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CRIME

Trial begins in France over European horsemeat scandal

Eighteen people went on trial in France on Tuesday accused of running a Europe-wide giant horsemeat trading network involving produce not cleared for human consumption.

Trial begins in France over European horsemeat scandal
Illustration photo by Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

Mostly shunned by consumers in the United States and Britain, horsemeat — typically cheaper than beef — has long been part of culinary habits across European countries, including France, but its production and distribution are strictly regulated.

The case coming to trial in the southern port city of Marseille is the biggest horsemeat scandal since 2013, when millions of ready meals were withdrawn from stores across Europe after they were found to contain horsemeat instead of only beef as indicated on the label.

Standing trial are French, Belgian and Dutch nationals charged with violating EU sanitary rules governing the horsemeat trade, and with forging official documents between 2010 and 2015.

They are also accused of duping the owners of ageing horses into believing that their beloved animals would live out their days in the countryside when in reality they were taken straight to the slaughterhouse.

The specific charges in the trial, which is set to last for three weeks, are fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, and misleading consumers and endangering their health.

The members of the group, which includes licenced horse meat traders and veterinary surgeons, are believed to have violated a number of EU rules about the import of horses, including by forging certificates of origin.

The main suspect is 58-year-old Belgian Jean-Marc Decker, who prosecutors say supplied the network with horses whose meat was unfit for consumption.

In addition to the accused individuals, mostly in the 50s or 60s, a horsemeat wholesale company based in southern France is also in the dock for distributing the meat, falsely claiming that it was French.

The company, according to prosecutors, “was indifferent to the health imperatives governing the sector”.

Court proceedings were to start with the testimony of the top veterinary official at the municipal abattoir in Ales, southern France, where the investigation started in 2013.

Former horse owner Aline Oudin, due to testify Wednesday, told AFP she had handed her horse over to one of the defendants in 2013 in exchange for a promise of a “happy retirement” for the animal. Two weeks later she found out that the horse had been slaughtered and its meat sold.

“They tricked owners, they tricked consumers, they tricked everybody,” she said.

Plaintiffs also include France’s veterinary association, the cattle and meatpacking association ANBV and the Ales municipality.

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FOOD & DRINK

Moules-frites in danger: Spider crabs wreak havoc on French mussel population

Warming sea temperatures are bringing more spider crabs to France's coastline, which could spell disaster for the French mussel industry.

Moules-frites in danger: Spider crabs wreak havoc on French mussel population

You may not be able to see it from land, but underwater, an invasive species of spider crabs are ravaging the mussel population on the Western coast of France.

In Normandy and Brittany, mussel farmers are struggling to control the expanding spider crab population – which normally migrates onward, but has stayed put on France’s coasts.

Experts believe the crabs, who feast on mussels and all manner of shellfish, have not continued in their migration due to warming water temperatures, as a result of the climate crisis.

This has left French mussel farmers worried that if the crab population is not controlled, then mussel production could end in the region within a decade. 

Some mussel farmers, like David Dubosco, have lost a significant amount of mussels in just the last year. Dubosco told TF1 that in 2022 he lost at least 150 tonnes.

(You can listen to The Local France team discuss the future of moules-frites in our new podcast episode below. Just press play or download it here for later.)

Dubosco is not alone in his experience. According to reporting by TF1, production across the board will be lower this year 2022, which means that the number of mussels imported from other countries will likely increase, a decision that will not be popular with French consumers who prefer homegrown mussels to make the classic moules-frites.

The proliferation of the spider crabs has been an ongoing problem for the last six years, but due to warming waters, more and more have stayed in French waters.

The crabs do not have many predators besides humans – as they are edible, but the supply has begun to outweigh demand. Additionally, the crabs have grown so big that traditional cages used to trap them are no longer effective, according to Actu France.

On September 21st, over 80 mussel producers staged a demonstration in front of the Manche préfecture in Saint-Lô to demand further measures against this invasive species.

“We have seen the proliferation of spider crabs and our alerts have gone unheeded by the administrative authorities. The species comes to feed on our stocks,” said Vincent Godefroy, head of the “Group of mussel farmers on bouchot” (Groupement des mytiliculteurs sur bouchot) to Actu France. 

In response, the Manche prefecture met with six representatives from the group, eventually publishing a a statement saying it would allow “for the experimentation of new measures” to combat the crabs, which would include dragging them out to sea.

Additionally, government actors and mussel farmers will work together this autumn to conduct a study on the economic value of spider crabs with goals of building up a new industry. The assessment will be made in November.

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