Horsemeat Scandal Grows More Serious and More Bizarre

By ALAN COWELL

A billboard advertising meatballs is displayed in front of an IKEA store in Brno, Czech Republic.

LONDON — As European governments struggle in vain to draw a line under the scandal over horsemeat being sold as beef, the affair seems only to be widening, in sometimes bizarre ways.

Two German politicians, for instance, suggested over the weekend that one practical use for tainted products, such as tens of thousands of packs of lasagna pulled from supermarket shelves because they contained horsemeat, would be to distribute them to the poor.

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The idea began with Hartwig Fischer, a lawmaker from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, who told the mass-circulation Bild Zeitung newspaper on Saturday that products shouldn’t just be thrown away. To prove his point, he was photographed and filmed eating one of the offending lasagna meals and declaring that he could not tell the difference from any other lasagna.

The development minister, Dirk Niebel, supported him, saying that, with hundreds of millions of starving people around the world, and people at home struggling to put food on the table, “I think we cannot throw away good food here in Germany.”

The idea did not meet with universal approval. The social affairs minister, Ursula von der Leyen, called it “absurd.” Some said transferring food without knowing the origin or nature of its ingredients could be illegal. And Andrea Nahles, general secretary of the opposition Social Democrats, called the very notion “an insult to people with low incomes.”

As I explore in my latest Letter From Europe column, the sensitivities about eating food packaged as beef but containing horsemeat are particularly acute in Britain.

But other nations are lining up to demand greater regulation of what goes into their processed food. On Monday, inspectors in the Czech Republic said they found horsemeat in the signature meatballs made in Sweden for the IKEA furniture group – not just food, but also a national emblem. The meatballs were distributed in the Czech Republic, Britain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Belgium, IKEA said, reflecting the gravity of the crisis and the likelihood that it will spread much further.

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