UK meat processors and retailers have been ordered to conduct testing on all processed beef products after ready meals on sale in supermarkets were found to contain 100% horse meat.
The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) revealed yesterday that 11 out of 18 samples from Findus UK beef lasagnes had tested positive for between 60-100% horse meat. The contamination has been blamed on French supplier Comigel, who issued a recall on the lasagnes earlier this week, warning that some of the ingredients did not match the “product specification”.
The Agency said that it was now calling on retailers and processors to run authenticity testing on all beef products, with results due in by 15 February.
Catherine Brown, chief executive of the FSA, said: “Following our investigations into Findus products, the FSA is now requiring a more robust response from the food industry in order to demonstrate that the food it sells and serves is what it says it is on the label. We are demanding that food businesses conduct authenticity tests on all beef products, such as beef burgers, meatballs and lasagne, and provide the results to the FSA. The tests will be for the presence of significant levels of horse meat.”
The FSA has consistently denied that there is any food safety risk from horse meat contamination, but UK environment secretary Owen Paterson confirmed last night that processors and retailers had also been ordered to test beef products for traces of phenylbutazone, or ‘bute’, the anti-inflammatory veterinary drug which has been linked to several side effects in humans, including the serious blood disorder, aplastic anaemia.
Brown admitted to the BBC this morning that it was “highly likely” that there had been criminal and fraudulent activity in the food chain and Paterson confirmed that the FSA was working with police and authorities across Europe in its investigations.
“The Food Standards Agency, Defra, and the Department of Health are working closely with businesses and trade bodies along the whole food chain to root out any illegal activity and enforce food safety and authenticity regulations. Consumers can be confident that we will take whatever action we consider necessary if we discover evidence of criminality or negligence,” he said.
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) today slammed the recent incidents of “gross contamination” of meat products in the UK. However, the organisation added that it was important to distinguish between gross contamination, “which may involve illegal behaviour”, and incidents of trace level contamination.
“The BMPA is co-operating with the FSA to establish the facts, and to deal effectively with the issues,” the organisation said.
“The BMPA has urged its members to be vigilant, and to review their raw material and ingredients sourcing procedures in order to ensure that they meet their responsibilities to produce safe food and to describe and label their products accurately.”