EU ministers will hold a meeting in Brussels tomorrow (13 February) to deal with the fallout from the horsemeat scandal as investigations in France and the UK continued yesterday.
The scandal (see background), which has already impacted on distributors in the UK, France, Sweden, Ireland and Romania, has raised questions about the complexity of the food industry's supply chains across the EU.
French ministers yesterday (11 February) held talks with key meat industry representatives, as seven French supermarket chains – Auchan, Casino, Carrefour, Cora, Monoprix, Grand Jury and Picard – withdrew frozen beef meals made by Findus and Comigel.
Food Minister Guillaume Garot said he wanted to ensure that all contentious products had been removed.
UK minister updated MPs
In the UK, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson updated MPs on the latest developments.
The European Commission yesterday indicated that a UK moratorium on EU meat imports – which has been called for by UK politicians – is not allowed under EU rules.
The Irish presidency announced it was convening a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday at the behest of the UK and other governments.
An initial investigation by French officials revealed that French firm Poujol bought the frozen meat from a Cypriot trader. That trader received it from a Dutch food trader, and which in turn had purchased the meat from two Romanian slaughterhouses.
Poujol supplied the meat to a Luxembourg factory owned by French group Comigel. The meat was then sold under the Sweden-based brand, Findus, which has said it has been misled by its Romanian meat supplier.
The controversy surrounding contamination of meat products has also affected firms in the Irish Republic and Poland.
Cases are going to bite the fraudsters
Last month, Irish food inspectors announced they had found horsemeat in some burgers stocked by a number of UK supermarket chains, including Tesco, Iceland and Lidl.
Frédéric Vincent, the Commission’s spokesperson for health and consumer policy, said: “All food in the EU is traceable so you can always work back to the source of the problem, but investigations are under way in several states. If it becomes clear there was fraud we find ourselves in a business-to-business context, then the operators must sort this out through legal channels.”
The Swedish National Food Agency is considering reporting Findus and other companies that have mislead consumers and wrongly claimed their products contained 100% beef to the police.
“It’s always the one who puts a product on the market who has the responsibility for correct labeling. So in this case Findus has the responsibility,” said the Swedish minister for rural affairs, Eskil Erlandsson.
“They are not going to get away with cheating. Such cases are going to bite them so hard that they’ll never again consider placing something on the market which doesn’t contain what is indicated on the label.”