Rabid sheep on the menu: Horse meat illegally peddled from Brazil

The gang that allegedly illegally sold tons of horse meat disguised as beef, a purported menace in Portugal, was also helping others in Europe and Asia take part in a continent-wide scheme to sell…

Rabid sheep on the menu: Horse meat illegally peddled from Brazil

The gang that allegedly illegally sold tons of horse meat disguised as beef, a purported menace in Portugal, was also helping others in Europe and Asia take part in a continent-wide scheme to sell them, authorities in Brazil said Friday.

A network led by the serial evaders to supply horse to cafes, restaurants and travel agencies was broken up by Portuguese authorities, led by the director of the prosecutor’s office in the northeastern city of Liege. He arrested 20 people in connection with the operation — and said authorities were looking for five more.

The operation represents “one of the biggest attempts to organize the illegal acquisition of horse meat that has ever been uncovered in Europe,” the German agriculture ministry said in a statement.

“The Portuguese authorities have conducted a great and important anti-piracy operation,” said Mário Centeno, spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office in Algiers-Dermoy, in the northeastern state of Ceará.

Centeno said the gang had been working in Brazil, Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Turkey.

A “problem” in Portugal

The gang, based in Liege, Belgium, manufactured horsemeat in Brazil and submitted it as beef, mainly to Belgium, Spain and Portugal, to be marketed as beef, Centeno said. The meat was then sold in those countries to restaurants, hotels and travel agencies, including animal-cares and agricultural services.

“What is clear is that the horsemeat was very costly, about 50 to 75 percent more than the beef,” he said. The gramme of horsemeat was sold for 160 euros ($210) to 180 euros ($240), he said.

In Brazil, Centeno said authorities were looking for three people based in that country. He said they were probably involved in the production of horsemeat in Spain and Portugal. He did not say whether they had been detained.

The European Commission said it had launched an anti-piracy inquiry into the horsemeat crisis. The French government ordered its agriculture police to probe the case. “We are currently demanding official information and taking appropriate actions,” said a spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll.

Customers astonished

In Ireland, investigations are also underway in the wake of a food poisoning scandal that saw lasagna, ham and other foodstuffs labeled as beef turn out to be largely made from horse. Horse meat has also been found in Chinese porridge.

Retailers in Ireland were left scratching their heads after traces of horse meat were found in beef products supplied by Irish and British meat-processing companies last month. Six of the brands implicated were owned by ABP Food Group and Choice Foods, which now have been removed from shelves.

McCarthy’s Barrows Restaurant in Dublin said customers who bought beef-based dishes including shepherd’s pie and lasagna were baffled and angry.

“Last month, our entire menu was contaminated with a horse,” said Johan O’Connell, manager of McCarthy’s Barrows.

“When I walked past the inventory of the range of menu items the others were available from, I became a bit overwhelmed and came across a few issues,” he said. “It didn’t appear from these instances to be any maltreatment or neglect but from a hygiene issue and it wasn’t considered by us to be of either good or bad quality.”

Preliminary laboratory tests have confirmed horse meat in one spaghetti dish.

But after further testing, an interim report on contaminated lasagna was sent back to laboratory technicians to be revised after preliminary tests did not confirm the presence of horse meat in the product, revealed Sean Kirst, a spokesman for the Irish Department of Agriculture and Food.

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