Sanctions promised as horse meat scandal spreads across Europe

The French and British governments have promised to punish those found responsible for selling horse meat in beef products at the heart of a growing scandal that started in Britain but is quickly spreading to France.

Benoit Hamon, French consumer affairs minister, said on Saturday that an investigation had found that the horse meat had originated in Romania, although there were links with French, Dutch and Cypriot firms and a factory in Luxembourg.

Owen Paterson, UK environment minister, said more cases of contaminated food could emerge as British retailers conducted tests for horse meat on processed beef products.

The scandal threatens to affect consumer confidence in Europe’s giant food industry, with pressure rising for greater checks.

The British unit of frozen foods group Findus began a recall this week of its beef lasagne from retailers on advice from its French supplier, Comigel, over concerns that some packs contained high levels of horse meat.

Findus France said it too had recalled lasagne and two other products after discovering that they included horse meat from Romania rather than beef from France as it had thought…

In Britain Findus said it believed the contamination was deliberate.

“The early results from Findus UK’s internal investigation strongly suggests that the horsemeat contamination in beef lasagne was not accidental,” it said.

Paterson summoned Britain’s leading food retailers and representatives of food processors to an emergency meeting at his office in London on Saturday to discuss the crisis.

He said participants were determined to get to the bottom of a scandal which he said was either caused by “gross incompetence or what I suspect is an international criminal conspiracy“.

Britain’s government is under pressure to appear on top of the scandal, which comes less than a month after supermarket chain Tesco and fast food outlet Burger King found horse meat in beef burgers from an Irish supplier.

The original discovery was accidental – essentially a result of retailers worrying about offending religious folks by traces of pork in beef products. The shock has turned to dismay as they learned the classic capitalist ethic of stealing as much profit as possible by diluting the cost structure of beef with much cheaper horse meat.

No one is going to drop dead – or even worse go directly to Limbo – because of the presence of horse protein. Still, being screwed on price is not what you’re supposed to expect from a regulated trade like meat. Obviously, oversight has been limited to neighborhood horizons.

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