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UK police arrest three in horsemeat scandal


Police in Britain have arrested three men on suspicion of intentionally mislabeling horsemeat as beef. Meanwhile, French authorities have suspended the license of meat processing company Spanghero on similar charges.

The arrests occurred in Wales and northern England, according to initial reports released late Thursday. Police apprehended two employees, aged 42 and 64, of a food processing plant in Abersytwyth on the Welsh coast. An additional suspect, aged 63, with links to a slaughterhouse was arrested by officials in Todmorden in West Yorkshire.

The country's Food Standards Agency had shut down both sites on Wednesday.

Initial reports did not provide further details regarding the suspects.

Britain was not the only country to take action in the horsemeat scandal, which has shocked consumers across the EU over the past two weeks. French meat-processing company, Spanghero, indefinitely lost its license on Thursday for knowingly selling horsemeat to the company Comigel, which produces ready-made meals, including frozen lasagne.

While speaking at a press briefing in Paris, French Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon admonished the meat-processing firm for deceiving its customers and for denying its culpability.

"It would seem that the first agent in this chain to label the meat 'beef' was indeed Spanghero," Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said.

Two weeks ago, a public outcry erupted in the UK when equine DNA was found in beef burgers sold to some of largest meat distributors, including the supermarket firm Tesco and the fast-food chain Burger Chain. Since then, the trail of mislabeled beef has led investigators to its alleged origins in a Romanian slaughterhouse and back to Western Europe, where numerous countries have pulled beef products from their shelves.

"This was either a very big mistake or a deception for profit," said Hamon.

Spanghero has denied the allegations repeatedly. In a statement, the company contended it, too, had been misled.

"Spanghero confirms having placed an order for beef, having been led to believe it received beef, and having sold back what it thought was beef, properly labeled as such, in line with European and French regulations," the statement said.

But the company's denial of wrongdoing did not find sympathy with the French government.

"Spanghero knew," Hamon said. "One thing that should have attracted Spanghero's attention? The price."

Meanwhile, Britain's environment minister, David Heath, announced that tests had revealed the presence of bute, or phenylbutazone, in the carcasses of eight horses from British slaughterhouses. Heath delivered the findings to the House of Commons on Thursday.

"Three may have entered the food chain in France," he said. "The remaining five have not gone into the food chain."

The painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug has been known to cause harmful side effects in humans. However, England's chief medical officer, Sally Davis, called it "extremely unlikely" that the tainted meat would have put consumers in danger.

The UK environment minister's announcement came a day after the European Union's health commissioner called on the bloc's 27 member states to conduct DNA testing on meat products to determine whether they contain horsemeat.

kms/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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