Spanish authorities have busted a suspected organized crime group selling horse meat that could have been unfit for human consumption.

The Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) was supported by Europol. The alleged criminal organization, based in the province of Barcelona, reportedly falsified equine documents and sold horse meat without the mandatory documentation to support their activities. Law enforcement officials also searched various horse stables in Catalonia.

Officers from the Spanish Environment Protection Service (SEPRONA) found the implicated horse meat on the market came from 300 horses killed in slaughterhouses. Documents of more than 10,000 horses were checked during enquiries.

Supply chain involvement
The operation led to the arrests of 15 suspects and investigation of 13 others for allegedly commercializing horse meat that did not have the necessary documentation for human consumption. It resulted in the seizure of 185 falsified horse passports and detection of 100 other horses uncompliant with food market regulations.

Members of the criminal network, active since 2015 according to officials, falsified horse passports in slaughterhouses and farms in Barcelona classifying meat as fit for human food. The slaughterhouse, several livestock farms, cattle dealers and veterinarians were involved in the criminal activities.

Meat has not been available for sale since 2018 when the Civil Guard started the investigation after issues were detected with traceability meaning it was withdrawn from the market.

Seized false documents showed the group could have been responsible for introducing meat from hundreds of slaughtered animals onto the market, which failed to comply with national and European regulations.

Previous incidents
It is not the first time authorities have acted in this sector. In 2017, 65 people were arrested in Spain after a Guardia Civil and Europol operation uncovered trading of horsemeat in Europe unfit for human consumption. Work was carried out with Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Offenders were charged with animal abuse, document forgery, perverting the course of justice, crimes against public health, money laundering and being part of a criminal organization.

Operation Gazel detected horses in bad shape, too old or labelled as not suitable for consumption were slaughtered in two different slaughterhouses. The animals came from Portugal and northern Spain, their meat was processed in a facility and sent to Belgium.

In 2019, Spanish police arrested one of the alleged ringleaders of the 2013 horsemeat scandal.

Guardia Civil detained Dutchman Jan Fasen at the request of French authorities. Fasen was sentenced to two years in prison and banned from working in the French meat industry by a Paris court. He had been detained by Guardia Civil during Operation Gazel in July 2017 before being released pending trial.

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