Thirteen European nations have now been drawn into the horse-meat contamination scandal, with supermarkets and public institutions withdrawing products found to be tainted.
The scandal began last month, following tests by authorities in the Irish Republic, which found several cases of horse DNA in beef burgers. In the worst case, a Tesco burger was found to be 29 per cent horse meat.
Since then, tens of millions of processed beef products have been hauled from supermarket freezers and public institutions across Europe, as investigators unravel the source of raw horse meat that made its way into the beef goods.
In some cases, products have been found to be up to 100 per cent horse meat.
Three men have been arrested in Britain as part of ongoing inquiries, and French authorities have alleged that meat wholesaler Spanghero re-labeled and sold horse meat from Romanian suppliers. Spanghero has denied the allegation.
Product testing is in full swing across Europe, with 2500 results so far returned in Britain, where 29 proved positive for 1 per cent or more of horse meat. Those results related to products already identified in investigations, and which had already been pulled from retailers.
Germany expects to announce a raft of test results on products around the middle of next week.
French authorities allege its inquiries into Spanghero had unearthed evidence suggesting it knowingly sold horse meat labelled as beef to customers.
Authorities alleged 550 tonnes of the incorrectly labelled meat was sent to French firm Comigel, which used it to produce frozen food at its Tavola factory in Luxembourg. Those products, including contaminated Findus lasagnes, were ultimately put into retail stores in several European countries.
It is alleged that horse meat from Spanghero made its way into 4.5 million products manufactured on behalf of Comigel and labelled as beef. They were sold by Comigel to 28 different companies in 13 European nations.
Spanghero initially had its sanitary licence revoked, but was allowed on Monday to resume production of minced meat, sausages and ready-to-eat meals. However, it will no longer be allowed to stock frozen meat.
Spanghero chief executive Barthélémy Aguerre told Europe1 radio the company was a victim, too, and denied wrongdoing.
“When the meat arrived to us it already had the label of beef on it. We [later] analysed the contents ourselves and found that there was a mixture of horsemeat and beef. This proves that it was not Spanghero who were responsible for the scam. The fraud took place elsewhere.”
He accused the French Government of acting prematurely and putting his firm and its 360 workers at risk.
“I will fight. The government acted too quickly and now the business is in big trouble. I don’t know if we can recover,” he said. “I am going to prove my innocence, the innocence of the firm and of all the workers.”
Europol is co-ordinating criminal investigations across Europe into the scandal.
Horsemeat has so far been confirmed in products found in Britain, Ireland, France, Austria, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, and Finland.
The European Union has agreed to the immediate launch of tests for horse DNA in meat products in a bid to restore battered consumer confidence.
In Britain, sales of processed ready-to-eat meals have reportedly plummeted following the contamination scandal.