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Some Findus UK beef lasagnes have been found to contain up to 100% horsemeat

Horsemeat scandal: Comigel is huge exporter of French frozen meals: Metz-based firm makes tens of thousands of tonnes of meals for around 15 countries, but has so far made no public statementù

findus

The French food company at the centre of the horsemeat scandal specialises in pre-prepared frozen dishes, a third of which are exported. Comigel, based in the north-eastern town of Metz, supplies tens of thousands of tonnes of frozen meals to around 15 countries.

It was the manufacturer of the Findus frozen lasagnes, some of which contained up to 100% horsemeat.

Comigel had alerted British food distributors about its doubts over the "conformity of specifications" on certain products, namely lasagnes and spaghetti dishes made supposedly with beef and sold by Tesco, Aldi and other UK supermarkets. The warning suggested the beef was in fact horsemeat. Findus said on Friday it was alerted by Comigel last Saturday.

Erick Lehagre, director of Comigel, did not make any statements on Friday and was said to be unavailable for comment. Comigel risks being subject to large fines as a result of the scandal, even if it is discovered that the alleged fraud has been committed by its suppliers.

The Comigel group makes its ready-made frozen food at its Tavola factory in Capellen, Luxembourg. This site employs 200 people who produce at least 16,000 tonnes of frozen dishes in aluminium trays. These dishes are then sold to food chains like Tesco and in France Cora and Auchan. These groups then sell the products under different brand names.

One quarter of the factory's output goes to restaurants in schools, colleges, hospitals, retirement homes, company canteens and public service restaurants.

On Friday morning, Comigel's website was taken down and a note saying it was under construction placed over pictures of some of the company's food products, among them a lasagne.

In 2010, Comigel was said to employ 200 people. In 2009, it reported an annual turnover of €60m(£51m), a third of which was in exports mainly to the Benelux countries, Germany, Scandinavia and eastern European countries. Its offices are in Metz but its production site run by its 100%-owned subsidiary Tavola, is in neighbouring Luxembourg.

Its sister company, Atlantique Alimentaire, which also makes and distributes frozen food, based in La Rochelle, employs 240 people and had a €41m turnover in 2009. In a Lorraine regional business directory Comigel describes itself as a "specialist in prepared frozen products for brand distribution".

"Since 1976 our sales teams have been active in developing, offering and proposing a wide range of frozen food products adapted to today's various consumer trends.

"Over the years we have specialised in the fabrication and commercialisation of prepared frozen products for brand distribution. Our savoir-faire is recognised by all of our partners and has allowed us to position ourselves as a major and unbeatable player in our markets."

Horsemeat is sold legally in France; there are around 15 "chevalines" – butchers selling horsemeat – in Paris and another in Lyon. Fans argue it is more tender, lower in fat and higher in protein than beef.

The custom of eating horses spread across Europe in the 19th century because of their prevalence as a mode of transport and following several famines.

Source: www.guardian.co.uk

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