France eases horsemeat firm restrictions
A worker pushes a container with blocks of meat before filling up a dump truck at French meat processor Spanghero's factory in Castelnaudary near Toulouse, southwestern France, last week. Photograph: Jean-Philippe Arles/Reuters
The French government has allowed the company at the heart of the horsemeat scandal to restart part of its meat production operation.
Spanghero has been accused of passing off horsemeat in meals labelled beef, but workers’ leaders argued that unwitting staff should not be penalised.
The company had its meat production licence partially restored today, allowing it to produce minced meat, sausages and make ready made dishes from fresh meat. However, the company has been told it must not handle or make any food from frozen products.
The temporary suspension of the company’s trading licence last week threatened to throw 300 staff out of work.
“At this stage 80 per cent of the (company’s) stocks of all meat has been verified and the work is continuing on the remaining 20 per cent. The complete and definitive report on the inquiry will be published on Friday,” Stephane Le Foll, the French agriculture minister said today.
He said there was “sufficient elements” to allow the company to partially restart trading.
“Do you think I would authorise such an action, if I had the slightest doubt?” he told French journalists.
Workers unions at the Spanghero plant in Castelnaudary in the Aude region, had lobbied president Francois Hollande’s Socialist government for the return of the company’s meat handling licence. Union leaders had argued that the trading in meat products was separate from the production of food at the plant.
Yesterday, the French agriculture ministry said in a statement that it “distinguishes responsibility for what seems to be the actions of Spanghero’s leaders from the work of its employees”.
It however added that there was “serious, precise and corroborating evidence of a consumer fraud at a European level”. Last week, the government presented the results of its initial inquiry into Spanghero’s operations. It concluded that the company had knowingly sold 750 tons of horsemeat mislabelled as beef over a period of six months.
The horsemeat is believed to have been used in 4.5m ready made meals in 13 European countries.