France is embroiled in another horse-meat scandal, after reports that horses used by a drugs company may have entered the human food chain.
French police have made 21 arrests across the country in the operation, apparently launched following a tip-off that hundreds of horses from various sources had entered the food chain after having their veterinary papers falsified.
More than 100 police officers were involved in the operation.
The drug company, Sanofi, said it was co-operating with authorities. The firm has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
It said it had sold about 200 horses over the past three years, either to veterinary colleges, individuals or horse centres.
It said all the horses were microchipped and were accompanied by all the correct paperwork, specifying that the animals were not to be introduced to the food chain.
It stressed that the certification that they not enter the food chain was precautionary and it did not believe there was a risk to human health.
The horses had been used to generate antibodies against tetanus and rabies. The antibodies are crucial to the manufacture of anti-rabies and anti-tetanus serums.
It is understood the blood is periodically taken from the horses for the extraction of the antibodies.
None of the horses had been used in drug testing, the company stressed.
Police sources told French media outlets that no evidence existed of a risk to human health, but the horses should never have been processed for human consumption.
Food Minister Guillaume Garot reiterated that view. “At this stage there is nothing to indicate any health problem,” he said.
The police raids were centered on the south of France and included several abattoirs, including one in Spain.
Those arrested included several meat dealers.
Several outlets reported that hundreds of horses were sold as food between 2010 and 2012 after a meat wholesaler in the Narbonne region allegedly faked papers.
The arrests follow a Europe-wide scandal earlier in the year, after authorities found that a range of processed beef products had been adulterated with horse meat.
The discovery led to the recall of tens of millions of processed beef meals from supermarket freezers across Europe.
National regulators stressed that the case was not a consumer health issue, but one of incorrect food labelling.
The scandal knocked consumer confidence, and revealed the complexities of the international food chain. It also highlighted the vulnerability of the system to rogue meat traders, whose raw ingredients found their way into the products of several big-name manufacturers.