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May 20, 2022

Romania, involved in a Europe horsemeat fraud scandal

The scandal concerns horsemeat found in beef products in the United Kingdom, Sweden and France. Romanian officials recommend caution on the part of state authorities in what concerns the origin of the meat until that origin is proven, pointing out that “after Romania joined the EU the Romanian food industry adapted to the exigencies of the European market.”
A frozen food producer caught up in a scandal over horsemeat found in beef products in the United Kingdom, Sweden and France said Saturday it will sue the Romanian producer it blames for the problem. As CNN informs, the French arm of Swedish frozen food firm Findus said it would file a legal complaint today against the unnamed Romanian business.
Findus said it had been told that its products were being made with French beef, not Romanian horsemeat. “We were deceived,” said a Findus France statement. “There are two victims in this affair: Findus and the consumer.” Also, the British arm of Findus said Saturday said it was considering legal action against suppliers, adding that early results of its internal investigation “strongly suggests” the horsemeat contamination of a beef lasagna product “was not accidental.”
The Findus and Aldi meals were assembled by French food manufacturer Comigel using meat that was provided by Spanghero, a meat-processing company also based in France. Spanghero in turn is said to have obtained the meat from an abattoir in Romania, via a Cypriot dealer who had subcontracted the deal to a trader in The Netherlands. On Saturday, the Cyprus veterinary service said it had launched a probe into whether burgers containing horsemeat have reached Cyprus from Ireland.
Meanwhile, an emergency meeting was held in London Saturday, as ministers, food inspectors and retailers grappled with a scandal that appears to be spreading across Europe. Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said it was “completely unacceptable” that consumers were being sold food that contained horse in place of beef. The evidence so far suggests “either criminal activity or gross negligence,” he said. Paterson warned that “more bad news” could come. UK food businesses have been ordered to test all processed beef products for “authenticity” and report back to the authorities by Friday.
Romania’s agriculture ministry said Saturday that it would launch an inquiry into shipments of meat to France after French authorities said two Romanian abattoirs were involved in the horsemeat scandal. “If it finds that the meat came from Romania and that the law has been broken, the culprits will be punished,” the Romanian ministry said in a statement, adding however that the origin of the meat had not yet been proven. The inquiry is underway, one of the producing units being cleared of the accusations, the second one being investigated.
“On February 8, 2013, the European Commission (EC) issued through the Rapid Alert System a notification concerning the suspicion of fraud committed through the replacement of beef with horsemeat in certain batches of lasagna distributed in Great Britain and processed in Luxembourg from raw materials from France. The unit that produced the lasagna is Comigel Luxembourg, while the raw materials came from Comigel France. Currently, as shown by the EC notification, it is known that the product has been distributed through stores in Great Britain. In what concerns the origin of the raw material, the European Commission’s notification does not refer to Romania at any moment, pointing out solely that Comigel France is the supplier of the meat. (…) So far we have no information on the date on which the transport took place or on the data included in the product’s label, French authorities set to supply that information as soon as they get hold of it,” the Romanian Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MADR) stated.
At the same time, Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin recommends caution on the part of state authorities in what concerns the origin of the meat until that origin is proven. “After Romania joined the EU the Romanian food industry adapted to the exigencies of the European market,” the communiqué points out.
In his turn, the president Traian Basescu highlighted yesterday, during a press conference at Cotroceni Palace, that the entire “scandal” will have a very bad impact upon the Romanian exports, for sure, if real problems for the forwarding agent are revealed. ‘I do hope the fake labeling is not ours. Although we are not talking about a toxic product, as the horsemeat is as good as beef, the fake labeling would make Romania lose credibility for a long period of time and the risks to affect exports are high,’ the president said.
Retailers in the United Kingdom, France and Sweden pulled millions of lasagna and other processed beef products off the shelves as the alarm was raised over the Findus lasagnas. Six major French retailers Auchan, Casino, Carrefour, Cora, Monoprix and Picard have pulled the prepared products, including pasta dishes with meat sauce, shepherd’s pie and moussaka, from their shelves.
The controversy comes less than a month after horsemeat was found in hamburgers sold in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Officials in Ireland have pointed to Polish produced meat ingredients as being the source of horsemeat found in burgers there. Responding to questions as to how long it had known about the horsemeat issue, Findus said it had only been alerted by Comigel in a letter dated 2 February. That letter had made Findus “aware of a possible August 2012 date” for the contamination, the company said. Comigel did not comment on this issue. The French minister for consumer affairs Benoit Hamon said it appeared financial gain was the motive of the fraud and overall it could have netted the perpetrators £250,000, BBC informs. Horsemeat in France is not noticeably cheaper than beef, but according to the Green MEP Jose Bove the price of horse meat has recently fallen dramatically in Romania following a new law there banning horses-and-carts on the highway.

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