PARIS Six big French retailers said on Sunday they were recalling lasagne meals and other products suspected of being mislabeled after the discovery of horsemeat in beef products.
The British unit of frozen foods group Findus began recalling its beef lasagne last week on advice from its French supplier, Comigel, and the French and British governments have since vowed to punish those found responsible for allowing horsemeat originating from Romania to be sold as beef.
French retailers' federation FCD said on Sunday that French supermarkets were also pulling several products supplied by Findus and Comigel on concerns that they were mislabeled. The supermarkets are Auchan, Casino, Carrefour, Cora, Monoprix and Picard
An initial French investigation has revealed that the horsemeat ended up in Comigel's Luxembourg factory supplied by a French firm and that a Dutch and Cypriot trader had also been involved although the meat originally came from a Romanian abattoir.
"Clearly we have what seems to be a large-scale fraud affecting all of Europe and which aimed to make money for certain companies, though we don't know exactly which ones," Health Minister Marisol Touraine said on France Inter radio.
French Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said in Le Parisien newspaper that the apparent fraud had generated profits of 300,000 euros and may have been going on since August.
The French government investigation aims to establish a list of all the companies that bought suspect products from Comigel in France and across Europe.
Hamon said he expected the investigation to reveal whether French meat processing firm Spanghero at the heart of the supply chain was aware it had bought horsemeat or had been deceived.
For its part, Spanghero said in a statement that it had simply bought meat labeled as beef of Romanian origin and sold it on without having processed the meat.
The firm, which does not usually sell horsemeat, said it planned to take action against its supplier.
In the wake of the scandal, the French government is stepping up controls of meat supply chains and summoning firms in the industry on Monday to stress that regulations must be respected.
Eating horsemeat is a taboo in Britain and although once common fare in France it has been out of fashion for decades.
(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Greg Mahlich and Jason Webb)