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Horsemeat scandal: 'Just a labelling problem'

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Horsemeat scandal: 'Just a labelling problem'
11:40 CET+01:00
The European Commission said Monday that Europe's horsemeat scandal appeared at this stage to be a labelling problem and definitely not a question of food safety.

"We're not talking about a food safety issue," Commission spokesman Frederic Vincent said on being queried at a news conference on the possibility of a British ban on EU meat exports.

"Nobody got sick as far as I know. It's just a labelling issue. So at this stage a ban on anything would not be appropriate."

Vincent's word come on the same day Anti-fraud agents on Monday inspected two French frozen food firms at the centre of a scandal over horsemeat sold as beef in supermarkets across Europe. French President François Hollande also said fraudsters must be punished.

The DGCCRF fraud office inspectors visited the Comigel and Spanghero plants, through which the meat passed before reaching supermarkets.

The raids come as leading French retailers pulled products from their shelves and threats of legal action flew in light of the recent furore over horse meat.

"The teams are on the company sites for checks after the horsemeat scandal erupted. They are at several sites at the moment," an official involved in the searches told AFP.

 French President François Hollande has vowed that any fraudulent behaviour linked to the sandal must be punished.

"There were evidently breaches, profits, unacceptable behaviour, and sanctions must be pronounced, and they should be administrative and penal if this is justified," he said in his first comment on the growing Europe-wide scandal.

Several ranges of prepared food have been withdrawn in Britain, France and Sweden after it emerged that frozen food companies had used horsemeat instead of beef in lasagne, other pasta dishes, shepherd's pies and moussaka dishes.

France has promised the results of an urgent inquiry into the scandal within days and the government announced crisis talks with meat industry representatives for Monday night.

As Britain dismissed calls for a ban on EU meat, producers and distributors insisted they had been deceived about the true nature of the meat and vowed to take legal action.

Reflecting the complexity of European food supply chains, the meat has been traced from France through Cyprus and The Netherlands to Romanian abattoirs.

Officials in Bucharest announced an urgent inquiry on Saturday. On Sunday, President Traian Basescu said he feared his country "would be discredited for many years" if a Romanian meat supplier was found to be at fault.

On Monday Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said "no irregularities" had been committed by companies in the country despite allegations that two abattoirs had duped European food companies by selling horsemeat as beef.

"We have made verifications...There exists no violation of European rules and standards" by the two abattoirs, Ponta told a news conference.

French retailers Auchan, Casino, Carrefour, Cora, Monoprix and Picard announced Sunday they were withdrawing products provided by frozen food giant Findus and French producer Comigel over the horsemeat concerns.

The retailers said the withdrawal was the result of "labeling non-compliance in regards to the nature of the meat" in the products.

French Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said officials would have the preliminary results of their inquiry into the scandal by Wednesday. France "will not hesitate" to take legal action if there is evidence that companies had knowingly duped consumers, he added.

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