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HORSEMEAT

Horse drug enters food chain in France: UK

A potentially harmful horse drug has entered the human food chain in France, a UK minister said on Thursday. Elsewhere doubts have been raised over French company Spanghero's denials they knowingly bought horsemeat.

Horse drug enters food chain in France: UK

An equine drug that is potentially harmful to humans has entered the human food chain in France via three horse carcasses exported from Britain, British agriculture minister David Heath said on Thursday.

But Heath said the drug phenylbutazone, which can cause a serious blood disorder in humans in rare cases, had not been found in tests on products made by food giant Findus, which is embroiled in a Europe-wide horsemeat scandal.

Elsewhere on Thursday French company Spanghero was billed for 42 tonnes of horsemeat, a French newspaper reported. The news casts doubt on the company's claim to have never knowingly bought or sold the meat at the centre of a Europe-wide scandal.

French daily Le Parisien published a bill dated January 4 that was made out to Spanghero and printed on the headed paper of Draap Trading, the Dutch-run, Cyprus-based intermediary which sourced meat in Romania for Spanghero.

The bill contains the numbers 0205 0080, which the paper said was an international code for frozen horsemeat. Spanghero did not immediately respond to AFP's request for an explanation of the bill.

Le Parisien said Romanian authorities had shown it three similar bills. In total, the bills add up to orders for 42 tonnes of minced offcuts  the fat, tendons and other pieces left over after the horse has been deboned and the prime cuts removed.

Romanian officials have been angered by what they see as an attempt by the French companies involved in the scandal to point the finger of blame at their abattoirs.

They insist horsemeat leaving their slaughterhouses would have been clearly labelled as such and that the fraud must have occurred further along the food chain.

Spanghero said in a statement earlier this week that it did not "sell, re-sell or process horsemeat in any form." In a statement to Le Parisien, the company denied receiving any bill for horsemeat from Draap Trading.

The horsemeat Spanghero received was passed on to another French company, Comigel, which was responsible for using it in frozen ready meals which were labelled as 100 percent beef.

Comigel insists it could not have known the meat it was using was horsemeat and that it alerted authorities immediately once it knew there was a problem.

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FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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