While the future of the thousands of tonnes of unwanted horse lasagne in Ireland remains unresolved, the question of what to do with it all is also being asked in France.
As soon as the scandal broke, retail outlets of all sizes in France withdrew stocks of all products – frozen or fresh – that were suspected of containing horse meat.
“We stocked them in a specially-designated fridge,” explains Alain Landais of the Leclerc shopping centre in the eastern town of Émeraude de Bourg in the department of Aine. All the other supermarkets interviewed (Carrefour, Casino, Intermarché) confirmed that they took a similar course of action: “nothing was dumped… all put to one side… stored in our reserve stocks.”
But under what set of circumstances – if any – can these products ever be sold?
“These meals are not, up to now at least, the subject of any kind of health issue,” says a French government spokesperson. “If the security is guaranteed from a public safety point of view,” it allows agri-food professionals either to sell them or to donate them to charity organisations who might want to redistribute them. The only condition is that the packaging clearly indicates that the meat is of an equine nature.
As for the charitable organisations, they are more-or-less in favour (with one exception; Secours Catholique).
“As long as these products are edible and correctly labelled, we’ve no problem with it,” says one charitable organisation leader Gilles Bollard, whose sentiments are echoed by Josiane Fion of Restos du Coeur: “In the absence of health risks, it would be a pity to throw away all that food. We could really do with it for our summer campaign.”
“We might take some of it. People are quite reticent about it,” notes another charity head André Buathier of Secours Populaire, “knowing that the lasagne stocks of 2011 are still in the food chain.” Mr Buathier also points out that the logistic problems of accepting stocks of food are not inconsiderable, that the company is already paying €200 a month for food donations in stock and that the capacity of storage facilities is limited and costly.
So what happens next? Will the horse meat get re-labelled and go back on the shelves? Will the charities themselves have to go rooting through the refrigerated lorries? Josiane Fion is one amongst many who are calling for some national policy on the issue, while Gilles Bollard is in the wait-and-see camp: “Up to now,” he says, “we haven’t had any contact from any of the supermarkets about it. It’s up to them to decide. It’s completely their responsibility.”