Those keeping track of the on-going, Europe-wide horsemeat scandal, might have wondered at some point or another, what is to become of all those recalled frozen dinners.
They may soon have an answer, as some of France’s leading charities have made it clear they would be prepared to comandeer the tonnes of recalled microwave meals containing horsemeat, so they can be distributed among their poverty-stricken beneficiaries.
So far, six French supermarkets have recalled, or are planning to recall, thousands of ready-made dishes found to contain horsemeat, despite being labelled as beef.
Not wishing to see tonnes of food go to waste, three food aid charities – Restos du Coeur (‘restaurants with heart’) Secours populaire (People rescue) and Banque Alimentaire (the food bank) – are interested in getting hold of the meals and re-distributing them among the poor, as long as they posed no health risk.
The three charities met last week to try to work out a plan of action.
"Above all, these cannot be thrown out. If the meals are safe, we will take them," a branch manager from Secours Populaire told Europe 1 radio.
Philippe Le Mescam, head of the Brittany branch of 'Restos du coeur' was more vociferous, telling French regional daily Ouest France that “it would be scandalous to destroy all these tonnes of food, if tests show that they don’t pose a health risk."
The meals would also have to be re-labelled before being handed out, as their packaging wrongly suggests they only contain beef.
The supermarkets have not yet given permission to hand over the meals.
A spokeswoman for Restos du Coeur told The Local on Monday that for the moment, the charity would not be accepting the meals, saying there were many health issues to be sorted out before they could be redistributed.
For his part, director of the French federation of food banks Maurice Lony told The Local on Monday, “Our goal is to fight waste. These products are now in storage, awaiting some sort of resolution. So if they can’t be sold, we could take them and distribute them to deprived people."
However, Lony pointed out that his organization would also need health tests to be performed before handing them out, as well as gauging the appetites of food-bank users around the country, a process which he says they have already started.
“In the north of France there’s more of a culture of eating horsemeat, so people in that region are saying ‘yes’ to the meals. But in the south-west, for example, our users would be less ready to take the products,” said Lony.
When asked whether he himself would eat one of the packaged meals in question, Lony replied “Yes, I wouldn’t mind that.”
Elsewhere in the horsemeat scandal on Monday France partially renewed the sanitary licence of a meat-processing firm that was suspended after it was accused of passing off 750 tonnes of horsemeat as beef and sparking a Europe-wide food scandal.
Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll told AFP that Spanghero would be allowed to resume its production of minced meat, sausages and ready-to-eat meals but would not be allowed to stock frozen meats.
Spanghero's licence to handle meat was suspended last Thursday after the French government said an initial inquiry showed it had knowingly sold 750 tonnes of horsemeat mislabelled as beef over a period of six months.