British police mount raid as horsemeat scandal widens

Tue Feb 12, 2013 3:14pm EST
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By Michael Holden and Peter Griffiths

LONDON (Reuters) - British police and regulators raided a slaughterhouse and a meat processor on Tuesday suspected of selling horsemeat as beef, expanding a Europe-wide scandal that has shocked consumers and exposed flawed food safety controls.

In Paris, French prosecutors opened a preliminary judicial investigation to determine whether fraud was committed in the growing scandal.

The prosecutor's office said a judicial inquiry had been opened in the northeastern city of Metz on Monday, but subsequently it was transferred to Paris, where national issues of food security are investigated.

In Britain, the raids on companies were the first by officials investigating horsemeat supplies in a country where the issue has angered consumers and led to several big retailers pulling contaminated products from their shelves.

While it is not illegal to sell horsemeat in Britain, eating it is virtually taboo. The British government said anyone found to have fraudulently sold horsemeat should be prosecuted.

"It is totally unacceptable if any business in the UK is defrauding the public by passing off horsemeat as beef," Britain's Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said. "I expect the full force of the law to be brought down on anyone involved in this kind of activity."

The Food Standards Agency, the British regulator, said it had suspended operations at an abattoir in northern England and a meat processing company in Wales while it investigates whether they were involved in horsemeat being missold as beef for kebabs and burgers.

The scandal, affecting a growing number of European countries and retailers, began in Ireland when horsemeat was found in frozen beef burgers. The inquiry has implicated companies across Europe, from France and the Netherlands to Cyprus and Romania.   Continued...

Metal horse heads outlined with neon lights are seen above a horsemeat butcher shop in Paris in this February 11, 2013 file picture. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files