The economy minister pinned the bulk of the blame on a French wholesaler at the heart of the growing scandal in Europe.
Britain's food regulator, meanwhile, said six horse carcasses that tested positive for an equine painkiller may have entered the human food chain in France and that horsemeat tainted with the medicine may have been sold to consumers "for some time."
In Paris, Benoit Hamon, the economic and consumer affairs minister, said it appeared that the fraudulent sales had been going on for several months, and reached across 13 countries and 28 companies. He said there was plenty of blame to go around, but most of it rested with Spanghero, a wholesaler he said was well aware that the cheap meat was mislabeled when it sold it to Comigel, the frozen food processor.
"Spanghero knew," Hamon said. "One thing that should have attracted Spanghero's attention? The price."
Hamon said the mislabeled meat from Romania was far below the market rate for beef. Spanghero was to be suspended immediately and the results of the investigation have been forwarded to prosecutors, officials said.
A representative for Spanghero did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment. In a statement earlier this week, Spanghero said it does not buy, sell or process horsemeat. The company said it was cooperating with the investigation and would sue whoever was responsible for the fraud.
Comigel itself was not blameless, Hamon said. The paperwork had significant irregularities, including failure to specify country of origin.
"And once the meat was defrosted, we can ask ourselves why Comigel didn't notice that the color and odor was not that of beef," Hamon said.
Paris: The price, smell and colour should have been clear tipoffs something was wrong with shipments of horsemeat that were fraudulently labeled as beef, French authorities said on Thursday.
First Published: Friday, February 15, 2013, 10:08