Europe's horsemeat scandal: four on trial in France

More than five years after the horsemeat scandal rocked Europe, aftershocks are still being felt. This week, four people have gone on trial in France to answer allegations they were knowingly involved in the fraud.

The scandal erupted in 2013 in the UK and 12 other EU countries after horse DNA and in some cases pig was discovered in millions of food products, such as burgers and ready meals, that were labelled as being 100 per cent pure beef.

While the presence of undeclared meat was not seen as a health issue, the case focused the attention of regulatory authorities on the integrity and traceability of the meat supply chain. An investigation traced the source of the meat back to French supplier Spanghero and specifically a production facility in the Aude.

The probe revealed a complex supply chain with Spanghero buying the meat from abattoirs in Romania and other countries – via a trading firm (Draap) operating in the Netherlands but owned by firms in Cyprus and the Virgin Islands. The French lawsuit claims Spanghero knew it was buying horsemeat and deliberately changed the labelling on the shipment to hide its identity.

The French authorities claim the company sold more than 538 tonnes of mislabelled horsemeat to Tavola, a ready-meal producer in the Comigel group, and made around €500,000 from the fraud.

On trial are former Spanghero director Jacques Poujol and ex-plant director Patrice Monguillon, plus Dutch meat traders Hendricus Windmeijer and Johannes Fasen. They have been charged with conspiracy to defraud and could face up to 10 years in prison plus fines of up to €1m.

Fasen has previously been convicted of fraud in other countries in relation to the case, according to news reports. The trial is expected to last until mid-February. Draap is ‘paard’ (the Dutch word for horse) spelled backwards

Recent data from the EU reveal a spike in cross-border food fraud cases in 2017, with 775 cases of suspected non-compliance and food fraud, up from 243 cases in 2016.

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