British police mount raid as horsemeat scandal widens

LONDON Tue Feb 12, 2013 4:19pm EST

Metal horse heads outlined with neon lights are seen above a horsemeat butcher shop in Paris in this February 11, 2013 file picture. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/Files

Metal horse heads outlined with neon lights are seen above a horsemeat butcher shop in Paris in this February 11, 2013 file picture.

Credit: Reuters/Charles Platiau/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - British police and regulators raided a slaughterhouse and a meat processor on Tuesday suspected of selling horsemeat as beef, expanding a Europe-wide scandal that has shocked consumers and exposed flawed food safety controls.

In Paris, French prosecutors opened a preliminary judicial investigation to determine whether fraud was committed in the growing scandal.

The prosecutor's office said a judicial inquiry had been opened in the northeastern city of Metz on Monday, but subsequently it was transferred to Paris, where national issues of food security are investigated.

In Britain, the raids on companies were the first by officials investigating horsemeat supplies in a country where the issue has angered consumers and led to several big retailers pulling contaminated products from their shelves.

While it is not illegal to sell horsemeat in Britain, eating it is virtually taboo. The British government said anyone found to have fraudulently sold horsemeat should be prosecuted.

"It is totally unacceptable if any business in the UK is defrauding the public by passing off horsemeat as beef," Britain's Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said. "I expect the full force of the law to be brought down on anyone involved in this kind of activity."

The Food Standards Agency, the British regulator, said it had suspended operations at an abattoir in northern England and a meat processing company in Wales while it investigates whether they were involved in horsemeat being missold as beef for kebabs and burgers.

The scandal, affecting a growing number of European countries and retailers, began in Ireland when horsemeat was found in frozen beef burgers. The inquiry has implicated companies across Europe, from France and the Netherlands to Cyprus and Romania.

Britain's Paterson is due to meet European Union officials in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the issue.

The issue came to light on January 15 when routine tests by Irish authorities discovered horsemeat in beef burgers made by firms in Ireland and Britain and sold in supermarket chains including Tesco, Britain's biggest retailer.

Concern grew last week when the British unit of frozen foods group Findus began recalling its beef lasagne on advice from its French supplier, Comigel, after tests showed concentrations of horsemeat in a range from 60 to 100 percent.

MEATBALLS WITHDRAWN

In a separate development on Tuesday, upmarket British retailer Waitrose, part of the John Lewis group, withdrew packs of frozen beef meatballs after tests suggested they might contain pork.

"The meatballs are safe to eat but pork is not listed as an ingredient and should not be part of the recipe," it said.

Rogue suppliers are suspected of trying to increase their margins by passing off cheap horsemeat as more expensive beef.

Food experts say globalization has helped the industry grow, but has also created a complex system which has fuelled the risk of adulteration through neglect or fraud.

Mark Woolfe, a former senior food safety official, said the European Commission's decision to reclassify a product which closely resembled mince as "mechanically separated meat" had forced suppliers to seek cheaper alternatives.

"Manufacturers who were using that for value products had to leave the UK food chain and go and look at overseas suppliers at a price similar to desinewed meat or even lower," he said.

In France, frozen food seller Picard became the latest French retailer to recall lasagne and other meals from its stores on Tuesday after discovering horsemeat in packaged foods advertised as beef.

An initial investigation by French authorities revealed that the horsemeat that made its way throughout the supply chain to Britain and France originated from a Romanian abattoir.

On Monday, Romania's prime minister denied that any Romanian companies had committed fraud in the affair.

More cases are expected to emerge during tests on processed beef products in Britain, with results due on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina and Costas Pitas in London and by Gerald Bon in Paris, Editing by Michael Roddy)

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Comments (3)
Reuters1945 wrote:
Caveat Emptor

There is a certain irony in this latest outrage among many angry consumers that they may have ingested meat from horses believing it was beef.

But far, far, more injurious to their health are the countless additives and ingredients found in thousands of ordinary household staples including hundreds of different freely available frozen fast food meals that comprise an almost daily portion of many people’s daily meals.

Few people bother to read the lengthy lists of legally required labels on food packaging both in the US and the EU. Many of the ingredients are chemicals which one has to be a PhD. scientist just to pronounce, much less to understand their dangers to the human body in accumulated quantities in human cells over many years.

The same can be said for various cookies, cakes, sundry deserts and dry packaged cereals. Not to mention the tons of “munchy snacks” ingested by consumers by the train load all over the world, 24/7.

The average consumer lacks even the foggiest notion of what a high per cent of their daily diet consists of ingredients which are extremely harmful to their health- second only to that worst of all habits- the smoking of tobacco, which harms the human body’s delicate organs, in every manner, shape and form.

Indeed even something as seemingly innocent as tooth paste must by Law carry a strict Warning on the packaging, as follows:

“Warning- Keep out of reach of children under six years of age.
“If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.”

This is because tooth paste contains quantities of hydrated silica.

Finally we come to the billion dollar industry of beauty products.

Cosmetics are the least regulated products under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). The FFDCA does NOT require pre-market safety testing, review, or approval for cosmetics.

The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) pursues enforcement action only AFTER the cosmetic enters into the stream of commerce or sometimes after it is on the shelf.
The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that 884 of the chemicals available for use in cosmetics have been reported to the government as TOXIC substances.

A U. S. General Accounting Office report notes that the FDA has committed NO resources for assessing the safety problems of those chemicals which have been found to cause genetic damage, biological mutations, and CANCER. Because of minimal regulation, products plainly dangerous to your health can be, and are being, sold.

Thus whilst millions of people are furious that they may have consumed small quantities of horse meat, believing it to be “beef”, there are countless other products/ingredients that they place on the outside AND inside of their bodies, on a daily basis that can potentially do them far more harm than just the injured feelings of having been conned by the predatory habits of Europe’s various “horse traders”.

Feb 12, 2013 5:04pm EST  --  Report as abuse
FrankOtheMT wrote:
eewwww…..horse kababs.

I ate at a Chinese food place years ago and swore I tasted horse. You know what a horse smells like. There are so many people in the world who should be snuffed out.

Feb 12, 2013 9:53pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Tiu wrote:
Well, the bankers and their tax-payer funded politicians and guardians are screwing the public, why not let the butchers screw the country too?

Feb 12, 2013 10:01pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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