Horse Health

Horsemeat Scandal Blamed on International Fraud by Mafia Gangs

DNA testing of food to be stepped up following fears there has been criminal activity on an international scale

How did the tainted horse meat get into the beef?

Organised criminal gangs operating internationally are suspected of playing a major role in the horsemeat scandal that has seen supermarket shelves cleared of a series of products and triggered concerns about the contamination of the UK’s food chain.

Sources close to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Food Standards Agency said it appeared that the contamination of beefburgers, lasagne and other products was the result of fraud that had an “international dimension”.

Experts within the horse slaughter industry have told the Observer there is evidence that both Polish and Italian mafia gangs are running multimillion-pound scams to substitute horsemeat for beef during food production. There are claims that vets and other officials working within abattoirs and food production plants are intimidated into signing off meat as beef when it is in fact cheaper alternatives such as pork or horse.

In an attempt to reassure the public that Britain’s food chain was not victim to systemic fraud, the environment secretary Owen Paterson on Saturday met representatives from the big four supermarkets, retail bodies and leading food producers to thrash out a plan to increase the amount of DNA testing of food.

“The retailers have committed to conduct more tests and in the interests of public confidence I’ve asked them to publish them on a quarterly basis,” said Paterson. He stressed there was no evidence yet that the scandal had become a public safety issue.

Paterson insisted retailers had to play the leading role in clamping down on the problem. “Ultimate responsibility for the integrity of what is sold on their label has to lie with the retailer.”

The last time the government sanctioned testing for horsemeat in animal products was in 2003 when equine DNA was found in salami.

The first results of a new series of tests for equine DNA in what the FSA terms “comminuted beef products” – where solid materials are reduced in size by crushing or grinding – will be published on Friday. “We have to be prepared that there will be more bad results coming through,” Paterson said.

He confirmed that the government was open to bringing in the Serious and Organised Crime Agency if, as seems evident, the fraud is on an international scale. He said the Metropolitan police had been asked to investigate the scandal and that the force was liaising with counterparts in other countries. Paterson suggested the scandal was potentially a “worldwide” issue.

“I’m concerned that this is an international criminal conspiracy here and we’ve really got to get to the bottom of it,” he said.

The Labour MP Mary Creagh said she was passing information to police that suggested several British companies were involved in the illegal horsemeat trade. “I hope that this information will enable the police to act speedily to stamp out these criminals who are putting the future of the food industry at risk.”

LasagneighConcerns about the substitution of horsemeat for beef first emerged in mid-January when supermarket chains withdrew several ranges of burgers. Fears of contamination prompted hundreds of European food companies to conduct DNA checks on their products that resulted in the food giant, Findus, discovering that one of its products, a frozen beef lasagne, contained meat that was almost 100% horse.

It has emerged that Findus conducted three tests on its products on 29 January that suggested there was horsemeat contamination. The revelation has raised questions about why it took several days for the products to be pulled from the shelves.

Findus indicated it was ready to sue as the company announced it would on Monday file a complaint against an unidentified party.

In a statement, the firm said: “Findus is taking legal advice about the grounds for pursuing a case against its suppliers, regarding what they believe is their suppliers’ failure to meet contractual obligations about product integrity. The early results from Findus UK’s internal investigation strongly suggests that the horsemeat contamination in beef lasagne was not accidental.”

Supermarket chain Aldi has confirmed that two of its ready meal ranges produced by Comigel, the French supplier also used by Findus, were found to contain between 30% and 100% horsemeat.

Comigel claims it sourced its meat from Romania, which has been subjected to export restrictions due to the prevalence of the viral disease equine infectious anaemia in the country. Spanghero, the French company that supplied the meat for the Findus beef lasagne, announced it will also sue its Romanian suppliers.

The scandal has raised questions about what happens to the 65,000 horses transported around the EU each year for slaughter. The campaign group World Horse Welfare said thousands of animals suffered as a result of making long journeys across national borders. Partly as a result of welfare concerns, the trade in live horses has fallen dramatically. In 2001, 165,000 horses were shipped across Europe.

The decline in the cross-border trade in live horses has seen an increase in the sale of chilled and frozen horsemeat, much of which goes to Italy. Last year Romania significantly increased its export of frozen horsemeat to the Benelux countries.

Attention is now focusing on eastern Europe, a major supplier of horsemeat to France and Italy. Some of the meat that went into Ireland came from suppliers in Poland, which exports around 25,000 horses for slaughter each year. Industry sources also suggested to the Observer that gangs operating in Russia and the Baltic states were playing a role in the fraudulent meat trade.

Other food companies have, as a result of their investigations, found that their supplies have been contaminated. The FSA confirmed that meat held in cold storage in Northern Ireland has been impounded after it was discovered to contain equine DNA. A London-based company, 3663, found pork in some of the halal meat it supplies the prison service.

Questions are now being asked about meat supplied to a range of public sector organisations, including the NHS. “Every NHS and healthcare organisation will have different local circumstances and it would be for those organisations to satisfy themselves that the food they supply meets the needs of their patients,” said the Department of Health. “Any investigations into the provenance of those supplies would also be done locally.”

British farmers have expressed concerns that the scandal could affect consumer confidence in British beef. “Our members are rightly angry and concerned with the recent developments relating to contaminated processed meat products,” said the National Farmers’ Union president, Peter Kendall. “The contamination took place post farm-gate which farmers have no control over.”

Click (HERE) to Comment at the Guardian

16 replies »

  1. Good Lord! This Patterson idiot says it is “ultimately” the retailers responsibility????????

    How about the producer of the product, the suppliers of the live product and those idiot government regulators that are, BY LAW AND TAXPAYER FUNDS required to check the product????

    Geesh…another numbskull..


  2. The world needs to stop slaughtering horses. Problem solved. They weren’t put on earth to feed man, but to serve man as a partner.


  3. The MAFIA????!!!!!


    But I think this indicates a darker prophecy: Factory Farming is NO GOOD.

    Putting smaller producers out of business for the sake of profit, allowing the ‘manufacture’ of meat ‘products’ rather than the raising of animals and writing ridiculous ‘restrictions’ that factories have no intention of following (and rarely are prosecuted for) has allowed the proliferation of corruption of the human food network.

    I’m no ‘radical vegan’; I’m no naive virgin who thinks my meat comes from fairy dust. But you don’t have to possess a degree from Harvard Business to know agriculture agencies in any country are more concerned with the corporate structure than the benefits/detriments the food industry has on human consumers. All you have to do is remember that the Department of Agriculture here in the US says I don’t have the right to know where my food comes from, what’s in it, if it was grown or born in a laboratory.

    Food, like water, is neither a right nor a privelege -it is an absolute necessity. We’ve been manuvered into allowing others to sacrifice our health and personal choices for the sake of convenience.

    It isn’t stretch to consider the food industry as a criminal enterprise. I’ll bet the Mafia’s miffed.


    • I appreciate your comments, Lisa, but I have to take issue with the inflammatory expression “radical vegan.” Don’t you think that people who for ethical reasons eat only plant-based foods are looking pretty sane right about now? 🙂

      You’re right, “food, like water,” is “an absolute necessity.” Eating animals, however, is not, as golde (above) can attest.


      • Upon further reflection, I believe you’re right, Vicki. I wish we WERE all “radical vegans,” but if that label discredits us too much, then I can see why some retreat from it.


      • Oh, that’s just one of our names! It’s usually preceded by tree, bunny hugging, and then followed by activist, culturally ignorant, animal terrorist, wacko, and others that don’t come to mind right now. They push the “vegan” because then they can imply that we are all trying to bring down animal agriculture and scare those in agriculture into support them. You know it’s a slippery slope! First this and then…… No many how many times you repeat that this is only about horse slaughter they just keep on.

        Of course, with all the scandals and meat recalls, the meat industry is doing quite well on their own in turning people off from meat. Wanting to end horse slaughter and protect our wild ones in the wild, is just that. It’s not about a person’s religion, what political party they support or what they eat. Some of our strongest supporters are beef producers. We have vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters. We have democrats, republicans and every religion that comes to mind. We need to be respectful of everyone and stay focused on our efforts and not be distracted by those trying to divide us. To do anything less, plays right into their hands.


  4. I don’t know what to say anymore….this whole story sickens me. To think about all those beautiful and innocent horses being brutally murdered, then allowing their tainted meat to be sold for human consumption is a real disgrace. The truth is now known, let’s hope those responsible will be held accountable and the killing of our equine friends will come to an end.


  5. I am hopeful that the company that slaughtered our companion the horse to substituite as beef ate lots and lots and lots of bute horse and can soon suffer the consequences.


    • HAH!!!!

      Shelly, that was what I was thinking….”is that what they are calling governments now?”

      Priceless, Shelly…absolutely priceless and dead on.


  6. As far as Im concerned , at this point it makes no difference,whether you are vegan or whatever, Our Food supply has been compromised , just as our horses and Mustangs and Burros have been, this is a disgrace and I want the Guilty parties HEADS TO ROLL, YOU DO NOT MESS WITH HOME,, FAMILY or (I consider Horses belong in this category they are family ) OR FOOD Supply!!!! Do any of us realize how serious this is ???????? WHO ARE THE GUILTY PARTIES THATS WHATS IMPORTANT NOW !!!!!


  7. Proud to be an animal loving, bunny hugging radical vegan. Although I have been vegetarian for the past 8 and vegan just for the past year, I now have radically superior medical #s (blood pressure, cholesterol, bone density, weight). It wasn’t always that way. 8 yrs ago I had a radical cholesterol level of 360 – deadly, according to my physicians.

    Not surprising that organized crime is involved in this scandal. Factory farms are organized crime against animals and people – organized and supported by BigAg lobbies and governmental policies.


  8. I agree with Judy. There always will people out there performing illegal acts for that almighty dollar. It makes me sick that they use our poor helpless animals. It has to stop somewhere. I’m with Golde
    and I never missed eatting the stuff. What kind of society are we becoming anyway? We just have to try and out number the brainless ones.


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