As the horse meat controversy continues to spread, the French government has already begun to apportion blame in its jurisdiction.
The company Spanghero – one of the suppliers of food labelled as beef but containing horse meat in France – is in the line of fire from the French government in the wake of the publication of the first parts of a national inquiry.
Appropriately-named Food minister Benoît Hamon insisted that the company “knew that it was labelling horse meat as ‘beef’.” Spanghero, he said, had rendered itself guilty of “economic deception”, adding that it would be pursued, promising to “clear out the chain”.
The French government estimates that 750 tonnes of meat were sold over several months, yielding a profit for Spanghero of €550,000. A point worth noting is that the meat was purchased at a price that was below the market rate for beef. “Spanghero could not have been unaware of the market prices,” Mr Hamon emphasised.
Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll added that Spanghero‘s license to process meat would be immediately revoked with the decision to renew any such license or not due to be taken next week.
In its defence, Spanghero repeated on Thursday that the company “never ordered horse meat” and that it “never knew that it was selling horse meat… There is an enquiry under way at the moment which will determine what possible errors and lapses there were,” said a spokesperson.
Spanghero, which employs 331 people, says that it has fully cooperated with the enquiry team and that it has instigated legal proceedings against persons unknown for fraud and deception.
According to the government, the company have been fined €180,000. “The penalty was not very important in light of the profits made,” admitted Minister Hamon. Company directors could face up to two years in prison.
As for the other French company at the heart of the scandal – the infamous Findus horse lasagne producers Comigel – Mr Hamon recognises that it was duped into the affair. However, he added, this French company was guilty of “two incidences of neglect arising from the omission of control systems that should have been operational in its Luxembourg plant.” Comigel reasoned that “organised deception” was very difficult to detect. On a more global scale, Mr Hamon spoke of “a complex commercial framework”, with similar cases cropping up in Britain, Switzerland, Norway and Germany (he didn’t mention us in his speech).
On the subject of the horse carcasses containing traces of the noxious ant-inflammatory drug phenylbutazone, the government indicated that all the carcasses affected had been “identified” and had “not entered into the food chain.”