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Horse meat controversy on agenda in Brussels

By Joe Whitworth, 12-Feb-2013

Related topics: Industry news

EU ministers will hold a meeting in Brussels tomorrow (13 February) to take “whatever steps may be necessary” to address the implications of horse meat in beef products.

Tonio Borg, EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, and ministers from EU countries will tackle the issue which has affected countries including the UK, France, Poland, Romania and Sweden.

The meeting was organised by the Ireland Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney, as the country holds presidency of the Council of the European Union for the first half of 2013.

The news comes as the deadline for UK firms to submit test results for their beef products to the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) looms this Friday.

Tesco find more horse meat

Tesco announced yesterday that it has found horse meat exceeding 60% in three tests on Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese, following the product’s withdrawal.

The supermarket said most of the positive results are at a trace level of less than 1% but three showed significant levels of horse DNA in the products from the same factory as the Findus lasagnes that were found to be contaminated with up to 100% horse meat last week.

Tim Smith, Tesco group technical director, said: “The level of contamination suggests that Comigel was not following the appropriate production process for our Tesco product and we will not take food from their facility again.”

The company also tested for bute and the results were negative.

Bute concern

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has begun a system of positive release for horses slaughtered in the UK, meaning horse carcasses will require a negative phenylbutazone (bute) test before they are allowed to enter the food chain.

The agency said it has developed testing which enables results in 48 hours. If the test is negative the horse will be released into the food chain, if positive it will be disposed of as animal-by-product.

The European Commission’s recall portal reported at least two instances last year, one in May and another in October, of horse meat being contaminated with bute from the UK.

One case found 8.2ppb residues of veterinary medicinal products in chilled horse meat distributed to the Netherlands and the UK and the other found 4.9ppb of residue for distribution to France.

Food fraud

Owen Paterson, Environment Secretary, said it was “completely unacceptable” that consumers had been deceived in apparent criminal activity in an “attempt to de-fraud the customer”.

“The prime responsibility for dealing with this lies with retailers and food producers who need to demonstrate that they have taken all necessary actions to ensure the integrity of the food chain in this country.

“I would also like to re-iterate that the FSA has assured me that it currently has no evidence to suggest that recalled products represent a food safety risk.”

The FSA has given food firms until Friday (15 February) to submit test results for the presence of significant levels of horse meat in all beef products, including burgers, meatballs and lasagne.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) said the contamination of beef products with horse meat raises issues of false labelling, food quality and traceability in the food chain.

“While there is no evidence to date of a food safety concern, EFSA stands ready to provide scientific assistance to the European Commission and/or Member States should this be required,” said the agency.

Findus lasagne

Last week, the FSA said it had tested 18 Findus Foods beef products and found 11 lasagnes contained between 60% and 100% horse meat.

The lasagne was produced in Luxembourg by French company Comigel, with the meat supplied by another French company, reported to be Spanghero, a Poujol subsidiary.

Benoit Hamon, French junior minister for consumer goods, said an initial investigation found the meat originated from two Romanian slaughterhouses, was sold to a Dutch food trader, a Cypriot supplier and to French firm, Poujol.

He added that Poujol supplied the meat to a Luxembourg factory owned by Comigel and the meat was sold under the Findus brand, which recalled ready meals in France and Sweden.