French firm denies meat deception

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iol pic wld France EU Europe Horsemeat AP In this February 11, 2013 file photo, a sign at the entrance of French meat supplier Spanghero in Castelnaudary, southern France.

Paris - The president of French meat-processing company Spanghero said on Friday the government had been too quick to accuse it of knowingly selling horsemeat labelled as beef, and said he would prove the firm's innocence.

Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon on Thursday released details of an investigation into the firm which he said indicated Spanghero as the likely culprit in the horsemeat scandal that has enraged consumers across Europe and implicated traders and abattoirs from Cyprus to Romania.

“I don't know who is behind this, but I can tell you it's not us. I'm astonished,” Spanghero boss Barthelemy Aguerre told Europe 1 radio. “I think we will prove our innocence and that of my associate. I think the government has been too quick.”

The French probe into how horsemeat got into ready meals sold across Europe found that the Spanghero firm labelled meat as beef when it knew what it was processing may have been horse, Hamon said.

He said that Spanghero could not have failed to notice the meat it was importing was much cheaper than beef and there was no indication that a Romanian firm supplying the meat had mislabelled what was in fact horsemeat.

Spanghero, based in the town of Castelnaudary near Toulouse in southwest France, has had its operating licence suspended for 10 days and will face legal action if the suspicions are confirmed.

The results of the investigation have been passed on to the Paris prosecutor.

Aguerre said that his company had analysed the meat as soon as the scandal broke and discovered that some had been a mixture of beef and horsemeat.

“It shows that Spanghero is not behind this deception. It comes from elsewhere. It puts the 300-odd employees in a great deal of difficulty,” he said.

Hamon told the same radio station that it was not up to him to say who was guilty but added that it was clear something was not right at Spanghero.

“I don't think the point is to say who is the victim, but there are sufficient facts which show that at the very least there was a lot of negligence,” he said.

“Million of consumers have been duped so we had to act quickly.”

The scandal, which has triggered recalls of ready meals and damaged confidence in Europe's vast and complex food industry, erupted last month when tests carried out in Ireland revealed that meat in some beef products was up to 100 percent horsemeat. - Reuters

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