Romania fears lasting damage to reputation over horsemeat

BUCHAREST (AFP) - President Traian Basescu said on Sunday he feared lasting damage to Romania's reputation if a Romanian meat supplier is found to be at fault over Europe's spiralling horsemeat scandal.

Speaking after Romanian food industry officials pointed the finger of blame at the French meat importer at the heart of the controversy over horsemeat sold as beef, he said: "I hope it is not a case of false labelling on the Romanian side." Bucharest on Saturday announced a probe after the French supplier of horsemeat found in frozen lasagne meals sold in British supermarkets said it originated in a Romanian abattoir.

Mr Basescu told a news conference: "I would like to believe and I hope that this is not the case. ... Romania would be discredited for many years." Dragos Frumoso, the head of Romania's food industry union, told AFP earlier: "I find it hard to believe that a Romanian abattoir could have delivered horsemeat that was labelled beef" because of the controls in place.

The suspect lasagne meals sold by Swedish frozen food giant Findus in Britain were made by French company Comigel using meat supplied by French meat-processing firm Spanghero.

Findus has said it will lodge a legal complaint in France on Monday after evidence allegedly showed that the presence of horsemeat in its supply chain "was not accidental", and its Nordic branch said on Sunday it planned to sue Comigel and its suppliers.

Spanghero has in turn threatened to take legal action against its Romanian supplier, although it did not name it.

But Mr Frumoso said it was up to the French importer to verify the quality of the meat it received.

"If it did not make any protest when it received the meat to say that it was horse and not beef, then either it was an accomplice to the Romanian producer or it changed the labels afterwards," Mr Frumoso said.

Sorin Minea, president of the Romalimenta food industry federation, said the meat would have been labelled to show both the country of origin and the specific abattoir it came from.

"The French importer should show these documents. If it doesn't have them, it may indicate that it was bought on the black market or that it wants to hide something," he said.

Mr Minea said Saturday it was impossible to confuse beef and horsemeat, which "has a specific taste, colour and texture".

He added that three major abattoirs in Romania handle horsemeat and export most of it, including to France and Italy, but he was unable to provide figures.

The national statistics office also did not have any relevant numbers at its disposal.

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