Châteaubriant: ten years later, the Castel meat company trial opened in Nantes

The trial of the company Castel Viandes de Châteaubriant (Loire-Atlantique) was opened this Thursday, May 4, 2022, before the court. correctional center in Nantes ©Archives Gwendal Le Priellec

It’s an important day for the company Châteaubriant meat castle (Loire Atlantique). His CEO Joseph “Jeff” Viol, your safety and environment coordinator and your production manager appear before the Criminal Court of Nantes. They must respond to facts dating from 2010 to 2013. The company must explain how the meat considered unfit for consumption was placed on the market, in particular infringing the rules imposed by the veterinary services.

Among the victims, the company’s customers, such as the Flunch Restoration Group where the food industry heavyweight Fleury Michon. But also Pierre Hinard, former quality manager at Castel Meats and fired by him over 10 years ago. The former employee, who is also leading a fight in the Labor Court against his former employer, is represented by the famous lawyer Eva Joly.

Pierre Hinard’s Struggle

central figure in this case, Pierre Hinard has been denouncing the practices of his former employer since 2008. He also claims whistleblower status, created after his dismissal, which Castel Carnes denies him. He didn’t hide it, it was to have access to all the documents that make up the investigative file that he joined as a civil part.

Unsurprisingly, Castel Meats’ lawyer therefore asked the court annul Pierre Hinard’s civil claim.

A policeman in charge

That didn’t stop the trial from starting, the first witness heard was the gendarmerie officer in charge in 2008 of the first hearings of Pierre Hinard. The gendarme who doesn’t “remember everything” mentions labeling problems, checks carried out at the company… The lawyer for the Castel Viandes company doesn’t spare him. He asks the policeman.

I can’t offend you, but do you have vet skills?

Me Benoît Chabert, defense attorney

No serious breaches according to Castel Viandes expert

If the first hearing did not allow us to know much more, the second, namely the presentation of a veterinary expert commissioned by the company Castel Viandes, will last several hours.

In detail, this expert, commissioned by the company Castel Viandes, claims to have examined around 1,500 documents in the process before stating thatno meat unfit for consumption was marketed by Castel Viandes. If labeling errors and traceability problems are evident, for the specialist, excess fat or even the use of certain dirty carcasses are not proven, not even “credible. »

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Salmonella and Ecoli

He also raises a question that whether he can shock consumers is in line with him and defense attorneys absolutely in line with the law. Most of the contaminated meat was destined for processing into ready meals, mainly by Marie and Fleury Michon. However, as was often reminded in the audience, according to the manufacturing process of these ready meals, the prepared meat is cooked and, above all, pasteurized. Salmonella and Ecoli present in the quantities in which they were found are then necessarily destroyed thanks to pasteurization.

No patient complaints

In short, if the meat were indeed contaminated, it could not endanger the health of consumers. Leaving aside the danger that is more complex to demonstrate in the cases of Auchan or System Uwho bought lots of fresh frozen meat… In this case, it is impossible to know if the steak will be eaten cooked and therefore the bacteria killed or not.

The truth is that in the Castel Viandes case, unlike the Buitoni or Ferrero cases, and although Pierre Hinard claims to be in contact with a family from Le Mans who fell ill following the consumption of steaks taken from the Drive d’Auchan, no victim who possibly became ill with this meat filed a complaint.

After a morning in which exchanges pleaded heavily in favor of the Castel Viandes company, the afternoon promises to be more delicate, starting with the presentation of the facts. The president of the court recalls the main stages of the Castel Viandes “case”. In November 2012, the story began with Pierre Hinard who denounced the practices of “repackaging, slaughtering dirty animals, excess fat, misleading labeling” in his former employer Castel Viandes, who fired him four years earlier. In February 2013, the gendarmes will carry out the first searches. they will lead to indictment of three company executives in 2014, before enactment the removal order in 2019then the trial in May 2022.

Hidden test results?

At the center of the afternoon’s debates, a woman, the former quality manager. A former employee of Ostrich France, she had just been hired at the material time by Castel Meats. When she was hired, she held the same position as Pierre Hinard before his dismissal. The one who “regrets not having had enough training” when controlling quality inside the slaughterhouse, she changed jobs after the investigation began. She is now the safety and environment coordinator at the company, while her former position is now held by a trained veterinarian.

Before the court, the former quality manager must answer many questions. And in particular why in 256 results showing an anomaly (some corresponding to the same sample) she spontaneously gave 6 only to investigators when requested.

Distraught, the former quality manager finds it difficult to explain herself at some points. Her lawyer asks her to think more about her answers, telling her “you have to focus there. »

When the defendant says she doesn’t remember everything, the president of the court is surprised.

We’re talking 1000 lots incriminated in 2012 anyway. But managing contaminated lots is the heart of your work, isn’t it?

the president of the court

With tears in her eyes, the former quality manager doesn’t know what else to say. However, according to her attorney, “My client accused herself of everything in this case, including that she was absolutely not responsible. »

” Why ? asks the president to the defendant.

It’s in my nature to accuse myself of all this.

The defendant

If the argument of the problem of labeling certain operators often appears in the procedure, Castel Viols’ representatives do not deny it. Test results have not been communicated to customers. For the three defendants, there was no obligation to transmit some of these results. However, the magistrates have doubts about the fact that there could have been a hiding some tests. “In custody you said that it’s always difficult to send bad results to clients,” the president commented to the former quality manager.

Fat levels not respected

If cutting professionals claim that there was nothing to worry about insofar as this meat was intended for processing into ready-to-eat dishes, the president notes: “even if there was pasteurization, I suppose the customer, in this case Marie, is not very happy to hear that he has been delivered a batch contaminated with salmonella. »

that as much as batches contaminated with salmonella were probably delivered to Auchan and Système U, and sold unprocessed, in the form of batches of frozen chopped steaks. Deliveries about which the quality manager told the police “I was overwhelmed, I didn’t have time to follow everything. »

Another problem is the presence in certain aponeurosis products of trimming residues that should not be present when the meat must meet the specifications of certain labels.. The fat content was also pointed out. In a sampling carried out at the time of the events, 59 products from 290, or 20% of production, exceeded the fat content they should have.

The company is therefore suspected of deception in the merchandise.

The hearing will resume on Friday, May 5

At the end of this first day of hearing, Pierre Hinard’s lawyer, Eva Joly, requested 80,000 euros in damages for moral damages suffered by her client since 2008. She also asked for a symbolic sentence in euros on behalf of FNAP CGT. In both cases, 1,000 euros are also requested per defendant for court costs.

In turn, the UFC that Choisir, also a civil party, requested compensation from 300 euros, denouncing an “anthology of crimes. On the other hand, Interbev’s lawyer for the interprofessional beef sector considered that there were doubts about the damage suffered by his client, in particular due to the alleged fraud on the label.

The trial, suspended at the end of the day, will resume Friday, May 5 at 9 am at the Criminal Court in Nantes.

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