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Food safety watchdog’s horse meat tests 99% negative

By Mike Stones , 18-Feb-2013
Last updated on 18-Feb-2013 at 14:58 GMT

Nearly 99% of 2,501 tests on beef products ordered by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to reveal the presence of horse DNA have proved negative, the agency confirmed last Friday (February 15).

Positive results were returned for 29 samples, which contained undeclared horse meat at or above the level of 1%. The positive results relate to products that have already been reported to the authorities.

About 950 tests remain to be completed.

The FSA ordered the food industry to tests composite beef products − such as burgers, lasagnes and meatballs – after Findus frozen beef lasagne was revealed to contain 100% horse meat .

Authenticity tests were carried out on raw materials and final products from a range of manufacturers, catering suppliers, wholesalers, producers and retailers throughout the UK.

Safety concerns

Safety concerns have focused on the presence of the veterinary drug phenylbutazone or bute, which was termed a “known carcinogen” by shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh.

While the FSA admitted this week that six carcasses containing bute , from horses slaughtered in the UK, may have entered the food chain in France, this later proved unfounded.

So far, no food product found to contain horse DNA was contaminated with bute.

FSA chief executive, Catherine Brown, said: “It’s encouraging that we have received so many results from industry so quickly, which reaffirms their commitment to working with us to address the serious issue of consumer confidence in the UK food supply.

“More important for consumers, it shows that, in the vast majority of cases, the results so far are showing no horse DNA is present in the foods tested. But this is still not the full picture; we have seen several other positive results announced in the last two hours. We expect industry to continue to supply us with regular updates on their testing regime.”

Deliberate fraud

Brown added the FSA had ordered DNA tests to a tolerance of 1% for two reasons. First, above 1% “any contamination would be due to either gross incompetence or deliberate fraud; it’s not going to be accidental”.

Second, some laboratories can test only to an accuracy of 1%.

But Brown said that did not mean horse DNA at levels below 1% was acceptable. “In terms of faith groups, there remains a significant issue about trace levels of other species below 1%. So we have a separate programme of work underway with DEFRA [Department for Environment, Food,and Rural Affairs] to look at the issues around that, too.”

The FSA pledged to publish more results next Friday (February 22).

Meanwhile, the FSA also confirmed it had joined police raids of three premises in England −  one was in Hull and two in Tottenham, north London this morning. The police removed computers, documentary evidence and meat samples, which have been sent for testing.

The agency said it had shared evidence with the European police organisation Europol.

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