The U.K. is in the middle of horse meat hysteria, as more and more beef products — from frozen beefburgers to lasagna — are coming back containing as much as 100 percent horse meat.
The whole scandal may sound a little silly, but it brings with it serious concerns. For example, we explained last week how it's suspected that the horse meat could contain veterinary drugs that are known to be harmful to humans.
Now, as the scandal spreads from the U.K. onto the continent, the hunt is on to find out exactly where the horse meat came from, and who is profiting from it.
That task is proving worryingly difficult, but many now believe that organized crime is playing a role.
Writing in the Financial Times , Hugh Carnegy says that investigations have revealed a " tortuous supply chain spanning several countries, with the companies involved scrambling to shift the blame away from themselves."
According to Carnegy, a company that has acknowledged their lasagna was 100 percent horse meat, Findus, bought their meat from a Luxembourg plant owned by French company Comigel. Comigel had in turn gotten the meat from a company in southwestern France called Spanghero, whose parent is called Poujol.
Confused yet? It gets worse. Poujol, in a statement released Saturday, said that their meat had come from a "Cypriot trader, which had subcontracted the order to a trader in the Netherlands. The latter was a supplier from an abattoir and butcher located in Romania.”
(If you're still confused and can read French, check out this handy map Le Monde has made tracking the meat .)
British Tabloid the Daily Mirror seems to support the Romania-link, with an "exclusive investigation" pointing the finger at organized criminals who have earned themselves the nickname the " Horse Mafia."
Poor farmers are paid for their horses by the criminals, who then fake the paperwork for the horses, the Mirror reports:
In these rural areas of high deprivation, criminal gangs prey on poor farmers by offering cash for both wild and work horses farmers cannot afford to keep. They pay 50 to 100 Romanian Lei – as little as £10 to £20.
Abattoirs will pay up to 27 times that for a horse with the right paperwork. A warm-blooded mare weighing 1,000lb can sell for around £270.
But one undercover source, based in Transylvania, who works as a vet and has intimate knowledge of the business, revealed the abattoirs often turn a blind eye to the illegal trade.
According to the AP, however, two Romanian meat plants have denied any wrong-doing, arguing that the meat was labeled as horse and that the fraud must have happened at a different point in the supply chain. One of the slaughterhouses, Carmolimp, said it had not exported any beef at all in 2012, and suggested that an incompetent French meat processor must have mistaken the horse meat for beef.
Meanwhile the Daily Mail reports that " mobsters from Italy and Poland" are just some of the criminal groups behind the multi-million dollar industry:
Italy is Europe’s biggest consumer of horse meat and Poland exports around 25,000 horses for slaughter each year, making it big business in both countries. Russian gangs and criminals operating in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are also suspected of involvement, industry sources suggest.
Poland has already denied its involvement in the scandal after an initial Irish investigation into horse meat-tainted beef burgers pointed towards a Polish beef supplier.
We're not really any closer to any answers right now, but so far one thing seems to be clear — Europe's supply chain for beef is ridiculously complex, and someone, somewhere, has worked out a way to profit from that.
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