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French: Complex trading web in horsemeat scandal

Published: Monday, Feb. 11 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

A Findus Beef Lasagne photographed in a shop in Jarrow, England, Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. Frozen-food company Findus recalled the beef lasagne meals earlier this week after French supplier Comigel raised concerns that the products didn't A Findus Beef Lasagne photographed in a shop in Jarrow, England, Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. Frozen-food company Findus recalled the beef lasagne meals earlier this week after French supplier Comigel raised concerns that the products didn't "conform to specification." The U.K. Food Standards Agency said the lasagnes were tested as part of an ongoing investigation into mislabeled meat. (Associated Press)

PARIS — A maze of trading between meat wholesalers has made it increasingly difficult to trace the origins of food — enabling horsemeat disguised as beef to be sold in frozen meals across Europe. France's agricultural minister said Monday that regulators must find a way "out of the fog."

The European horsemeat scandal — where the cheaper meat was substituted for beef in everything from burgers to frozen lasagna — is growing, involving more countries, companies and more finger-pointing by the day.

France says Romanian butchers and Dutch and Cypriot traders were part of a supply chain that resulted in horsemeat being labeled as beef before it was included in frozen dinners including lasagna, moussaka and a similar French dish called hachis parmentier.

Swedish officials were meeting Monday with executives from the biggest supermarket chains to get an overview of how widespread the fraud is, while in Paris top French government officials and meat producers were gathering to get a handle on the crisis, which has snared a French food processing company.

A general view of Findus Beef Lasagne in a freezer of a local shop in Jarrow, England, Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. U.K. authorities say beef lasagna products recalled from British supermarkets by frozen-food company Findus have tested positive or more than 60 percent horsemeat. (Associated Press) A general view of Findus Beef Lasagne in a freezer of a local shop in Jarrow, England, Friday, Feb. 8, 2013. U.K. authorities say beef lasagna products recalled from British supermarkets by frozen-food company Findus have tested positive or more than 60 percent horsemeat. (Associated Press)

Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said the results of the French investigation into the horsemeat fraud would be released Wednesday.

No one has reported health risks from the mislabeled meat, which came from a complex supply chain. But clearly some company in the food chain benefited from selling the much cheaper horsemeat as beef.

"There are people who are out there to defraud, who are looking to cheat," Le Foll told RTL radio.

Michel Barnier, a former French agricultural minister who now works at the European Union level, said it was not an issue of food safety but of justice.

"Consumers have the right to the truth, quality, and transparence. We have to do more in tracking," he told Europe 1 radio.

Findus Sweden plans to sue France's Comigel for breach of contract and fraud, Findus Nordic CEO Jari Latvanen said. He said the company's deal with Comigel stipulates that the beef in the frozen lasagna should come from Germany, France or Austria, but that has not been the case.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Owen Paterson, left, speaks to the media outside Defra Headquarters in London, Saturday Feb. 9, 2013,  after an emergency meeting with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and representatives of various leading retailers, as revelations about the widespread use of horseheat in supermarket beef products continues to hit consumer confidence.  Concerns about the use of horsemeat burst into the spotlight earlier this year, after it emerged that some beef products contained horse DNA, and now the whole industry faces pressure to test their products and reveal the findings. (Associated Press) Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) Owen Paterson, left, speaks to the media outside Defra Headquarters in London, Saturday Feb. 9, 2013, after an emergency meeting with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and representatives of various leading retailers, as revelations about the widespread use of horseheat in supermarket beef products continues to hit consumer confidence. Concerns about the use of horsemeat burst into the spotlight earlier this year, after it emerged that some beef products contained horse DNA, and now the whole industry faces pressure to test their products and reveal the findings. (Associated Press)

While horsemeat is largely taboo in Britain and some other countries, in France it is sold in specialty butcher shops and is prized by some connoisseurs. French authorities, however, are worried about producers misleading the public.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has urged "tough punishments" for what he described as "abominable" fraud.

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