- Associated Press - Thursday, February 14, 2013

PARIS (AP) - A French minister says the French meat wholesaler Spanghero is to blame for fraudulently labeling horsemeat as beef.

Benoit Hamon, the French economy minister, says Spanghero officials were fully aware that the cheaper horsemeat was mislabeled. The agriculture minister said the company has been immediately suspended.

A French investigation has found that the horsemeat scandal has spread to involve 13 countries and 28 companies.

Hamon said a total of 750 tons of horsemeat was involved.

He said Spanghero had received a shipment of horsemeat from a Dutch middleman and passed it off as beef upon reselling it to a frozen food processor.

He also said the processor, Comigel, should have realized the problem as soon as the meat was thawed if they had not already noticed the questionable paperwork.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

Six horse carcasses that tested positive for an equine painkiller may have entered the human food chain in France, Britain’s food regulator announced Thursday _ and the agency’s chief said horsemeat tainted with the medicine may have been sold to consumers “for some time.”

The Food Standards Agency said eight out of 206 horses it checked had tested positive for phenylbutazone, commonly known as bute. It said of those eight, six _ all slaughtered by a firm in southwest England _ were sent to France and “may have entered the food chain.”

The agency said it was working with French officials to trace the meat.

Britain’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies, insisted that horsemeat containing the drug _ which is banned for human use in countries including Britain and the U.S. _ “presents a very low risk to human health.”

Davies said the drug was once prescribed to patients suffering from severe arthritis, and while it sometimes produced serious side effects including the blood disorder aplastic anemia, it was “extremely unlikely” anyone eating horsemeat would experience them.

“If you ate 100-percent horse burgers of 250 grams (8.8 ounces), you would have to eat, in one day, more than 500 or 600 to get to a human dose,” she said. “It would really be difficult to get up to a human dose.”

Peter Lees, emeritus professor of veterinary pharmacology at the Royal Veterinary College, agreed there was little risk of harm from eating horsemeat.

He said that even the worst-case scenario involved a tiny amount of bute in a small percentage of meat samples.

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