PARIS (Reuters) – Minced beef given to poor people across France by charities was so full of fat, soy and starch it was not technically meat, the country’s anti-fraud agency reported on Friday.
Samples taken from 1,500 tonnes of meat delivered last summer contained too little actual meat to be labelled as minced meat, an investigation led by the agency showed.
About half of it is still held in charities’ freezers, it said.
“We are extremely shocked to observe that a supplier could believe our controls would be weaker for products delivered to the poorest,” an official at the agency said.
While safe for human consumption, the suspected fraud potentially constitutes a criminal offence in France. Those involved could face up to two years in jail and fines of up to 1.5 million euros.
The results of the investigation will be handed over to French prosecutors, the agency official said.
French consumers’ confidence was shaken by a 2013 scandal involving horse meat sold as beef. Dishes such as “steak tartare”, raw beef, are particularly popular in France.
The new case reinforces how difficult it is for authorities to control food labelling given the complexity of modern supply chains.
In 2013, the process involved people and companies in France, the Netherlands and Cyprus. This time the meat was financed by European Union funds and was processed in Poland before reaching France.
(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry and Inti Landauro; Editing by Jason Neely and Kirsten Donovan)