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France promises punishment in horsemeat scandal

The French government promised today to punish those found responsible for selling horsemeat in beef products at the heart of a growing scandal that started in Britain but is quickly spreading to France.

Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said an investigation had found that the horsemeat had originated in Romania, although there were links with French, Dutch and Cypriot firms and a factory in Luxembourg.

The British unit of frozen foods group Findus began a recall this week of its beef lasagne from retailers on advice from its French supplier, Comigel, over concerns that some packs contained high levels of horsemeat.

Findus France said on Saturday that it too had recalled lasagne and two other products after discovering that they included horsemeat from Romania rather than beef from France as it had thought.

Hamon said an EU-wide alert had been sent out and that it was not yet clear whether there had been an intentional fraud or the meat had been sold as beef by accident.

"I can assure you that, whether it's a question of negligence or direct responsibility, there will be sanctions," Hamon said on iTele television.

Findus France director general Matthieu Lambeaux said in a statement the company would file a legal complaint on Monday.

"We thought we had certified French beef in our products. But in reality, we were supplied with Romanian horsemeat. We have been deceived," Lambeaux said.

Hamon said a Luxembourg factory had been supplied by the French firm Poujol, which had bought the meat frozen from a Cypriot trader, who in turn sub-contracted the order to a Dutch trader supplied by a Romanian abattoir.

However, Findus's supplier Comigel, a frozen foods producer based in Metz in eastern France, told a local newspaper that it had bought the meat from another French company, which had been supplied from a Romanian abattoir.

Butcheries specialised in horsemeat used to be a common sight in French cities, but have closed one by one in recent decades as the meat has fallen out of favour with consumers.

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