Horse Lasagne Canters Through EU Food Chain
What a canter it’s turning out to be. Chevalgate has gripped the media, muckraker Upton Sinclair might make a comeback and horse-meat gourmets shake their heads as France promises to punish anyone selling horse as beef.
To date, France, the UK, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Cyprus and Ireland have been lined-up in a high-stake EU horse-meat-turned-beef derby on which Tattersalls would surely caution bookies not to lay a price. More outsiders may yet join the course if French Euro MP José Bové has his way. The EELV (Greens) deputy, a fierce opponent of all non-authentic, non-local foodstuffs (from McDo to GMO), has demanded an urgent inquiry into what he called a massive European-wide fraud.
According to Le Parisien José Bové said: “We need a European investigation by OLAF, the European Union anti-fraud service. Someone clearly decided to use cheaper supplies and as horse meat prices have collapsed this gives them a hefty financial profit on the back of consumers.” He went on:”I do not believe this affair was a ‘mistake’ — horse meat has been found in large quantities in Britain, Ireland, and Sweden. Obviously it is carefully orchestrated (and has been) helped by growing consumer trends of buying ready-made meals at hypermarkets making it increasingly easy to disguise this kind of thing,” he said.
See also: Online They’re Having a Horse Laugh at Findus
Equine-hell hit Europe after French-packaged, Romanian-sourced (or not) meat products labelled as beef – but whose DNA said ‘horse’ – initially provoked UK consumer anger after Findus frozen beef lasagne products were found to be ‘mis-labelled’. But once the initial punning and horse jokes died down it turned into a fast-moving “horsegate” with the media galloping down an increasingly long, complex European course in hot pursuit of what French authorities soon called fraud.
Retail chains across Europe were forced to clear their freezers of offending foodstuffs reportedly prepared by a Metz-based French supplier, Comigel, whose packing and processing is done in Luxembourg. French media said the complex supply chain crossed the European continent. The supplier to the Luxembourg plant was Poujol, a French company and part of the umbrella holding company Spanghero. Poujol said it had acquired “frozen meat purchased from a trader in Cyprus, who had subcontracted the order to a trader in the Netherlands, who for his part had contacted a slaughterhouse and a processing plant in Romania.”
Benoît Hamon French Minister for Consumer Affairs, said it was unclear whether there had been an intentional fraud or the meat had been sold as beef by accident. “I can assure you that there will be sanctions, whether it turns out to be negligence or direct responsibility”, he told the media. French sources reported that the minister believed fraud was the most likely motive and that his department estimated the transactions would have grossed “more than 300,000 euros” (given the considerable difference in price between beef and horse-meat).
According to a Reuters report Findus France director general Matthieu Lambeaux said:“a Luxembourg factory had been supplied by the French firm Poujol, which had bought the meat frozen from a Cypriot trader, who in turn sub-contracted the order to a Dutch trader supplied by a Romanian abattoir. However, Findus’s supplier Comigel, a frozen foods producer based in Metz in eastern France, told a local newspaper that it had bought the meat from another French company, which had been supplied from a Romanian abattoir.”
Comigel president Erick Lehagre told the French news agency AFP: “We were victims and we now discover that the problem has nothing to do with Findus or Comigel.” Spanghero the French company that supplied Comigel also defended its operations. In an interview with the France 2 network Barthélémy Aguerre, chairman of Spanghero said those responsible were “either the Romanian abattoir or the operator that stuck labels on the meat claiming it was beef, I don’t know if that was the abattoir or some other intermediary,” he said.
As the jockeys in this obstacle-strewn derby moved onto the rails for a better view of the course, it emerged the problem might in part have been avoided if anyone had remembered a prosecution and conviction for earlier transgressions reported in June 2012 by the Rue89 website.
The Rue 89 article traced the agri-business careers of two dynamic French farmers and would-be centrist politicians Jean Lassalle and Barthélémy Aguerre. It said during the course of his business career Barthélémy Aguerre had acquired two firms Arcadie Sud-Ouest and Spanghero and in this way entered the abattoir business. “In 2008, Arcadie Sud-Ouest was indicted for “deception in regard to basic descriptions” and “origins of a product”, a deception that was “aggravated because of risks posed to human health”. (Additionally it was indicted) for the “sale of ‘corrupted’ goods.” Large quantities of rotten meat had been found in 2006 at a plant in Cholet.” Rue 89’s original report did not carry any responses from any of the parties it named.
According to La Dépêche French hypermarket chains such as Carrefour, Auchan, Casino, Cora, Monoprix and Picard moved quickly to remove suspect products – including lasagnes, cannellonis, spaghetti bolognaise, moussaka and mince supplied by Comigel as authorities launched an inquiry. Comigel disclosed that it distributed its products in 16 European countries. The paper said Findus’ Swedish parent company had filed a formal complaint to French police against unknown parties because of the harm done to its name by the mis-labelling.
Horsemeat is regarded as a healthy source of cheap protein by many EU states and the dish is on the menu of many French restaurants as French News Online reported here.
As the impact of the mare mislabelling spread, consumers took to twitter — hashtag #Findus – and the comment columns of online newspapers to give voice to their vociferous views.
Several drew attention to a 2008 American documentary Food, Inc. directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Robert Kenner. This like Upton Sinclair’s 1906 Great American Novel – The Jungle — about the meat industry in Chicago, aimed to alert modern day consumers that perhaps not all that much has changed in the intervening 102 years since The Jungle became a classic.
See the trailer clip below:
According to France Trait, a French horse association: 88% of French draught horses are bred to produce horse meat. The majority are used in livestock reproduction and just 2% for activities such as sport, leisure or farmwork. In 2007, France exported 13,710 live horses, mainly to Italy (71%) and Spain (15%) and 8,610 tonnes of horse meat. Despite a large deficit in the supply of the French horse meat market, French producers export widely. In France, there are 1,000 horse butchers. Besides bread, it is the only product to be sold mostly through small corner shops rather than large retail chains. The north of France and the Paris region eat as much horse meat as the rest of the country combined. In the last century doctors prescribed horse meat to patients suffering from anaemia or chronic fatigue, because it is exceptionally rich in iron! For the latest news on horse meat visit this website.
Story: Ken Pottinger
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