Monday, February 18, 2013

From French rugby heroes to ‘horsemeat zeros’

Walter Spanghero ... "This story is making me cry." Photo: LaDepeche
CAFÉ PACIFIC couldn't resist this. Until the horsemeat scandal, Spanghero, a French meat-processing company at the heart of the storm, was better-known as a family of sporting heroes. Publisher David Robie is a great fan of Les Bleus rugby player Walter Spanghero and arrived in Paris from Algeria to work at Agence France-Presse just after the career of this great player with massive ball-carrying hands was winding down in 1972.  And although Walter himself and his family has nothing to do with the Great Euro Horsemeat scandal, two of his rugby brothers, Claude and Laurent, had founded the Spanghero company at the heart of the controversy in 1970 (the Spangheros sold their majority interest in 2009).

Walter Spanghero playing for Les Bleus at Colombes
Stadium in 1972. Photo: Tata-Navarro
By Tony Todd of France24

Spanghero, the French company accused of knowingly supplying horsemeat labelled as beef, was a name synonymous with French rugby glory and commercial success – until last week.

The meat processing firm was founded in 1970 by Claude Spanghero, who played in the French national rugby side 22 times, and his brother Laurent, a leading member of the Narbonne XV.

From a family of six rugby-playing sons (and two daughters), the most famous Spanghero brother is Walter, capped 51 times and in the squad that won France’s first Five Nations Grand Slam in 1968.

And while Spanghero is no longer family-owned, Walter admitted Thursday that the entire family was suffering from the shame of being associated with the horsemeat scandal.

Spanghero drops the ball
But last Thursday, Spanghero’s licence to process meat was suspended as the French authorities accused the company of buying some 750 tonnes of horsemeat over an estimated six-month period from Romanian abattoirs through Dutch and Cypriot intermediaries.

Spanghero is accused of deliberately relabelling the product “Beef, origin EU” and making profits of hundreds of thousands of euros as they benefited from the cheaper price of horsemeat.

As the investigation continues, the company faces an uncertain future and its employees risk the agony of being made redundant from a company that was, until recently, a booming business.

‘Man of Steel’ weeps for family reputation
But the pain is being felt keenly by the family. Walter, one of France’s biggest sporting heroes who was dubbed "Man of Steel" by his sporting opponents, told Le Parisien during a telephone interview: “I’m sorry, but this story is making me cry.

“It has hit us all profoundly. When we are out on the streets, people look at us like we're criminals.”

The Spanghero clan will meet to discuss how they can save their family reputation, Le Parisien reported.

In 2009, the brothers sold their majority holding to the French food distribution giant Lur Berri, a principal condition of the sale being that the company should retain the name "Spanghero" - and keep the pride of a regional and French sporting family name alive.

And in 2011, after a period of restructuring and food safety improvements, the company was awarded the prestigious International Food Standard (IFS) certificate.

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