British consumers should expect more cases of horse-meat contamination in processed beef products in coming weeks as more products are tested, Britain’s environment secretary Owen Paterson warns.
The industry, its reputation in tatters after ongoing revelations of horse meat in beef products, has undertaken to test processed meat products on British shelves over coming days to determine the extent of the problem.
Already, tens of millions of processed beef products, including burgers and beef lasagne, have been withdrawn from store shelves in Britain and Ireland because of contamination. Several products from Findus have also been pulled from Swedish supermarket shelves.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said of the growing scandal: “This is a very shocking story. It is completely unacceptable.”
Paterson, after meeting with retail and food producer representatives, who had agreed to test all products, said consumers should expect more contamination cases.
Earlier, he had said there was mounting evidence of a “serious international criminal conspiracy” in the worst cases of contamination. Some of the products have been found to be 100 per cent horse meat.
Initial results from across-the-board testing are expected to be with Britain’s Food Standards Agency by February 15.
Paterson said after the meeting with industry representatives and the food agency: “It looks as if there has been criminal substitution of beef with horse. There may well be more bad results coming through. That’s the point of doing this random analysis.”
He said there could be only two possible causes of the contamination, negligence or a criminal conspiracy.
“If there’s a criminal act we will work with the authorities wherever they are to ensure the appropriate measures are taken. It’s a straight fraud. If a product says it’s beef and you’re actually buying horse, that is a fraud. It is in the interests of everyone to get this resolved as rapidly as possible.
“This is a conspiracy against the public,” he said.
“Ultimate responsibility for the integrity of what is sold on their label has to lie with the retailer,” Paterson added.
He said retailers had to play the leading role over food integrity . “Ultimate responsibility for the integrity of what is sold on their label has to lie with the retailer,” he said.
The meeting, attended by representatives from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrisons and other groups, agreed that processed beef products would be tested every three months, and the results made public.
Police in London have met with the food agency, but no official police investigation has been launched. Police will do so only if there is evidence of criminality.
The first revelations of horse-meat contamination in beef burgers emerged in Ireland. Subsequent testing and tracing of ingredients has seen the scandal spread.
The contamination in Ireland was linked to a raw ingredient sourced from Poland, but testing to date by Polish authorities has failed to reveal evidence of contamination.
On Saturday, French consumer affairs minister Benoit Hamon, commenting on the Findus case, said inquiries had found that the horse meat had originated in Romania, although there were links with French, Dutch and Cypriot firms and a factory in Luxembourg.
Findus beef lasagnes, found to contain up to 100 per cent horse meat, were sourced from French firm Comigel, which blamed a raw ingredient it sourced from a Luxemburg factory.
Hamon reported that the Luxembourg factory had been supplied by another French firm, which had bought the meat frozen from a Cypriot trader, who in turn sub-contracted the order to a Dutch trader supplied by a Romanian abattoir.