Romanian abattoir Doly-Com denies mislabelling horsemeat as beef

Romanian facility says its products are always correctly labelled and any incorrect labelsmust have been added furtheralong the supply chain

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 15 February, 2013, 4:23am

Opening its doors to prove it has nothing to hide, a Romanian abattoir at the heart of a horsemeat scandal that has engulfed Europe insists it has never tried to pass horse off as beef.

Located in a snow-covered field in the remote northeastern village of Roma where residents still use horse-drawn carts, the unassuming Doly-Com abattoir has found itself in the eye of the storm after being identified as one of the sources of horsemeat posing as beef in frozen food sold in British supermarkets.

But Doly-Com director Iulian Cazacut has vehemently denied any responsibility, saying his company, which sells meat products to about a dozen European countries, strictly adheres to European Union standards and has always correctly labelled its products.

"We sold horsemeat… Someone along the way changed the labelling," Cazacut said at the Doly-Com facility. The abattoir did not even export minced meat, he said, so the answer to how the fraud could have happened lay with meat processing firms further down the industry's complex food supply chain.

We sold horsemeat… Someone along the way changed the labelling

As head of a company that had a turnover of €35 million (HK$365 million) last year and even plays music to relax the animals, Cazacut appeared incredulous at apparent efforts to "put the blame on Romania".

Given obvious visible differences between beef and horsemeat, it was unlikely the companies involved did not know they were handling horsemeat.

"How can it be that one major company that transforms thousands of tonnes of meat was not able to distinguish between horsemeat and beef?" he said.

Cazacut has received support from Romanian authorities. Prime Minister Victor Ponta this week dismissed any wrongdoing by the two Romanian abattoirs.

Founded 15 years ago, Doly-Com employed 300 staff who worked with state-of-the-art machines, Cazacut said. While a tour of the facility showed uniformed workers slicing up cow and pig carcasses, all orders for horsemeat have been suspended since the crisis broke, Cazacut said.

Horsemeat normally accounts for 5 per cent of Doly-Com's exports, or 80 tonnes a month, and is bought from horse owners in the local area. "They are horses that can no longer be used for farm work," he said.

Home to some 630,000 horses, Romania is a country where the animals are traditionally viewed as reliable working companions whose meat is rarely consumed by the population.

The country's alleged role in the horsemeat scandal has come as a blow to Romanians who love their equestrian friends.

"Romanians love their horses just as much as the Brits, if not more," the head of the private horse breeders' association Lipizzan, Tiberiu Hermenean, said.

The scandal first emerged in Ireland in January when some "beef" burgers were found by health authorities to consist of up to 30 per cent horse. Then the scandal spread to Britain last week when beef lasagne sold under the Findus brand was found to contain horsemeat. Those meals were produced by the French firm Comigel, which said the meat came from the French meat-processing company Spanghero, which was quick to blame two Romanian abattoirs as the source of the meat.

With the paper-trail leading through several countries, investigators have yet to work out where the labels were switched.