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European meat-eaters 'defrauded but not endangered'

European meat-eaters 'defrauded but not endangered'
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Another incident in Europe’s horsemeat scandal took place on 10 April, in the Netherlands. Its health authority the NVWA sounded the alarm over 50,000 tonnes of beef mixed with horse meat, which had been sold by Dutch wholesaler Selten all around Europe.

By the time the warning went out, 380 people had bought some, notably in Germany, France and Spain. They were contacted and told. In February, the same company had been accused by the public authorities of doing the same thing, mixing Dutch and Irish horse meat and beef.

The product was sold as straight beef, and it was possible that some of it remained in frozen supermarket foods.

Also in February, French company Spanghero found itself in the centre of the growing European meat scandal, suspected of selling horse as beef for use in ready-made meals. The French company blamed its supplier, saying labelling was switched.

The supplier was at the other end of the EU, in Romania. In the village of Roma, in the northwest, the Doly-com abbatoire deals in both kinds of meat. The modern plant employs 300 people and exports around 80 tonnes of horse meat each year to a dozen countries in Europe.

The director, Iulian Cazacut, said no incorrect or altered labels were put on there: “It must have been relabelled somewhere, maybe in France, but certainly not in Romania. Each truck leaving here is GPS-tracked, monitored for speed, the stops made and temperature inside: everything is monitored.”

A lot of tracing in Europe has been required by law since 1993, with food goods among those allowed to move across border freely, so that if trouble came up the authorities would be able to pull a product off the market if necessary.

What has been happening in this scandal is fraud rather than a health scare. When the Ikea restaurant in Prague found it was serving horsemeat to its customers in error, the Czech authorities got involved.

Jan Vana with the Czech Veterinary Agency said: “According to information we have, all the horsemeat entered the market in a legal way, which means it’s absolutely safe for human consumption. It’s just that it was relabelled ‘beef’ during the distribution process.”

So this is nothing like the European Mad Cow crisis in which more than 200 people lost their lives from eating diseased meat, and Britain’s beef industry saw its products banned by the EU from 1996-1999.