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How did Ireland's horsemeat scandal spark a Europe-wide investigation?

Over the weekend, Spanish authorities dismantled an organised crime group that trades horsemeat illegally.

Image: DG-photo via Shutterstock

SPANISH AUTHORITIES HAVE arrested 65 people for their involvement in a horsemeat criminal operation, as part of an investigation which was sparked by Irish authorities four years ago.

Yesterday, Europol announced that an organised crime group which traded horsemeat “unfit for human consumption” was dismantled in an operation by the Spanish Guardia Civil and in cooperation with seven other European countries.

The leader of the criminal group, a Dutch national, was arrested in Belgium as part of the operation, but Europol believe that the Spanish group is just a small part of his overall trading reach.

The crackdown is the latest in a European investigation, which began after the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said that beefburgers with traces of equine DNA were being supplied to supermarkets.

The 2013 horsemeat scandal resulted in meat products being pulled from supermarket shelves across several countries, including Ireland and the UK. The scandal affected meat, frozen food and fast-food companies as consumers lost trust in meat brands.

HorseSpain02 Officials test for traces of horse DNA in meat samples. Source: Europol

In the aftermath of the scandal, the European Commission carried out tests on 4,144 samples of beef for horse DNA across the EU, with 193 coming back positive.

But all 50 of Ireland’s beef samples came back negative, which the then-Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said showed the strength of Irish food testing standards and Ireland’s “commitment to maintaining the world-wide reputation of Irish food”.

The latest arrests

The Europe-wide investigation eventually led the Guardia Civil to the Dutch businessman, who is said to be ‘known in the horsemeat world’.

He led the activities of the organisation from Calpe in Alicante, and was involved in the Irish case of the beefburgers containing horse meat.

HorseSpain01 Europol and Spain's Gardia Civil teamed up to crackdown on a horsemeat trading organisation over the weekend. Source: Europol

In the summer of 2016, an operation was uncovered by Spanish authorities who noticed that horses in bad shape, too old or simply labelled as “not suitable for consumption” were being slaughtered in two different slaughterhouses.

The animals came from Portugal and several places in northern Spain, their meat was processed in a specific facility. From there, they were sent to Belgium, which is one of the biggest horsemeat exporters in the European Union.

The animals’ identification was forged by modifying microchips and documents, police learned after the crackdown in their operation.

The 66 people arrested were charged with crimes such as animal abuse, document forgery, perverting the course of justice, crimes against public health, money laundering and being part of a criminal organisation.

Several bank accounts and properties were blocked or seized, and five luxury cars seized, Europol said.

In April, the EU introduced new proposals to cut down on ‘food fraud’ through improving food traceability, combatting fraud and restoring consumer trust in the food chain.

Read: ‘A true master of deception’: Horsemeat trader jailed in Netherlands

Read: New laws are coming in to cut ‘food fraud’ and prevent another horsemeat scandal

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