Horsemeat scandal: France summons meat industry chiefs

Ben Geoghegan reports on the meat supply chain which stretches across Europe

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French ministers are to hold talks with key players in the meat industry as the horsemeat scandal widens to up to 16 countries.

Seven French supermarket chains have withdrawn frozen beef meals made by Findus and Comigel.

The move followed the discovery that foods sold in Europe and the UK labelled as beef contained horsemeat.

The scandal has raised questions about the complexity of the food industry's supply chains across the EU.

It has already had an impact on distributors in the UK, France, Sweden, Ireland and Romania.

Food products in a further 11 EU countries may be affected, it is feared.

Food Minister Guillaume Garot said he wanted to ensure that all contentious products had been removed.

Romania is investigating claims one of its abattoirs is responsible.

'Learning lessons'

In the UK, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is to update MPs on the latest developments in the scandal.

Meat scandal

  • In mid-January, Irish food inspectors announced they had found horsemeat in some burgers stocked by UK supermarket chains
  • Subsequently, up to 100% horsemeat found in several ranges of prepared frozen food in Britain, France and Sweden
  • Up to 16 countries involved
  • Concerns that drug used to treat horses, and which is harmful to humans, could be in food chain
  • Meat traced from France through Cyprus and The Netherlands to Romanian abattoirs
  • Investigation suggests contamination was not accidental but the work of a criminal conspiracy

He has already said a moratorium on EU meat imports, which has been called for, was not allowed under EU rules.

The controversy surrounding contamination of meat products has also affected firms in the Irish Republic and Poland.

Last month, Irish food inspectors announced they had found horsemeat in some burgers stocked by a number of UK supermarket chains, including Tesco, Iceland and Lidl.

The seven French supermarket chains that have already withdrawn some of their frozen meat-based meals, including lasagne, from the shelves are Auchan, Casino, Carrefour, Cora, Monoprix, Grand Jury and Picard.

"We want to get the latest from the whole range of people involved in the food chain on what has happened and start to learn the first lessons," Mr Garot told Agence France Presse.

He said producers, food processors, distributers, supermarkets and representatives from the food industry are expected to attend Monday's meeting.

An initial investigation by French officials revealed that French firm Poujol bought the frozen meat from a Cypriot trader, France's Junior Minister for Consumer Goods, Benoit Hamon, said in a statement on Sunday.

'Deceived'

The trader had, in turn, received it from a Dutch food trader, and that Dutch company had purchased the meat from two Romanian slaughterhouses.

Poujol supplied the meat to a Luxembourg factory owned by French group Comigel.

The meat was then sold under the Sweden-based brand, Findus, which has said it has been misled by its Romanian meat supplier.

The food giant has already withdrawn ready meals in France and Sweden after it emerged that its frozen beef lasagne sold in Britain contained up to 100% horsemeat.

Responding to the food scandal, the director of Findus France, Matthieu Lambeaux, said in a statement the company would file a legal complaint on Monday.

"We thought we had certified French beef in our products. But in reality, we were supplied with Romanian horsemeat. We have been deceived," Mr Lambeaux said.

The EU commissioner for agriculture is also due to meet Romania's foreign minister on Monday.

The Romanian President Traian Basescu has warned that his country could face potential export restrictions and lose credibility "for many years" if his country's butchers are revealed to be the root of the problem.

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