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A European horsemeat scam judged in France

A major Belgian horse trader will be tried from Tuesday in Marseille, in the south of France, for organized fraud and deception endangering human health. He is suspected of having introduced animals unfit for consumption into the food chain.

According to the prosecution, Jean-Marc Decker, a 58-year-old merchant based in Bastogne (eastern Belgium), is the “pivot of a vast international horse traffic“. Seventeen other defendants, horse dealers, touts, veterinarians, including three Belgians and two Dutch, are judged alongside him as well as a wholesale company of horse meat from Gard (south of France). The investigation opened in France in 2013 and then carried out jointly with Belgian investigators, had started in the slaughterhouse of Alès (south) on the basis of a report from the National Brigade for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Investigations. The veterinary services had uncovered a series of frauds based on the falsification of identification books and health documents accompanying the animals as well as breaches of European regulations concerning horses imported from countries of the Union.

The traceability of the past and the drug treatments of certain animals was largely blurred, making it impossible to verify their eligibility for slaughter intended for butchers. Among the defendants are many suppliers of Jean-Marc Decker, some of whom admitted having sold animals to him “non-compliant“. Installed in Ain (central-eastern France), a horse dealer explained that a horse without the documents in order is negotiated 100 to 300 euros “while a compliant one is at 600 or 800 euros“.

False promises

Some touts working for Jean-Marc Decker or his suppliers acquired horses from private individuals, promising them “a peaceful retreat” and of “good carefor their animal but the owners realized that it had ended up in the slaughterhouse. In the Ardennes (eastern France), one of these touts, now 80 years old, even visited a pasture with shelter and stables for the winter in order to convince sellers. Jean-Marc Decker, whose activity covered many European countries, between the purchase and the slaughter of horses, defended himself from any fraud, taking refuge behind the veterinary checks carried out at different stages.

A Belgian veterinarian is on trial for having backdated drug treatment leaflets and handed over 154 blank documents to one of Jean-Marc Decker’s main French suppliers. The investigation also revealedpositive acts of complicity» Veterinary services at the Alès slaughterhouse. His official veterinarian and an auxiliary will be tried for turning a blind eye to the anomalies. At the end of the chain, the wholesale company Equi’d Sud d’Alès and its manager Georges Gonzales are accused of “indifference to the health imperatives governing his profession“. This company, which supplied 80 retailers in the South of France, falsely led to the belief that the meat was of French origin. This first trial, which is due to last until June 24, will be followed by two others already scheduled for January and September 2023.

A second part, with the Narbonne slaughterhouse (south of France) as its epicenter, targets similar acts of deception of consumers and retail traders, on the substantial qualities of the meat introduced on the food market. Some 190 horses from the farm-laboratory of the pharmaceutical group Sanofi Pasteur in Ardèche (south of France) were thus slaughtered. These animals culled after being exploited for the manufacture of serums were “permanently removed from slaughter for human consumption“. This indication on the treatment notebooks was replaced by a blank sheet.

In a final case, the investigation of which was closed on March 1, 2022, the fraudulently slaughtered horses were acquired from private individuals by the defendants presenting themselves as managers of an educational farm or a center for disabled children in order to go hiking or equine therapy. The investigation identified more than 150 horse owners who were victims of this scam, of which around fifty have filed civil suits.

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