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Police Raid Horsemeat Peddlers in Northern Spain

Source: Reuters - Mon 16th Dec 2013
Police Raid Horsemeat Peddlers in Northern Spain

Police have arrested 21 people in raids on the horse meat industry across southern France and Spain on suspicion that horses used to develop medicines were sold fraudulently for food.

The arrests were made following a tip-off that hundreds of horses, including some that had been owned by pharmaceutical giant Sanofi, were sold to abattoirs after their veterinary papers were falsified, according to a Police source.

A Sanofi spokesman says it used the horses to incubate antibodies to manufacture serums for everything from rabies to snake bites, and they were in good health but not certified as fit for human consumption.

Spokesman Alain Bernal of the Sanofi Pasteur vaccine division said the firm was cooperating with investigations but did not know how long the fraud had been going on.

"It could involve hundreds of horses if this has been going on for several years," Mr Bernal told Reuters.

"In the last 3 years, we must have discharged about 200 horses.

"Horses are a factory of antibodies."

More than 100 officers were involved in raids at several Sanofi offices and at various abattoirs, including one in Gerona in northern Spain.

Among those arrested were at least three vets and several meat dealers, including one based in Narbonne, in south-western France, who is suspected of being the ringleader of the illicit trade, police sources said.

Consumer affairs minister Benoit Hamon says the operation stemmed from stepped-up monitoring of the industry after a French meat processing firm was at the centre of a Europe-wide scandal earlier this year over mislabelled frozen meals containing horsemeat instead of beef.

"It's different. In this case there could be a health problem," Mr Hamon told RTL radio.

The scandal, which broke in January when horse DNA was found in frozen burgers sold in Irish and British supermarkets, involved traders and abattoirs from Romania to the Netherlands.

Horse meat has slowly fallen out of favour with most consumers in France, although it can still be bought at specialist butchers.

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