Two British food company executives are behind bars for the the role they played in Europe’s 2012 scandal that saw horse meat passed off as beef.

Andronicos Sideras, owner of Dinos and Sons Ltd., and Ulrich Nielsen of Flexi Foods were sentenced to four years and six months and three years and six months imprisonment, respectively, by the Inner London Crown Court.

A third man, Alex Ostler-Beech, also of Flexi Foods, received an eighteen month suspended sentence.

On multiple occasions, Sideras, Nielsen and Ostler-Beech conspired to mix consignments of beef with horse meat, falsely labelling it as beef and thereby inflating their profits. The crime was discovered after an environmental health officer visited a meat manufacturer in Newry, Northern Ireland.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) led the investigation before turning the case over to the City of London Police in 2013.

FSA Chair Heather Hancock said the sentencing was “the result of an immense effort by individuals in a multi-agency investigation and, as well as the police, I’d like to highlight the key role played by local authorities in securing the conviction.” She said the sentences should act as a deterrent to those “who think they can profit from committing food fraud.”

Owen Davies QC, the judge, said it was “not a mitigating factor” that many others were involved in the scheme that saw at least 30 tons of horse meat passed off as beef. Chris Elliott, professor of food safety and director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University in Belfast, suspects the fraud scheme may have been responsible for the removal of 50,000 horses from across Europe.

For the scheme, Flexi Foods would ship horse meat to Dino and Sons in north London, where it was mixed with beef, repackaged, and labeled as beef. Beech, who got the suspended sentence, handled shipping and accounting duties.

The judge told the men their horse meat scheme made the public suspicious of all food, not just meat.

“The confidence in the food chain was affected adversely, and the share prices of big supermarkets were affected, and it is difficult to recreate the feeling of anxiety the the public had at the time this all emerged,” the judge said.

In 2012, horse meat was discovered in processed beef products being sold by various supermarket chains, resulting in recalls and an investigative focus on supply chains.   The scandal brought on stricter food testing throughout Europe.

Horse meat labeled as beef products was discovered not only in the UK, but in numerous other European countries as well. The mislabeling has been pursued mostly as a food fraud crime.

Horse meat is cheaper than other meat in most European countries, except where it is popular. In France, demand and prices are higher because “viande de cheval” is a popular dish in that country. Italians also have a taste for horse meat, and it is consumed in vast quantities in the export market of China.

In addition to the criminal prosecutions, the horse meat scandal brought about increased use of DNA testing by European meat producers.

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