A number of people have been sentenced for their roles in a network that sold horse meat that could have been unfit to eat.

A total of 15 people from France, Belgium, and the Netherlands were sentenced at a Marseille court this past week in a case that began in June 2022, according to French media reports.

Belgian horse trader, Jean-Marc Decker, received four years in prison, two of which were suspended. He was also fined €100,000 ($108,000) and banned from having a job in the horse meat sector for five years.

Stijn De Visscher, a Dutch horse trader, was given the same jail sentence but a fine of €75,000 ($81,200) for his part in the events that occurred between 2010 and 2015.

Georges Gonzales, manager of the company Equi’d Sud, got four years in jail, three of which were suspended. He was fined €75,000 ($81,200) and stopped from working in the horse meat industry for five years.

A dozen other people received suspended sentences and fines of up to €30,000 ($32,500) while three defendants were cleared of all charges.

Wider problem
Charges come as another trial began which also involves horse meat and is being heard in Marseille. The case covers meat from horses that were banned from the food supply chain allegedly being sold to butchers. Hearings involve 25 people and are expected to last around three weeks.  

Potential fraud involving documents and horses has been a problem for European authorities for several years. It is a decade since the Irish food agency revealed findings of horse meat in burgers. A fraud that spread across Europe. 

In 2022, Europol and Spanish authorities uncovered a network that sold potentially unsafe horse meat in Spain, Belgium, Germany, and Italy. During 2020 and 2021, several EU countries tried to combat the illegal introduction of horses into the food chain. Horses excluded from the supply chain no longer have any market value at the end of their life. Traffickers falsify the passports of these horses to reintroduce them into the food chain.

Previous editions of the annual Operation Opson, which is coordinated by Europol and Interpol, have included actions on horse passport documents and horse meat. Investigations led to meat and live animals being seized and court cases in some European countries.

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