21 held in new horsemeat scandal
17 December 2013, 09:14
Narbonne - French police made 21 arrests on Monday as
part of an investigation into claims that meat from horses used to produce
anti-rabies and other serums got into the food chain.
The arrests were made at various locations in the south
of France following a tip-off that hundreds of horses, including some that had
been owned by pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, were sold to abattoirs after their
veterinary papers were falsified, a police source told AFP.
More than 100 officers were involved in raids at several
Sanofi offices and at various abattoirs, including one in Gerona in northern
Among those arrested were at least three vets and several
meat dealers, including one based in Narbonne in southwestern France who is
suspected of being the ringleader of the illicit trade, police sources said.
Sanofi said it was co-operating with the investigation
into "possible fraud" but played down the possibility of a threat to
The company said it had sold around 200 horses in the
last three years, generally to veterinary colleges, individuals or horse
"The horses are all micro-chipped for tracability
and they do not present any danger in the event of human consumption," a
"It is specified in their sales certificates that
these horses are not to be introduced to the food chain, but that is as a
precautionary measure, not because there is any danger."
The company said that the horses had been used to provide
blood for the manufacture of serums against tetanus and rabies and stressed
they had not been used for drugs testing.
No risk to human
A police source also indicated that there was no evidence
of a risk to human health "but they should never have found their way on
to diners' plates".
The case follows a Europe-wide health scare earlier this
year when horsemeat was found in millions of ready meals labelled as containing
Benoit Hamon, the French minister responsible for
consumer affairs, said the latest episode was potentially more worrying than
the labelling scandal, which centred on a French company, Spanghero.
"It's different. In this case there could be a
health problem," Hamon told RTL radio.
But Food Minister Guillaume Garot played down that idea.
"At this stage there is nothing to indicate any
health problem," he told AFP.
Eating horsemeat is regarded as taboo in some European
countries, notably Britain, but is still widespread in Belgium, France, Spain
and Italy, although consumption is in long-term decline.