Europe horsemeat scandal spreads to Asia

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08:07 AM February 21st, 2013

By: Abhik Kumar Chanda, February 21st, 2013 08:07 AM

Map showing the main countries, distributors and brands affected by the horsemeat scandal. AFP

PARIS—Europe’s horsemeat scandal spread Wednesday to Asia where an imported lasagna brand was pulled from the shelves in Hong Kong, as Czech officials ordered similar action on frozen meals mislabelled “beef.”

A host of top players have been caught up in the spiraling scandal including Nestle, the world’s biggest food company, top beef producer JBS of Brazil and British supermarket chain Tesco.

Hong Kong authorities ordered ParknShop, one of the biggest supermarket chains in the city, to remove lasagna made by frozen food giant Findus, one of the firms at the center of the scandal.

The product was imported from Britain and made by French firm Comigel.

Hong Kong’s Centre for Food Safety said the item “might be adulterated with horsemeat which has not undergone tests for veterinary drugs.”

“The product was removed from our stores last week following the government’s instructions,” a ParknShop spokeswoman told AFP.

The chain, owned by tycoon Li Ka-shing, has about 280 stores in Hong Kong and the neighboring gaming hub of Macau.

A spokeswoman at the government’s food and environmental hygiene department said only one contaminated product had so far been sold in Hong Kong.

In Europe, the Czech Republic became the latest country embroiled in the affair, with food inspectors ordering Tesco to withdraw Nowaco brand frozen “beef” lasagna after detecting horsemeat.

The Czech Agriculture and Food Inspection Authority said it had found horse DNA in two samples of the Nowaco meals manufactured in Luxembourg.

Inspectors “ordered the seller to immediately withdraw the products from its network,” the authority said in a statement.

“We are very sorry about the situation and we will discuss the matter with the supplier,” Tesco spokesman Jan Dvorak told the CTK news agency, adding the chain had protectively withdrawn the product earlier.

Supermarkets in Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Ireland, Finland, France, Austria, Norway, The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Slovenia have all removed meals from shelves.

The Czech authority noted that horsemeat is sold for human consumption in the country, but that if not mentioned on the product label it was misleading to consumers and could lead to a fine of up to three million koruna (118,000 euros, $159,000).

Spanghero, the French firm that sparked the food alert by allegedly passing off 750 tons of horsemeat as beef, was on Monday allowed to resume production of minced meat, sausages and ready-to-eat meals.

But the company, whose horsemeat found its way into 4.5 million “beef” products sold across Europe, will no longer be allowed to stock frozen meat.

Under the ban it cannot act as middleman between slaughterhouses and food-processing companies, the situation which allegedly allowed it to change labels on horsemeat from Romania and sell it on as beef.

The firm’s sanitary license was suspended last Thursday after it was accused of passing off huge quantities of mislabeled meat over a period of six months.

Investigators on Wednesday conducted a second day of raids on Spanghero’s headquarters in Castelnaudary in southern France, a source close to the probe said, adding they had already seized several documents and copied computer records.

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