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Paris - France on Sunday said there were solid reasons to believe that the meat-processing firm Spanghero had passed off horsemeat in meals labelled beef, but insisted that unwitting workers should not be penalised.
The government said it was meeting with representatives of the 300-odd workers on Monday. The sanitary licence of the Spanghero plant was temporarily revoked last week.
“The government distinguishes responsibility for what seems to be the actions of Spanghero's leaders from the work of its employees,” the agriculture ministry said in a statement.
It added however that there was “serious, precise and corroborating evidence of consumer fraud at a European level”.
The government on Thursday presented the results of its initial investigation that said Spanghero had knowingly sold 750 tons of horsemeat mislabelled as beef over a period of six months.
Of this, 500 tons were sent to French firm Comigel, which makes frozen meals at its Tavola subsidiary in Luxembourg.
That meat was used to make 4.5 million products that were sold by Comigel to 28 different companies in 13 European countries, said the findings released by the DGCCRF anti-fraud office.
Spanghero's licence to handle meat was suspended pending further investigations.
Monday's meeting between the workers, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll and Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon is aimed at determining how employees will be paid until the plant can re-open.
“We will tell the ministers to immediately restore the sanitary licence for our meals and sausages which do not contain beef at all,” said Claude Hill from the CFDT trade union. - Sapa-AFP