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Fresh horsemeat scandal hits France

By Mike Stones+

17-Dec-2013
Last updated on 18-Dec-2013 at 17:36 GMT

Global pharmaceutical firm Sanofi has said it was the victim of fraud, after French police raided its offices in France and arrested 21 people elsewhere, during investigations into claims that horsemeat used to develop medicines was sold illegally for human consumption.

A spokesman for the firm told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Sanofi Pasteur condemns the fraud, of which it is also a victim, and is assisting authorities in the investigation.”

Sanofi confirmed its use of horses for the production of serums to combat tetanus, rabies and venom products. But horses were not used for laboratory tests.

The firm said it sold horses to equestrian centres, veterinary schools, and professionals. While the horses represented no danger, as a precautionary measure, it always told buyers that they must not be used in the food industry, it said.

‘Pursue in court’

“Sanofi Pasteur will exercise its right to pursue in court any buyer who did not abide by this obligation, of which they were informed at the time of purchase,” said the spokesman.

The pharmaceutical firm had disposed of about 200 horses in the past three years.

Meanwhile, the French authorities arrested 21 people, including: vets, butchers and meat industry workers from a wide area across the south of France in dawn raids yesterday (December 16). An abattoir in Gerona northern Spain was also raided.

It is thought the horses involved should have been destroyed but were allegedly issued with false papers and delivered to abattoirs in the two years up to 2012. The meat may have been used in frozen food products for sale across Europe.

‘Could be talking about a health problem’

But, so far, there has been no suggestion the horsemeat was fraudulently sold as beef. French consumer minister Benoit Hamon told the French radio station RTL: “They [during the first horsemeat scandal] were selling horsemeat in place of beef, which is commercial fraud,” he said. “Here, we could be talking about a health problem, which is different.”

Sanofi said its horses were well cared for and were under the constant supervision of its veterinary teams. Horses were kept on Sanofi premises for three years and were equipped with an electronic identification tag to guarantee their traceability, it said.

Meanwhile, in September eight managers from the French meat firm Spanghero were put under investigation for fraud. The firm, based in south west France, has been accused of selling horsemeat as beef to a wide range of European countries – including the UK.

Last week, the government-commissioned Elliott Review suggested a new Food Crime Unit should be set up to combat food fraud following the horsemeat crisis.

In his interim report, Professor Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, recommended: “A specialist ‘Food Crime Unit’, with the expertise to undertake investigations into serious food fraud, should be hosted by the Food Standards Agency.”  

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