More tainted burgers, first arrests, in horse-meat scandal

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More contaminated burgers, slaughter horses testing positive for phenylbutazone, and the first arrests marked a busy day for authorities in Europe’s deepening horse-meat contamination crisis.

Tonio Borg.
Tonio Borg. © Herzi Pinki

Meanwhile, the European Union’s commissioner for health and consumer policy, Tonio Borg, urged member states to step up their investigations and circulate, without delay, any new information.

The full facts needed to be established as early as possible to reassure European consumers, he said.

“Horse meat, according to EU legislation, can be used for the production of minced meat and meat preparations. However, it has to be declared on the label.”

The scandal has mushroomed since mid-January, when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland released test results showing traces of horse meat in a significant number of tested products. One example, a Tesco burger, contained 29 per cent horse meat.

Since then, tens of millions of beef burgers and other processed beef products have been pulled from supermarket freezers across Europe as ongoing testing revealed more contamination. Some products have been found to be up to 100 per cent horse meat.

In latest developments:

  • Catering supplier Rangeland Foods in the Irish Republic informed the nation’s food safety watchdog that it had withdrawn burgers due to horse-meat contamination. The company said some of its burger products contained significant levels of horse meat. The firm conducted its own testing and confirmed that the meat content of some frozen burger products was 5 per cent to 30 per cent horse meat. Affected products had been distributed to British caterers and wholesalers. Britain’s Food Standards Agency advised all caterers and wholesalers with Rangeland products to contact their supplier. These burgers have been supplied to the catering and wholesale sectors and are therefore not on sale directly to consumers. Rangeland Foods has informed its customers of the withdrawal.
  • In Britain, the first arrests have been made in the scandal. They occurred at  the two meat plants raided by authorities on Tuesday. Dyfed-Powys Police made arrested two men, aged 64 and 42, at Farmbox Meats, near Aberystywth, in Wales. In a simultaneous operation, police arrested a man, 63, at the Peter Boddy Slaughterhouse in Todmorden, West Yorkshire. Operating approvals for both plants were suspended yesterday by the Food Standards Agency. Dyfed-Powys police confirmed the three people were arrested on suspicion of offences under the Fraud Act. They are being detained at Aberystwyth Police Station, where they will be interviewed jointly by police and Food Standards Agency staff in what is now being treated as a joint operation.
  • The Food Standards Agency has revealed the latest results of testing for phenylbutazone, a common anti-inflammatory used in horses which is banned from the human food chain. The agency said it tested 206 horse carcasses from January 30 to February 7. Of these, eight tested positive for the drug. Six were sent to France and may have entered the food chain. They were slaughtered by LJ Potter Partners at Stillman’s (Somerset) Ltd, in Taunton. The remaining two did not leave the slaughterhouse – High Peak Meat Exports Ltd, in Nantwich – and have now been disposed of in accordance with EU rules. The agency says it is gathering information on the six carcasses sent to France and will work with the French authorities to trace them. Since January 30, the agency has been testing all horse carcasses for bute.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Borg has called on a co-ordinated control plan across European Union state to control horse meat.

He told a meeting of officials from member nations in Brussels on Wednesday that the evidence to date did not suggest a health crisis.

“Horse meat, according to EU legislation, can be used for the production of minced meat and meat preparations. However, it has to be declared on the label – the animal species must be indicated on the label of minced meat or meat preparations intended for the final consumer.

“The issue before us today is therefore overwhelmingly one of fraudulent labelling rather than one of safety.”

Borg said food business operators had the primary responsibility for ensuring that the requirements of European food law were met.

“The member states are responsible for ensuring the proper enforcement of EU rules. Once a food product is put on the market in the EU, it is the responsibility of member states to check whether or not the product presents a risk and whether it complies with applicable legislation.”

He continued: “I can assure you that the Commission is very active at both political and technical levels in co-ordinating the ongoing investigations to identify the true picture as soon as possible; in-depth investigations are on-going in the Member States; we are working in close contact with the Member States’ competent food and consumer authorities; we are sharing information as soon as it becomes available.”

He said analyses were under way to identify the possible presence of residues of veterinary drugs, especially where unlabelled horse meat was found.

He said his agency had arranged for an extraordinary meeting of the Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal health for Friday.

“This meeting will provide a forum to ascertain the precise state-of-play of the on-going investigations in the member states, and enable discussions on a possible co-ordinated response.”

The commission was proposing a co-ordinated control plan for one month, involving monitoring and testing, to restore public confidence.

 

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