Law banning horses from Romanian roads may be responsible for surge in fraudulent sales of horse meat to European beef market, French politician says

PARIS , February 11, 2013 () – A law banning horses from Romanian roads may be responsible for the surge in fraudulent sales of horse meat on to the European beef market, a French politician said yesterday.

Horse-drawn carts were a common form of transport for centuries in Romania, but hundreds of thousands of the animals are feared to have been sent to the abattoir after the change in road rules.

The law, which was passed six years ago but only enforced recently, also banned carts drawn by donkeys, leading to speculation among food officials in France that some of the "horse meat" which has turned up on supermarket shelves in Britain, France and Sweden may, in fact, turn out to be donkey meat.

"Horses have been banned from Romanian roads and millions of animals have been sent to the slaughterhouse," said farming campaigner Jose Bove, who is vice-president of the European Parliament agriculture committee.

After a couple of days in which the horse-meat affair was seen as a largely British problem, the scandal began to be taken seriously by the French over the weekend.

The French Consumer Minister, Benoît Hamon, said yesterday that he would not hesitate to take legal action if evidence emerged that the two French companies which handled the meat had been aware of the fraud.

His warning came as France's biggest supermarket chains removed more of their own-label and Findus processed dishes from their shelves.

In passing, Mr Hamon also took a swipe at the British Government. He said that London was complaining about weak European food inspection while cutting the budget for EU food-safety checks.

Mr Hamon said that preliminary investigations had uncovered the Byzantine route taken by the "fake" beef. It came from abattoirs in Romania through a dealer in Cyprus working through another dealer in Holland to a meat plant in the south of France which sold it to a French-owned factory in Luxembourg which made it into frozen meals sold in supermarkets in 16 countries.

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