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We are innocent, says boss in meat scandal

Updated: 2013-02-16 09:02
( China Daily/Agencies)

The president of French meat processor Spanghero promised on Friday to disprove allegations that his company knowingly sold horsemeat labeled as beef, and accused the government of being too quick to point the finger.

Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon on Thursday released details of an investigation into the company, which he said indicated Spanghero was the likely culprit in a scandal that has enraged consumers across Europe and implicated traders and abattoirs.

Spanghero boss Barthelemy Aguerre told Europe 1 radio, "I don't know who is behind this, but I can tell you it's not us. I'm astonished. I think we will prove our innocence and that of my associates. I think the government has been too quick."

A French inquiry into how horsemeat got into ready meals sold across Europe found that Spanghero labeled meat as beef when it knew what it was processing may have been horse.

Hamon said Spanghero could not have failed to notice the meat it was importing was much cheaper than beef, and there was no indication that a Romanian company supplying the meat had mislabeled what was in fact horsemeat.

Outside Spanghero's factory in Castelnaudary near Toulouse in southwest France, workers were seen filling up dumper trucks with blocks of meat and sausages on Friday, although it was not immediately clear why they were doing so.

The privately-owned company, founded by brothers of 1970s French rugby captain Walter Spanghero, has had its operating license suspended for 10 days and will face legal action if the suspicions are confirmed. The Paris prosecutor is now reviewing the investigation.

Aguerre said his company had analyzed the meat as soon as the scandal broke and discovered that some had been a mixture of beef and horsemeat. "It shows that Spanghero is not behind this deception. It comes from elsewhere. It puts the 300-odd employees in a great deal of difficulty," he said.

Hamon told the same radio station it was not up to him to say who was guilty, but added that it was clear something was not right at Spanghero.

The scandal, which has triggered recalls of ready meals and damaged confidence in Europe's vast and complex food industry, erupted last month when tests carried out in Ireland showed that some beef products also contained horsemeat.

Laurent Spanghero, who sold the company in 2009 when it was in trouble for a symbolic one euro ($1.33), said that while his family was not responsible, everything had to be done to save jobs in an area where there were few employment prospects.

"My first thought is for the employees. It's long-term unemployment that is coming if we are not capable in the next three days of resolving this," said the tearful septuagenarian brother of Walter Spanghero.

"My second thought goes to our kids. ... We have always taught them the values of courage and loyalty and today we have been plunged into dishonor."


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EU horsemeat control plan approved

Horsemeat crisis sparks calls for DNA food tests

Ireland moves to quell horsemeat fears

France pledges sanctions in horsemeat scandal


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