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Dutch court rejects bid to halt mass meat recall

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A Dutch court on Thursday rejected a bid by a meat wholesaler to quash an order recalling 50,000 tonnes of beef potentially contaminated with horsemeat.

"The court rejects the request for a preliminary injunction," on Dutch food authority NVWA's recall of meat handled by Willy Selten, judge Reinier van Zutphen said at the commercial court in The Hague.

Businessman Selten, allegedly a key player in Europe's horsemeat scandal, had sought to overturn the NVWA's order to recall all meat sold by the company over the last two years.

The watchdog recalled 50,000 tonnes of beef suspected to have been contaminated with horse, asking hundreds of companies across Europe supplied by Selten to check their products.

Selten's company was on Tuesday declared bankrupt and placed under curatorship.

His lawyer, Frank Peters, said Selten was disappointed after he informed him of the court's decision by phone.

"He (Selten) is very disappointed that with the tumult, the distress caused by the recall, there is no intervention by this court," Peters said.

NVWA spokesman Brenno Bruggink said that it was now up to other countries that bought meat from Selten to decide whether they wanted to order national recalls.

"We informed 15 other EU countries that they had had meat from Selten, so most of the work has already been done," Bruggink said.

Around half the suspect meat was sold in The Netherlands and half in the EU, he said.

"We think that most of it has already been eaten," Bruggink said. "We have to go and do what we can. Whatever we can find, we'll find."

Lawyer Peters had argued Tuesday that the recall was "disproportionate" and "bizarre and bordering on the mass hysteria gripping the whole of Europe".

He said there had never been a complaint in the 22 years in which Selten's company distributed meat from the small Dutch town of Oss, stressing: "All his meat comes from within the European Union."

The NVWA said it had sent a letter to 130 Dutch companies who were supplied with possible horse-contaminated beef from the Selten company, asking them to "take it off the market as a precautionary measure" and "verify all products".

The NVWA authority said that although the meat's origin could not be guaranteed, "there are no signs of a danger to the public health".

Dutch officials in February raided the Selten meat processing plant in the south of The Netherlands on suspicion that it was mixing horsemeat with beef and selling it as pure beef.

It handled imports from various European countries and delivered to retailers, meat wholesalers, butchers, the meat processing industry and supermarkets throughout Europe.

The plant was probed as part of a criminal investigation by the prosecutor's office and the NVWA.

It is suspected of fraud and money laundering, the prosecutor's office said at the time.

Since the horsemeat scandal erupted in Ireland in January, governments have scrambled to figure out how and where the mislabelling of meat happened in the sprawling chain of production spanning abattoirs and meat suppliers across Europe.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130418/dutch-court-rejects-bid-halt-mass-meat-recall