal within days and the government announced crisis talks with meat industry representatives for last night.

Producers and distributors insisted they had been deceived about the true nature of the meat and vowed to take legal action.

Several ranges of prepared food have been withdrawn in Britain, France and Sweden after it emerged that frozen food companies had used horsemeat instead of beef in lasagne, other pasta dishes, shepherd’s pies and moussaka dishes.

Reflecting the complexity of European food supply chains, the meat has been traced from France through Cyprus and the Netherlands to Romanian abattoirs.

Officials in Bucharest announced an urgent inquiry on Saturday. On Sunday, Romanian President Traian Basescu said he feared his country “would be discredited for many years” if a Romanian meat supplier was found to be at fault.

French retailers Auchan, Casino, Carrefour, Cora, Monoprix and Picard announced on Sunday they were withdrawing products provided by frozen food giant Findus and French producer Comigel over the horsemeat concerns. They said the withdrawal was the result of “labeling non-compliance in regards to the nature of the meat” in the products.

France “will not hesitate” to take legal action if there is evidence that companies had knowingly duped consumers, French Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also made it clear someone would have to pay for what he described as a “abominable and disgusting” affair.

“There are clearly people involved making a profit ... there need to be tough sanctions,” he told France’s BFMTV television.

Findus has said it will file a legal complaint in France after evidence showed the presence of horsemeat in its supply chain “was not accidental.”

Its Nordic branch said on Sunday it planned to sue Comigel and its suppliers.

Comigel head Erick Lehagre said the company had been fooled by its suppliers and vowed to seek compensation.

Meanwhile, British Food Minister Owen Paterson dismissed calls for a ban on EU meat imports, describing the idea as a “panic measure.”

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