July 17, 2017, 7:24 a.m.
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SPANISH AUTHORITIES HAVE arrested 65 people for their involvement in a horsemeat criminal operation, as part of an investigation which was sparked by Irish authorities four years ago.Yesterday, Europol announced that an organised crime group which traded horsemeat “unfit for human consumption” was dismantled in an operation by the Spanish Guardia Civil and in cooperation with seven other European countries.The crackdown is the latest in a European investigation, which began after the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said that beefburgers with traces of equine DNA were being supplied to supermarkets.The 2013 horsemeat scandal resulted in meat products being pulled from supermarket shelves across several countries, including Ireland and the UK. The scandal affected meat, frozen food and fast-food companies as consumers lost trust in meat brands.In the aftermath of the scandal, the European Commission carried out tests on 4,144 samples of beef for horse DNA across the EU, with 193 coming back positive.But all 50 of Ireland’s beef samples came back negative, which the then-Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said showed the strength of Irish food testing standards and Ireland’s “commitment to maintaining the world-wide reputation of Irish food”.The Europe-wide investigation eventually led the Guardia Civil to a Dutch businessman well known in the horsemeat world, and based in Calpe, Alicante.He led the activities of the organisation, and was involved in the Irish case of the beefburgers containing horse meat.The latest arrestsIn the summer of 2016, an operation was uncovered by Spanish authorities who noticed that horses in bad shape, too old or simply labelled as “not suitable for consumption” were being slaughtered in two different slaughterhouses.The animals came from Portugal and several places in northern Spain, their meat was processed in a specific facility. From there, they were sent to Belgium, which is one of the biggest horsemeat exporters in the European Union.The animals’ identification was forged by modifying microchips and documents, police learned after the crackdown in their operation.Several bank accounts and properties were blocked or seized, and five luxury cars seized, Europol said.In April, the EU introduced new proposals to cut down on ‘food fraud’ through improving food traceability, combatting fraud and restoring consumer trust in the food chain.