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Results of French horsemeat probe due on Wed: minister

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

France said Sunday it would have the preliminary results of its inquiry into horsemeat sold as beef on Wednesday, warning it would take action if there was proof of criminal activity.

"We will have the first results of the inquiry on Wednesday," Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon told daily Le Parisien.

If there is evidence companies were knowingly duping consumers, France "will not hesitate" to take legal action, he added.

Prepared food has been pulled from the shelves in Britain, France and Sweden after it emerged that frozen food companies had been using horsemeat instead of beef in making lasagnes, shepherd's pies, moussakas and other dishes.

Frozen food giant Findus has lodged a legal complaint in France after evidence showed the presence of horsemeat in its supply chain "was not accidental", while a French meat-processing firm said it would sue its Romanian supplier.

Highlighting the complexity of European food supply chains, the meat has been traced back from France through Cyprus and The Netherlands to Romanian abattoirs. Romanian officials have announced an urgent inquiry.

Hamon defended France's food safety checks, saying the system relies on producers and importers to properly identify their meat.

"I can't put an official behind every piece of meat," Hamon said.

He also took a sideswipe at Britain -- where there has been growing public concern over the scandal -- for seeking cuts in the European Union budget, saying reduced spending would affect food safety checks.

"The British are just returning from Brussels where they defended a liberal budget that tends to reduce food safety checks," he said.

Hamon said early findings from the probe indicated the horsemeat had been supplied since August and that "the profits from what seemed to have been a fraud have been evaluated at 300,000 euros ($400,000)."

The Findus meals were assembled by French food manufacturer Comigel using meat that was provided by Spanghero, a meat-processing company also based in France.

Spanghero in turn is said to have obtained the meat from Romania via a Cypriot dealer who had subcontracted the deal to a trader in The Netherlands.

mm/lc

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130210/results-french-horsemeat-probe-due-wed-minister