Horsemeat blame game ricochets across Europe

Fri Feb 15, 2013 3:56pm EST
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By Jean Décotte and Anthony Deutsch

CASTELNAUDARY, France/AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Accusations, denials and threats to sue reverberated round Europe on Friday as meat traders, food processors, retailers and governments all rejected blame for horsemeat found in ever more beef dishes across the continent.

In France, wholesalers and officials traded grievances, while more products were removed from sale in Britain, Germany, Austria and Norway; police raided factories in several countries and Dutch prosecutors accused one meat supplier there of fraud.

No one is reported to have fallen ill from eating horse in the month since it was first identified in Irish beefburgers, but evidence of widespread mis-labeling and revelations of a complex market in which produce crisscrosses the EU trading bloc have damaged Europeans' confidence in the food on their plate.

Governments have come under pressure to act and to explain lapses in quality control, while supermarkets, fast-food chains and ready-meal manufacturers are battling to save reputations, some fighting for their very survival amid a welter of lurid headlines playing on a popular queasiness about eating horses.

A French meat company with a famous name accused by the government in Paris of knowingly passing off horsemeat as beef hit back angrily on Friday, accusing ministers of jumping to a hasty conclusion, as its workers feared for their livelihoods.

"This verdict arrived at by the ministers ... has condemned 300 families to death," said the Spanghero company's marketing director Christophe Giry, referring to its 300 employees.

"We're being used as scapegoats for politicians and everybody," he added. "They needed to find a head."

"The government has been too hasty," said company boss Barthelemy Aguerre, a day after ministers said it could not have failed to realize cheap meat from Romania was horse not beef.   Continued...

Signs with the Spanghero logo are seen at their head office in Castelnaudary, Southwestern France, February 14, 2013. REUTERS/Jean-Philippe Arles