Irish police searched seven sites this past week as part of an investigation into horse meat fraud.

The Gardai (Irish police), officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) conducted planned searches in Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo, Westmeath and Kilkenny. The sites searched included farms, houses and a commercial building.

Searches were during an investigation into offenses of deception due to fraudulent practices regarding tampering of identification passports and microchips of horses presented for slaughter in these areas.

The FSAI was the agency that first highlighted the horse meat scandal in January 2013 after conducting tests on burger products found to contain horse DNA. The issue then spread across Europe.

In April this year in France, the  former director of Spanghero meat company, Jacques Poujol, was sentenced to 24 months in prison with 18 of them suspended. Patrice Monguillon, manager of the Spanghero factory, received a one-year suspended sentence. Johannès Fasen, a Dutch trader, was sentenced to two years, and Hendricus Windmeijer, who worked with Fasen, got a one-year suspended sentence.

Irish control system
DAFM has a permanent presence of an official veterinarian and a technical team in all approved slaughter plants, including both DAFM approved horse slaughter sites. All slaughterhouses whose meat is destined for human consumption must meet requirements set in EU food safety regulations.

When an equine is presented for slaughter, the Irish system is checked to ensure the animal is eligible for the food chain. If information on the database differs from the passport it is excluded from the chain and cannot be slaughtered.

All equines presented at slaughter plants undergo ante-mortem examination by DAFM to ensure they are fit for slaughter. They are also scanned for a microchip and details are compared against data on the passport and recorded by DAFM. Post-mortem checks are also done on slaughtered equines.

Officers from the Criminal Assets Bureau, Garda National Drugs and Organized Crime Bureau and Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau are also supporting the investigation.

Ireland has been involved in three RASFF alerts this year related to horse meat. Two for poor traceability records involving passports for chilled horse meat and the third for dioxins in chilled horse meat.

One of the traceability alerts led to Lackmann Tuschonka Konskaya canned horse meat being recalled in May. The 400-gram product came from Germany and had a best-before date of July 8.

Meat fraud uncovered in France
Meanwhile, authorities in France have revealed a fraud scheme that allegedly misrepresents the quality of frozen minced (ground) meat given to some associations to help poor people in the country.

The French Red Cross (Croix-Rouge française), French Federation of Food Banks (la Fédération française des Banques Alimentaires), and the Restaurants of the Heart and the Secours Populaire (les Restaurants du Cœur et le Secours Populaire) alerted authorities. The associations stopped distribution of these items in February.

After being told in March, investigators from the General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) took dozens of product samples for analysis and results between mid-May and June found they had non-compliances with the rules governing quality such as excess fat and composition defects.

A French company supplied the products, sourced from a Polish manufacturer. Another French firm is thought to have acted as an intermediary. Microbiological analysis showed there was no danger to the health of consumers.

Food aid for the most deprived receives money from a European fund to purchase food for the four associations.

Heads of the two unnamed French businesses have been questioned by authorities and results of the investigation will be forwarded to prosecutors when it is completed.

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