French company accused of mislabelling meat

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French authorities yesterday named a French meat wholesaler as the main culprit in the horsemeat scandal.

They said officials at Spanghero knowingly passed off cheap horsemeat as ground beef for frozen food sold around the continent.

The escalating food scare has raised questions about food controls in the European Union and highlighted how little consumers know about the complex trading operations that get food from producers to wholesalers to processors to stores and on to their plates.

Europol, the EU police agency, is co-ordinating a continent-wide fraud investigation amid allegations of an international criminal conspiracy to substitute horse for more expensive beef.

In Paris, Benoit Hamon, the government’s consumer affairs minister, said it appeared that fraudulent meat sales had been going on for several months, and reached across 13 countries and 28 companies. He said there was plenty of blame to go around, but most of it rested with Spanghero, a wholesaler based in southern France.

Mr Hamon said Spanghero was one company in a chain that started with two Romanian slaughterhouses which said they clearly labelled their meat as horse. The meat was then bought by a Cyprus-registered trader and sent to a warehouse in the Netherlands.

Spanghero bought the meat from the trader, then resold it to the French frozen food processor Comigel. The resulting food was marketed under Swedish-based Findus brand as products labelled as containing ground beef. Mr Hamon said Spanghero was well aware the meat was mislabelled when it sold it to Comigel.