France eases ban on meat firm at heart of Europe horse scandal

PARIS (AFP) - The French firm that sparked a Europe-wide food scandal by allegedly passing off 750 tonnes of horse meat as beef was allowed on Monday to resume production of minced meat, sausages and ready-to-eat meals.

But Spanghero, whose horse meat found its way into 4.5 million "beef" products sold across Europe, will no longer be allowed to stock frozen meat, Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll told AFP.

The firm's sanitary licence was suspended last Thursday after it was accused of passing off huge quantities of horse meat as beef over a period of six months.

France's DGCCRF anti-fraud office concluded after an initial inquiry that 500 tonnes of the meat were sent to French firm Comigel, which makes frozen meals at its Tavola subsidiary in Luxembourg. That meat was used to make 4.5 million "beef" products that were sold by Comigel to 28 different companies in 13 European states, the DGCCRF said.

Veterinary experts have been carrying out inspections at Spanghero's plant in the south-western town of Castelnaudary, and Le Foll said the results of a full inquiry into its activities would be ready by Friday.

"At this point, 80 per cent of the total meat stock has been verified. The work continues for the remaining 20 per cent," he said.

Spanghero on Friday again insisted it was not responsible for the mislabelling that has seen supermarket chains across the continent pull millions of suspect food products from their shelves.

Concerns about horse meat first emerged in mid-January, when Irish authorities found traces of horse in beef burgers made by firms in Ireland and Britain and sold in supermarket chains including Tesco and Aldi.

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