SHARE
COPY LINK

CRIME

Trial begins in France over European horsemeat scandal

Eighteen people went on trial in France on Tuesday accused of running a Europe-wide giant horsemeat trading network involving produce not cleared for human consumption.

Trial begins in France over European horsemeat scandal
Illustration photo by Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

Mostly shunned by consumers in the United States and Britain, horsemeat — typically cheaper than beef — has long been part of culinary habits across European countries, including France, but its production and distribution are strictly regulated.

The case coming to trial in the southern port city of Marseille is the biggest horsemeat scandal since 2013, when millions of ready meals were withdrawn from stores across Europe after they were found to contain horsemeat instead of only beef as indicated on the label.

Standing trial are French, Belgian and Dutch nationals charged with violating EU sanitary rules governing the horsemeat trade, and with forging official documents between 2010 and 2015.

They are also accused of duping the owners of ageing horses into believing that their beloved animals would live out their days in the countryside when in reality they were taken straight to the slaughterhouse.

The specific charges in the trial, which is set to last for three weeks, are fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, and misleading consumers and endangering their health.

The members of the group, which includes licenced horse meat traders and veterinary surgeons, are believed to have violated a number of EU rules about the import of horses, including by forging certificates of origin.

The main suspect is 58-year-old Belgian Jean-Marc Decker, who prosecutors say supplied the network with horses whose meat was unfit for consumption.

In addition to the accused individuals, mostly in the 50s or 60s, a horsemeat wholesale company based in southern France is also in the dock for distributing the meat, falsely claiming that it was French.

The company, according to prosecutors, “was indifferent to the health imperatives governing the sector”.

Court proceedings were to start with the testimony of the top veterinary official at the municipal abattoir in Ales, southern France, where the investigation started in 2013.

Former horse owner Aline Oudin, due to testify Wednesday, told AFP she had handed her horse over to one of the defendants in 2013 in exchange for a promise of a “happy retirement” for the animal. Two weeks later she found out that the horse had been slaughtered and its meat sold.

“They tricked owners, they tricked consumers, they tricked everybody,” she said.

Plaintiffs also include France’s veterinary association, the cattle and meatpacking association ANBV and the Ales municipality.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

FOOD & DRINK

French farmers warn of rising prices for fruit and vegetables after drought

French farmers have warned of rising food prices due to the summer's heatwave, drought and water restrictions.

French farmers warn of rising prices for fruit and vegetables after drought

Peaches, kiwis, apples, pears, carrots, cucumber, potatoes, turnips, leeks, tomatoes and lettuces are all set to rise dramatically in price after France’s worst drought in 60 years lead to severely reduced harvests.

“We have losses of between 30 and 35 percent on average,” said Jacques Rouchaussé, the president of the vegetable producers union, to the Parisien newspaper.

“Faced with a long drought, such as the one we are experiencing, we have little means to act.”

After a bad summer last year, farmers were expecting a good summer season since the winter frost finally spared the crops. But the lack of rainfall and water restrictions in some regions of France prevent growers from keeping fruit trees and root vegetables undamaged.

“Our products suffer from water stress and come out much smaller,” Françoise Rose, president of the fruit producers union, told the Parisien.

Although growers in the south know how to deal with very dry episodes, the real difficulties are in the regions used to having rain regularly, said Laurent Grandin, president of Interfel, the union for both fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Our sector is not in a catastrophic state as a whole, some areas are suffering more than others,” he added.

“We have to return to a seasonality, we cannot have tomatoes all year round. The consumer must also show frugality,” said Jacques Rouchaussé.

The consumer association Familles Rurales has already recorded an 11 percent increase over one year in fruit and vegetable prices. With smaller quantities and lower quality products, this trend is set to continue in September, including for processed products, such as tomato sauce or tinned soup.

Climate adaptation

With more violent episodes of frost or drought, producers need to adapt to a changing climate.

In the short term, producers are talking about the use of wastewater. They want the establishment of “retention basins”, made up in winter with rainwater in particular and usable in the event of drought in summer.

Another mitigating option to limit the impact of sweltering heat would be to invest in equipment to protect orchards and vegetable gardens such as so-called cold shelters.

“We must all act so that our professions and our cultures remain, said Jacques Rouchaussé. “Otherwise, we will grow tomatoes in the north and the south will only be able to grow rice!”

SHOW COMMENTS