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French firm denies knowingly selling horsemeat as beef

Reuters/Jean-Philippe Arles

A French meat processor at the centre of the widening horsemeat-for-beef scandal in Europe has denied claims it fraudulently sold hundreds of tonnes of horsemeat from a Romanian supplier.

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On Thursday, a report by the French government’s anti-fraud office, DGCCRF, found Spanghero, a meat supplier in south-western France, knowingly sold 750 tonnes of horsemeat mis-labelled as beef over a period of six months.

The report accused Spanghero of re-labelling the Romanian horsemeat as "EU beef", even though it had a duty to specify the meat's origins.

Most of the meat was sent to the French frozen food manufacturer Comigel, which then made and exported meals to 28 different companies in 13 European countries, according to the report.

The French Consumer Affairs Minister, Benoît Hamon, said Spanghero would be prosecuted.

Hamon said the Romanina abattoirs who supplied the meat appeared to have acted in good faith.

But Spanghero’s boss, Barthelemy Aguerre, says his company is innocent.

“I don’t know who is behind this, but it is not us,’ he told Europe 1 radio on Friday.

He said his firm analysed the meat on its premises as soon as the scandal broke, and found some of it was a mix of beef and horsemeat.

“That proves that Spanghero is not behind this fraud. The fraud comes from elsewhere,” he said, adding he will “prove our innocence.”

French officials have suspended Spanghero’s meat processing licence pending further investigations.

A team of veterinarians has been sent to inspect Spanghero’s premises, and officials will decided whether to definitively withdraw the licence once the results come in next week.

Meanwhile in Britain, where the scandal broke, the supermarket chain Asda withdrew a fresh beef Bolognese sauce from sale after finding it contained horse DNA.

It is the first time that horse DNA has been found in fresh meat.

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