"The responsibility started upstream," chief executive Barthelemy Aguerre said Friday. "We didn't want to cheat anyone."
The Romanian companies and the Dutch trader also deny fraud. They say the meat was clearly labeled as horse when they handled it.
Dutch prosecutors said Friday that food safety experts raided a meat processing plant as part of a criminal investigation into horsemeat fraud. Prosecutors said the company in North Brabant province is suspected of fraud and money laundering. The company — which was not named, in line with Dutch privacy laws — is believed to have processed horsemeat from the Netherlands and Ireland, and mixed it with beef before selling the mixture as "pure" beef.
Separately, British authorities have raided five businesses — including an English slaughterhouse and a Welsh meat processor — on suspicion of passing off horsemeat as beef in burgers and kebabs. Three men have been arrested.
IS IT DANGEROUS?
Horsemeat itself is not harmful, and is eaten in several European countries, including France, Germany and Italy. In English-speaking countries including Britain and Ireland eating horses is widely considered taboo.
British officials have said that horses slaughtered in Britain after being treated with the equine painkiller phenylbutazone, or bute, may have made their way into the human food chain in France. Bute is banned for human use because in rare cases it causes severe side effects, but veterinary experts say there is little risk from consuming small amounts in horsemeat.
ARE AUTHORITES ON TOP OF THE PROBLEM?
Europol, the European Union police agency, is coordinating a continent-wide fraud investigation, and at an emergency meeting on Friday the EU approved a plan to conduct random DNA tests to check for horsemeat, and also to check for the presence of bute.
The crisis has raised questions about food controls in the 27-nation European Union — and highlighted how little consumers know about the complex trading operations that get food from producers to wholesalers to processers to stores and onto dinner tables.
Critics say the food supply chain is too complicated and lightly policed to be truly secure.
But the European Union's health commissioner, Tonio Borg, said French authorities' identification and suspension of Spanghero demonstrated "that traceability of food in the EU works."
"Consumers must be assured that everything will be done at the EU level to restore, as soon as possible, their confidence in the products on our markets," Borg said.
Associated Press writers Lori Hinnant in Paris, Don Melvin in Brussels, Mike Corder in Amsterdam and Karl Ritter in Stockholm contributed to this report.