France may be source of UK horsemeat

A fraudulent meat-trader in the south of France was the probable source of horsemeat in the tested British Findus beef lasagne.

London: The source of the horsemeat scandal across Europe may have been traced to France even as Asda became the latest British supermarket to confirm that traces of horse DNA had been found in a fresh beef product.

A fraudulent meat-trader in the south of France was the probable source of horsemeat in the tested British Findus beef lasagne, the French government said on Thursday night.

Ministers said there are "strong suspicions" that the Spanghero company in Castlenaudary, in Languedoc, had mislabelled 750 tons of Romanian horsemeat as beef.

The French government plans to bring criminal proceedings against the company, which could lead to a EUR 180,000 fine and a maximum two-year prison sentence for its boss.

Spanghero has denied the allegations, saying it only ever dealt in meat it believed to be beef.

In the UK, the first arrests were made over the food scandal, with police and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) zeroing in on two meat plants suspected of slipping undeclared horsemeat into burgers and kebabs.

Two men, aged 64 and 42, were held at Farmbox Meats Limited, near Aberystwyth, and a 63-year-old man was arrested at Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse, in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, yesterday.

Both firms have denied any wrongdoing.

The development came as Asda took a 500g beef bolognese sauce off its shelves, the first time a fresh beef product has tested positive for undeclared horse traces.

The popular UK supermarket chain also withdrew a 600g beef broth soup, 500g meat feast pasta sauce and a 400g chilli con carne soup as a "precaution".

The FSA, which has ordered industry-wide tests, had revealed yesterday that veterinary drug phenylbutazone (bute) had been found in eight out of 206 carcasses tested over seven days this month and some may have entered the human food chain in France.

The drug can be harmful to humans if ingested in large amounts, according to medical experts.

In an open letter to customers, the chief executives of Britain`s biggest supermarkets and grocery chains pledged new checks on food authenticity.

The retailers are also set to publish details of 1,000 checks of processed beef ready-meals which have been carried out over the past week.

The comments are a response to sharp criticism from British Prime Minister David Cameron, who attacked supermarkets for keeping customers in the dark.

Downing Street believed that some of the big supermarkets had questions to answer.

"It is not acceptable for retailers to remain silent while their customers have been misled. The supermarkets need to justify their action and reassure the public," a senior 10, Downing Street source told The Daily Telegraph yesterday.

The chief executive of Tesco, Philip Clarke, pledged to set a "new benchmark" for the testing of food.

According to him, Tesco is the biggest retailer in Britain and has a "responsibility to lead on this issue".