Horses as “Meat” for Consumers?


Horse meat in mongolia
Horse meat in mongolia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-02-11/french-officials-mull-horse-meat-response-as-concerns-spread.html (whole article here)

Romania Denies Horse-Meat Contamination as Scandal Widens

                    By Gabi Thesing & Andra Timu –                  Feb 11, 2013 8:45 PM GMT+0200

Romania denied its abattoirs misrepresented horse meat as beef and said its agriculture minister will talk to his U.K. and French counterparts in Brussels this week as the scandal spread throughout Europe.

France will seek sanctions for negligence or fraud and put the meat and fish industries under surveillance to restore confidence. Investigators were at the offices of wholesale food distributor Comigel today, Benoit Hamon, junior minister for consumer affairs said at a press conference in Paris.

French Officials Mull Horse Meat Response as Concerns Spread

Fabrice Dimier/Bloomberg

Casino Guichard Perrachon SA, Carrefour SA and four more retailers yesterday withdrew frozen lasagna, moussaka, cannelloni and hachis parmentier made by Findus Group Ltd. and Comigel after some products were found to contain horse meat.

Casino Guichard Perrachon SA, Carrefour SA and four more retailers yesterday withdrew frozen lasagna, moussaka, cannelloni and hachis parmentier made by Findus Group Ltd. and Comigel after some products were found to contain horse meat. Photographer: Fabrice Dimier/Bloomberg

Tesco Plc, the U.K.’s biggest supermarket chain, said three tests it carried out on frozen Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese supplied by Comigel contained as much as 60 percent horse DNA. Supermarkets in France, the U.K. and Ireland have removed frozen beef products from their shelves since undeclared horse meat was first discovered by the Irish Food Standards Authority last month.

While officials have assured the public that the mislabeled food doesn’t pose health risks, U.K. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said it involved “criminal substitution” and that the meat probably originated in Romania.

Romanian Denial

“It’s unfair for Romania to have a credibility deficit and accept a statute of usual suspect,” Prime Minister Victor Pontasaid. “We have done our job and we have every interest that those who are guilty of this fraud are sanctioned.”

France will push for origin labels for processed meats. Consumers should also be cautious about deeply discounted foods, Hamon said.

“If you buy meat at a price that is clearly lower than the market average, that’s maybe an alarm bell about the nature of the meat you’re buying,” he said.

The multiple intermediaries involved make it tough to nail down who’s responsible, French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said on RTL radio today.

The meat originated in Romania, went through a Dutch trader before making its way through an entity in Cyprus to the French company Spanghero and then on to Comigel, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the French agriculture ministry.

Casino Guichard-Perrachon SA, Carrefour SA and four more retailers yesterday withdrew frozen lasagna, moussaka, cannelloni and hachis parmentier made by Findus Group Ltd. and Comigel after some products were found to contain horse meat.

Findus said it is seeking legal advice about whether it has grounds to pursue a case against its suppliers.

German Testing

In Germany, Europe’s largest economy, supermarket chain Kaiser’s Tengelmann GmbH removed its own-brand frozen lasagna as a precaution as it tests for traces of equine matter in the products, Der Spiegel reported today.

The U.K. Food Standards Agency last week gave food makers until Feb. 15 to test beef products. Public bodies such as schools, prisons, hospitals and the armed forces are responsible for their own food contracts, procurement and finding reputable suppliers, the agency said on its website.

Romania said it has investigated the abattoirs named by the the French company at the center of the investigation. The country hasn’t exported minced meat, Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin said.

“So far, there is no indication that the meat mislabeling was done in Romania,” he told reporters in Bucharest earlier today. “From Romania’s point of view the matter is closed”until new information appears.

Paterson said that under European Union rules, the U.K. can only ban food imports if there is a risk to human health. The Food Standards Agency has asked Findus to test for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, known as “bute,” which in large doses may pose a threat to humans.

In the U.K., routine testing of meat to see if it was horse was stopped by the previous Labour government in 2003. Mary Creagh, Labour’s environment spokeswoman, said Paterson should have acted sooner to order tests after horse meat was found in beef products in Ireland.

To contact the reporters on this story: Gabi Thesing in London at gthesing@bloomberg.net; Andra Timu in Bucharest at atimu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Celeste Perri at cperri@bloomberg.net

Horsemeat scandal blamed on international fraud


Horsemeat scandal blamed on international fraud by mafia gangs

DNA testing of food to be stepped up following fears there has been criminal activity on an international scale

 
Environment secretary Owen Paterson wants to see more DNA testing on food products. Photograph: Will Oliver/AFP

Organised criminal gangs operating internationally are suspected of playing a major role in the horsemeat scandal that has seen supermarket shelves cleared of a series of products and triggered concerns about the contamination of the UK’s food chain.

Sources close to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency said it appeared that the contamination of beefburgers, lasagne and other products was the result of fraud that had an “international dimension”.

Experts within the horse slaughter industry have told the Observer there is evidence that both Polish and Italian mafia gangs are running multimillion-pound scams to substitute horsemeat for beef during food production. There are claims that vets and other officials working within abattoirs and food production plants are intimidated into signing off meat as beef when it is in fact cheaper alternatives such as pork or horse.

In an attempt to reassure the public that Britain’s food chain was not victim to systemic fraud, the environment secretary Owen Paterson on Saturday met representatives from the big four supermarkets, retail bodies and leading food producers to thrash out a plan to increase the amount of DNA testing of food.

“The retailers have committed to conduct more tests and in the interests of public confidence I’ve asked them to publish them on a quarterly basis,” said Paterson. He stressed there was no evidence yet that the scandal had become a public safety issue.

Paterson insisted retailers had to play the leading role in clamping down on the problem. “Ultimate responsibility for the integrity of what is sold on their label has to lie with the retailer.”

The last time the government sanctioned testing for horsemeat in animal products was in 2003 when equine DNA was found in salami.

The first results of a new series of tests for equine DNA in what the FSA terms “comminuted beef products” – where solid materials are reduced in size by crushing or grinding – will be published on Friday. “We have to be prepared that there will be more bad results coming through,” Paterson said.

He confirmed that the government was open to bringing in the Serious and Organised Crime Agency if, as seems evident, the fraud is on an international scale. He said the Metropolitan police had been asked to investigate the scandal and that the force was liaising with counterparts in other countries. Paterson suggested the scandal was potentially a “worldwide” issue.

“I’m concerned that this is an international criminal conspiracy here and we’ve really got to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

The Labour MP Mary Creagh said she was passing information to police that suggested several British companies were involved in the illegal horsemeat trade. “I hope that this information will enable the police to act speedily to stamp out these criminals who are putting the future of the food industry at risk.”

Concerns about the substitution of horsemeat for beef first emerged in mid-January when supermarket chains withdrew several ranges of burgers. Fears of contamination prompted hundreds of European food companies to conduct DNA checks on their products that resulted in the food giant, Findus, discovering that one of its products, a frozen beef lasagne, contained meat that was almost 100% horse.

It has emerged that Findus conducted three tests on its products on 29 January that suggested there was horsemeat contamination. The revelation has raised questions about why it took several days for the products to be pulled from the shelves.

Findus indicated it was ready to sue as the company announced it would on Monday file a complaint against an unidentified party.

In a statement, the firm said: “Findus is taking legal advice about the grounds for pursuing a case against its suppliers, regarding what they believe is their suppliers’ failure to meet contractual obligations about product integrity. The early results from Findus UK’s internal investigation strongly suggests that the horsemeat contamination in beef lasagne was not accidental.”

Supermarket chain Aldi has confirmed that two of its ready meal ranges produced by Comigel, the French supplier also used by Findus, were found to contain between 30% and 100% horsemeat.

Comigel claims it sourced its meat from Romania, which has been subjected to export restrictions due to the prevalence of the viral disease equine infectious anaemia in the country. Spanghero, the French company that supplied the meat for the Findus beef lasagne, announced it will also sue its Romanian suppliers.

The scandal has raised questions about what happens to the 65,000 horses transported around the EU each year for slaughter. The campaign group World Horse Welfare said thousands of animals suffered as a result of making long journeys across national borders. Partly as a result of welfare concerns, the trade in live horses has fallen dramatically. In 2001, 165,000 horses were shipped across Europe.

The decline in the cross-border trade in live horses has seen an increase in the sale of chilled and frozen horsemeat, much of which goes to Italy. Last year Romania significantly increased its export of frozen horsemeat to the Benelux countries.

Attention is now focusing on eastern Europe, a major supplier of horsemeat to France and Italy. Some of the meat that went into Ireland came from suppliers in Poland, which exports around 25,000 horses for slaughter each year. Industry sources also suggested to the Observer that gangs operating in Russia and the Baltic states were playing a role in the fraudulent meat trade.

Other food companies have, as a result of their investigations, found that their supplies have been contaminated. The FSA confirmed that meat held in cold storage in Northern Ireland has been impounded after it was discovered to contain equine DNA. A London-based company, 3663, found pork in some of the halal meat it supplies the prison service.

Questions are now being asked about meat supplied to a range of public sector organisations, including the NHS. “Every NHS and healthcare organisation will have different local circumstances and it would be for those organisations to satisfy themselves that the food they supply meets the needs of their patients,” said the Department of Health. “Any investigations into the provenance of those supplies would also be done locally.”

British farmers have expressed concerns that the scandal could affect consumer confidence in British beef. “Our members are rightly angry and concerned with the recent developments relating to contaminated processed meat products,” said the National Farmers’ Union president, Peter Kendall. “The contamination took place post farm-gate which farmers have no control over.”