Feb. 11 - Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta denies the country's abattoirs are responsible for the spread of horse meat in beef products across Europe after French supermarkets become the latest retailers to withdraw items from shelves. Ivor Bennett reports.
TV AND WEB RESTRICTIONS~**NO ACCESS FRANCE/ROMANIA/UK/ABC (Aust)/TVNZ/.CO.UK SITES(Internet)** French supermarkets are the latest retailers to remove meat products from their shelves as the horsemeat scandal in Europe continues to widen. 6 major chains including Monoprix and Picard have withdrawn frozen beef products made by Findus. British supermarkets have already done the same after tests showed some contained no beef whatsoever. Authorities in the UK and France have been quick to play down any health risk... but have promised severe punishments for those found responsible. A warning echoed by the European Commission's Michel Barnier. (SOUNDBITE) (French) EUROPEAN COMMISSIONER FOR INTERNAL MARKET AND SERVICES MICHEL BARNIER SAYING: "It is a scandal. The justice taken must be ruthless with those who committed either mis-selling or fraud." Romania has now been revealed as the source of the meat. But Prime Minister Victor Ponta says the country's abattoirs haven't done anything wrong. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER VICTOR PONTA, SAYING: "We checked all the production facilities, and it's now very clear that no fraud has been committed by Romanian companies, or on the Romanian territory." Romania is just the start of a complex supply chain that stretches across Europe. French investigators found the meat was first sold to a Dutch trader. They were actually subcontracting for ANOTHER trader in Cyprus...who in turn sold the meat on to a French company called Spanghero. Parent company Poujol then supplied the meat to a factory in Luxembourg, owned by French firm Comigel. That's where the rogue products were processed for Findus...before finding their way onto the shelves of British supermarkets and possibly beyond. Comigel sells to 16 countries throughout Europe. Supermarket chain Morrisons has been discussing the issue with the UK government - it's CEO is Dalton Philips. (SOUNDBITE) (ENGLISH) CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF MORRISONS SUPERMARKET CHAIN, DALTON PHILIPS SAYING: "The solution isn't testing, the solution is simplifying the supply chain, the supply chain has become far too complex." All eyes are now on middle man Spanghero. It says it bought beef in good faith and may take action against the supplier. The French government is now investigating. But when it comes to consumer confidence, the damage may have already been done.