French processing company to blame for horsemeat fraud

PARIS (REUTERS) - A French investigation into how horsemeat found its way into ready meals in Europe has found that a French processing company called Spanghero sold as beef what could have been horsemeat, the government said on Thursday.

"It would seem that the first agent in this chain to label the meat 'beef' was indeed Spanghero," Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said of the company based in the south-western town of Castelnaudry.

"The investigation shows Spanghero knew the meat labelled as beef could be horse. There was a strong suspicion," he said, arguing that Spanghero could also not have failed to notice that the meat in question was much cheaper than beef.

In an emailed statement, Spanghero denied the accusations and said it firmly believed that what it was selling was beef.

Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said the government was considering withdrawing Spanghero's operating licence.

The investigation found the company had generated a profit of 550,000 euros (S$906,015) over six months by selling cheap horsemeat as beef, Mr Hamon said.

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