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HORSE MEAT

Horsemeat from US is a ‘health risk’ to French

A French animal rights' group claimed on Thursday that horsemeat imported to France from North and South America comes from animals treated with a dangerous drug that's banned from human consumption.

Horsemeat from US is a 'health risk' to French
An animal rights group says France imports horse meat that's not fit for human consumption. Photo: Screengrab/L214

Horses from the United States, Canada and other countries in the region whose meat is sold in France for human consumption pose a health risk and are often cruelly treated, a leading animal rights group said on Thursday.

L214, which derives its name from an article in a 1976 French law that stipulates that animals have to be kept properly and in healthy conditions, said the conclusions followed a wide-reaching, two-year investigation launched in 2012.

Horses from the US, Canada, Mexico, Uruguay and Argentina destined for human consumption were found to be emaciated, sick, injured or had been administered strong doses of anti-inflammatory medicines, according to the findings.

Using secret cameras, the probes were conducted at horse auctions, in export enclosures, at veterinary checkpoints, feedlots and abattoirs.

In a video posted on L214's website, horses are seen with open gashes, dislocated or broken legs, and left without treatment in feedlots.

Some are visibly dead and in a state of decomposition, in enclosures or in transport trucks, with other horses squeezed around them. 

"Apart from the unacceptable treatment of the horses, the use of phenylbutazone or other dangerous substances banned in the European Union is common," said L214's Brigitte Gothiere.

The drug, commonly referred to as bute, is used to alleviate pain in horses that are not destined for human consumption. It was originally also given to humans to treat rheumatoid arthritis and gout but was found to cause irreversible liver damage when combined even in small doses with other human painkillers.

The drug is no longer approved for human use in the European Union and United States.

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The revelations follow a Europe-wide health scare last year when horsemeat was found in millions of ready meals labelled as containing only beef.

The group called Thursday upon leading supermarket chains to shun horsemeat coming from the Americas to put an end to the "cruel and illegal treatment" of
the animals.

It carried out the study in conjunction with other animal lobby groups including Switzerland's Tierschutzbund-Zurich, Animals Angels' USA, Belgium's GAIA and Eyes on Animals in the Netherlands.

According to the groups, 82,000 horses were slaughtered in Canada in 2012 for human consumption. About 70 percent of them were imported from the United States, where horse abattoirs were closed down in 2007.

France, meanwhile, imported 16,900 tonnes of horsemeat in 2012, mainly from Canada, Belgium, Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay — many of the countries featured in the investigation.

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HORSE

Horsemeat scandal: ‘Just a labelling problem’

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.

Horsemeat scandal: 'Just a labelling problem'

"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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