Sanofi insisted it thought horses were being sent to "knackers yard"

Sanofi insisted it thought horses were being sent to "knacker's yard"

Police in France has uncovered an alleged trafficking ring for meat from hundreds of horses used for laboratory purposes that found their way into the human food chain.

Around 20 arrests have been made, including a computer expert and three vets.

Staff from French trader Equidaniel are suspected of participating in the illegal trade, as well as employees from an abattoir in Spain.

Equidaniel is thought to have acquired some of the horses from French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi Pasteur. The horses are said to have been used in scientific programmes between 2010 and 2012.

Veterinary services have reportedly seized horsemeat at the premises of a firm based at abattoirs in Narbonne.

A spokesperson for Sanofi Pasteur told just-food the company had been the victim of fraud. "We sold these horses on the understanding that they would be going straight to the knacker's [yard]."

Sanofi injects human vaccines into horses in order to produce antibodies used in drugs to combat rabies and tetanus, the spokesperson explained.

He claimed that, as edible horse meat is from animals that have been vaccinated, there were no health concerns at stake. "All we can say is that when the horses leave our keeping they are in excellent shape."

In a further statement, Sanofi said it was co-operating fully with investigators.

Speaking on French radio station RTL this morning, French Consumer Affairs Minister Benoît Hamon confirmed the investigation focused on horsemeat unfit for human consumption.

"These are horses which should have ended up at the knackers but whose meat has potentially entered butcher's shops," he said.