Spanghero innocent in horsemeat scam: CEO

The CEO of Spanghero, the French firm at the centre of the horsemeat scandal in France came out fighting on Friday, denying his company was at fault. He insisted “the scam was carried out elsewhere”.

Spanghero innocent in horsemeat scam: CEO
A file photo of Spanghero's HQ in Castelnaudary, southeastern France. The company has been accused of fraud by the government. Photo Remy Gabalda/AFP

A day after Spanghero had its license revoked by the French authorities after a government investigation found it “knowingly sold horsemeat under the label of beef” the firm’s chief denied any responsibility and blamed the government for putting the future of the company at risk.

Speaking for the first time since his firm was implicated in the Europe-wide scandal, which began when traces of horsemeat were found in Findus lasagnes in the UK, CEO Barthélémy Aguerre told Europe1 radio the company “was a victim”.

“When the meat arrived to us it already had the label of beef on it. We analysed the contents ourselves and found that there was a mixture of horsemeat and beef. This proves that it was not Spanghero who were responsible for the scam. The fraud took place elsewhere.”

This was not the view, however, of Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon, who accused Spanghero on Thursday of “economic fraud”.

Hamon said the "fraud" had gone on for months and that 550 tonnes of the falsely labelled meat were sent to French firm Comigel, which makes frozen food at its Tavola factory in Luxembourg. Hamon said Spanghero would be prosecuted.

He also told reporters that Comigel, which supplied millions of ready-to-eat meals to supermarkets across Europe which have now been removed from their shelves, had been deceived by Spanghero.

But Spanghero’s chief Aguerre accused the government of acting prematurely and putting his firm and its 360 workers at risk. After the government suspended its licence to operate Spanghero's workforce have effectively been made unemployed.

“I will fight. The government acted too quickly and now the business is in big trouble. I don’t know if we can recover," he said.

“I am going to prove my innocence, the innocence of the firm and of all the workers."

But the founder of the company Laurent Spanghero believes Aguerre is guilty of “bringing shame” on the firm.

“There are not fifty people responsible in this case. There is only one – the boss,” Spanghero said. “My first thought goes to the 360 employees of the company and secondly to the children and grand-children who bear our name. We are now in disgrace.”

Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll said Spanghero's licence was being suspended while experts carried out tests on products at its plant in the southwestern town of Castelnaudary.

Le Foll said veterinarians would from Friday inspect Spanghero's premises and that the government would decide on whether or not to definitively withdraw the licence once the results of those inspections came in next week.

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Spas, pregnancy and contraceptives: What Austrian healthcare covers – and what it does not

Austria's healthcare system is strong by international standards and has a few surprises in store. Here's what you need to know.

Spas, pregnancy and contraceptives: What Austrian healthcare covers - and what it does not
Unfortunately, a "Kur" or "rehabilitation" prescribed by your doctor will not be as relaxing as a spa break, even if you get to go to one.(Photo by PATRIK STOLLARZ / AFP)

Austria is blessed with a great health care system.

Life expectancy in Austria is one of the highest in the OECD countries, despite high levels of smoking and alcohol consumption.

Austria’s health care system was ranked 9th place by the World Health Organization (WHO) in their  international ranking. Health expenditure in Austria represented 10.4 percent as a share of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019.

How does the Austrian healthcare system work?

Health cover is compulsory in Austria for residents as well as those travelling in from other EU countries.

Enrolment in the public health care system is generally automatic and is linked to employment, however insurance is also guaranteed to co-insured persons, such as spouses and dependents, as well as pensioners, students, disabled people, and those receiving unemployment benefits.

The cost is linked to income rather than health needs. 

READ MORE: What is Austria’s e-card? Everything you need to know

But there are also some surprising quirks to the Austrian healthcare system, particularly for people from abroad. 

Some surprising things are covered – while some others are not. 

You can be prescribed a break in a spa – but it will be hard work

It is possible to be prescribed a “Kur” which often takes place in an Austrian spa. This differs from a “rehabilitation” which  must be prescribed by a doctor, typically following injury or serious illness.

The Kur is is paid for by the pension insurance company (PV), though it must be at the recommendation of a doctor, and is aimed at keeping people in work. 

This is not a typical chilled out spa break, people are at pains to point out, and may involve an exhausting regime of physio and massage.

Stays normally last about 22 days, but can be even longer, and there is also the possibility to go abroad for treatment.

Contraception is not covered…

Contraception is not covered under the public health insurance scheme.

Whatever your contraception method, whether it is condoms, the pill or the coil, expect to pay for it yourself.

The only exception is if you need to be prescribed the pill for a medical condition, such as acne or endometriosis.

However, people in Austria report they often have to pay even when contraception is needed for medical reasons. 

Austria has been trying to boost birth rates for decades, which is probably why contraception is not covered – but pregnancy treatments are…

…but pregnancy is

Fortunately for anyone becoming a parent (or thinking about it), almost all of the standard costs relating to pregnancy and delivery are covered by statutory health insurance in Austria

This includes ultrasounds, blood work and visits to your midwife and gynecologist or obstetrician.

Hospital stays before and after delivery are also covered, although patients may in some case be required to pay a nominal fee per day. 

The Austrian healthcare system also provides generous leave packages for pregnant women, known as “Mutterschutz” payments.

Parental leave is also generous in Austria. You get paid in full for the eight weeks after childbirth, and up to 12 weeks in case of a C section or multiple birth. 

Painkillers are not covered – and they’re hard to find and expensive 

While many new arrivals won’t be surprised to find that standard non-prescription painkillers are not covered by health insurance, they might be surprised by the cost – and that’s if they find them at all. 

Painkillers such as Paracetamol and Ibuprofen are expensive in Austria, particularly when compared to the United States, United Kingdom or Australia.

They can only bought in a pharmacy, rather than a supermarket or a store such as Bipa or DM.

Consequently, some people are prescribed painkillers by the doctor to bring down the cost.

The store DM has wanted to offer over-the-counter drugs in Austria for years, and says it could sell them cheaper than in a pharmacy.

However, the constitutional court has rejected previous attempts to break the pharmacies’ monopoly on these drugs, Vienna AT newspaper reports. 

The court decided there was a “public interest” justification for why shops and supermarkets should not be allowed to sell painkillers, with pharmacies “subject to numerous public, professional and disciplinary obligations” to ensure public health. 

Controversial homeopathy treatments still occasionally covered

One aspect of Austrian healthcare which people find controversial is homeopathy. 

While in the UK homeopathic medicines can no longer be prescribed at the expense of the National Health Service (NHS), in Austria the costs for homeopathic remedies can be covered in exceptional cases – for example when all conventional medical treatment options have been exhausted and homeopathic therapy can improve the situation.

It is also included in some private health insurance packages.