Lab horses allegedly sold as meat

Eleven months after Spanghero, a new horse meat scandal rocks southern France

As if the recent horse meat scandal weren’t enough, 21 people have been arrested across the south of France for allegedly trafficking horses that were used for research purposes in laboratories.

In a press conference on Monday 16th December, state prosecutor from Marseille, Brice Robin said that 60 of 200 horses involved came from French pharmaceutical company Sanofi-Pasteur, where they were used for the production of vaccines and serums. However, it would seem the pharmaceutical company was not in on the operation.

For each horse coming out of Sanofi’s laboratories, the company issues paperwork specifying the animal is ‘unfit for human consumption’. The horses are sold to specialised dealers, and are intended for leisure purposes or veterinarian schools, Sanofi spokesperson Alain Bernal told Reuters.

“We sell the horses to people whose job it is to buy and sell horses. We can’t track each horse but the person buying it from us commits to not selling them for human consumption,” he said.

The suspected brains of the operation, a 59-year-old horse butchery owner from Narbonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region, was arrested early Monday. Four veterinarians, a computer engineer and 13 horse dealers were also among those taken in for questioning in the Midi Pyrénées and the Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur regions.

The four veterinarians are suspected of negligence and possibly corruption. The prosecutor alleged they would sign off on the horses’ new paperwork without even seeing the animals.

The network is said to have bought horses from Sanofi for 10 euros each, falsifying the paperwork and selling them as meat to slaughter houses and horse butchers for a significant profit. The operation allegedly acted throughout the south of France and in Spain.

In late 2012, a whistle blower tipped off the Aude department’s population protection authorities, Le Figaro reports. The anonymous letter prompted a year-long surveillance operation leading to Monday’s arrests.

These events come 11 months after a Europe-wide controversy surrounding cheap horse meat being sold as more expensive beef. The two stories, however, don’t have much in common apart from horses being involved. In the latest case, the meat was actually branded as horse meat, but its source and nature were hidden from the public.

For Junior Food Industry Minister Guillaume Garot, however, there is no danger to consumers. “At this point, nothing points towards a health risk,” he told the press.

Sanofi’s spokesperson told AFP that the specifications in the horses’ paperwork were a measure of precaution rather than resulting from a real danger.

Some of the suspects are expected to be charged with fraud, forgery, use of forged documents, corruption and conspiracy.

Also published in The Riviera Times and the Riviera Times Online