A horsemeat scandal that has gripped several countries in the European Union is continuing to spread. The more the authorities try to get to the bottom of the problem, the deeper it seems to become.
The scandal hit Germany full force on Saturday after the Consumer Protection Ministry confirmed that 179,000 packages of lasagna suspected of containing horsemeat had been imported into the country. The frozen ready-made products were not labeled as containing horsemeat.
The online edition of the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel put the figure about double that, citing European delivery lists that reportedly showed that about 360,000 suspect packages of frozen lasagna and canneloni had been imported. This higher figure has not been confirmed by the authorities.
All of the frozen foods suspected of containing horsemeat have been pulled from the shelves by German supermarkets. Some of the suspect ready-made products have been traced to a Luxembourg outlet of the French frozen food firm Comigel.
Authorities in Paris have also pointed the finger at the French meat-processing firm Spanghero. However, both firms deny any wrongdoing.
"I don't know who is behind this but it is not us," Spanghero boss Barthelemy Aguerre told Europe 1 radio on Friday.
For the first time, a German meatpacker has also been affected. In a statement posted on its website, the Dreistern-Konserven company said that it had recalled its beef goulash packaged at its plant in the eastern town of Neuruppin, after DNA tests found it to contain traces of horse.
According to the statement, the tests are part of stepped up controls introduced in light of the scandal. It stressed that the food in question was not a danger to consumers' health and that it believed the source of the problem was falsely labeled raw product that it had brought in for further processing.
Germany's consumer protection minister, Ilse Aigner, meanwhile, reiterated her belief that such widespread use of horse in food purported to be beef could only have been deliberate.
"This case of deception is taking on ever greater dimensions," she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper in an interview to be published in its Sunday edition. "This has been carried out with a great deal of criminal intent," she added.
Aigner also called for a new program of checks to be introduced across Germany, which would go beyond those already announced by the European Union.
She is to meet with her counterparts from Germany's 16 states in Berlin on Monday to discuss this and other possible measures.
pfd/mkg (Reuters, AFP)
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