It seems clear that the horsemeat found illegally in frozen meals came from Romania. Romania insists that the deception occurred elsewhere, but fears serious damage to its image.
The scandal over ready-to-cook frozen meals in Western Europe has apparently reached all the way to Romanian slaughterhouses. The packaging said the meals included 100 percent beef, but the meat contained up to 100 percent horsemeat. According to French authorities, the horsemeat which was delivered by the French company Spanghero to several European countries came from Romania via traders in Cyprus and the Netherlands.
There's no market for horsemeat in Romania, where horses are seen as either working animals or pets. All the same, the country exports horsemeat worth between 10 and 12 million euros to the rest of the European Union every year, making it one of the largest European exporters of the product. The agriculture ministry in Bucharest says that such exports rose 9 percent last year.
The main importers are Italy, Bulgaria and the Netherlands.
French company under suspicion
The scandal has echoed around the Romanian political world, as well as in the meat industry. Romanian President Traian Basescu issued a statement saying that Romania would suffer serious damage to its national image if it should be shown that labels had been falsified.
But, after carrying out its own investigations in several plants in the northeast and central regions of the country, the government is denying that any deception occurred in Romania. Spokespeople for the slaughterhouses insist that they have evidence to show that the horsemeat was correctly labeled as such.
And the French newspaper "Le Parisien" backs them up: it reported that it had seen three invoices with the Romanian authorities, in which the horsemeat was correctly declared. This suggests it is Spanghero and the Cypriot dealer who should be under suspicion.
Spanghero rejected the report. The invoices have now been handed to the French fraud squad for examination.
Romanian slaughterhouses fear for reputation
The Romanian prime minister, Victor Ponta, has said he won't accept Romania always ending up as the fall-guy. He told the BBC, "Up to now, according to all the checks that the Romanian and European authorities - and even you in the media - have conducted here in Romania, it's very clear that there are plants and companies in Romania exporting horsemeat - but everything was according to the standards, and the source and the kind of meat was very clearly being put as horsemeat."
Speaking in Brussels after a meeting of the seven countries affected by the scandal, Romanian Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin also insisted that investigations would show that his country is being unjustly suspected of wrongdoing.
But the Romanian slaughterhouse operators are still worried. They fear that customers will be reluctant to buy meat from Romania in the future.