THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A meat processing plant and wholesaler suspected of mixing undeclared horse meat with beef was declared bankrupt Tuesday by one judge and the owner went to another court in a bid to halt a huge recall that has crippled his business.
Dutch authorities are recalling 50,000 tons of meat sold as beef across Europe because its exact source cannot be established and it may contain horse meat. The company at the center of the accusation says that authorities are overreacting and the recall is unnecessary.
A court in the eastern Dutch city of Den Bosch declared owner Willy Selten's plant bankrupt. He then went to a separate hearing to try to stop the recall. There, lawyer Frank Peters told a judge that the recall is "out of all proportion," and should be stopped.
Selten sat next to Peters in court but refused to answer reporters' questions after the hearing.
Government lawyer Jan Bult told judge Reinier van Zutphen that the recall was based on the fact that Selten's computer records did not allow investigators to trace all the meat he bought and sold and that Selten still could not clarify his records despite being asked twice by food safety authorities.
Herman Kieckens, a veterinarian with the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, denied the recall was overblown.
"The size of the recall is linked to the size of the irregularities in the book-keeping," Kieckens said. He told judges Selten's records showed he "had more meat going out than coming in," which could suggest the meat he sold was mixed with something else that was not declared.
Peters denied that.
"If they had done their homework properly, or fully, they would find that that is an inaccurate statement," he told reporters after the hearing. He said a study of all Selten's records and bank accounts gives a full picture of the source of all the meat he processed.
The court will issue its decision on Thursday.
Earlier, in Den Bosch, Selten's business was declared bankrupt following a request from a Dutch labor union on behalf of workers who had not been paid since February and can only claim unemployment benefits once their employer has been declared bankrupt.
It remains unclear what effect suspending the recall would have on Selten's business in the eastern city of Oss.
Peters said that in the long term, it would help the "rehabilitation of a man who in six weeks' time has seen 22 years of his life's work fall apart."