Police and officials raided a UK slaughter house and a meat firm yesterday (February 12), as EU agriculture ministers prepare to hold a crisis meeting on the scandal in Brussels later today.
The raids took place at the Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse, Todmordon, West Yorkshire and Farmbox Meats, Llandre, Aberystwyth.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said, in a statement, it was working with the police to “look into the circumstances through which meat products, purporting to be beef for kebabs and burgers, were sold when they were in fact horse”.
It added that the slaughter house was suspected of supplying horse carcasses to the meat plant.
Andrew Rhodes, FSA director of operations, said: “I have suspended both plants immediately, so they can no longer supply food on to the market, while our investigations continue.”
‘Blatant misleading of consumers’
Rhodes added: “I ordered an audit of all horse producing abattoirs in the UK after this issue first arose last month and was shocked to uncover what appears to be a blatant misleading of consumers.”
When asked to comment Peter Boddy told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “I don’t know you and I’m not going to speak to you.”
No one from Farmbox meats could be contacted.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson said: “This is absolutely shocking. It’s totally unacceptable if any business in the UK is defrauding the public by passing off horsemeat as beef. I expect the full force of the law to be brought down on anyone involved in this kind of activity.”
Alun Davies, Welsh government minister for agriculture, said: “Integrity and trust are essential in the food chain. I would be appalled if these allegations are proven.
Meanwhile, Waitrose has withdrawn its Essential British Frozen Beef Meatballs, after two batches were revealed to contain pork.
Tesco has also withdrawn its Everyday Value spaghetti Bolognese, after samples were found to contain 60% horsemeat.
‘Maintaining trust is paramount’
Speaking after a meeting last night between the food industry and Paterson, Joanne Denney-Finch, chief executive of grocery think-thank IGD, said: “The food and grocery industry is passionate about its shoppers and consumers – maintaining their trust is paramount.
“This is a world-class industry, undertaking the most extensive testing programme ever to resolve this specific issue, committed to be being open and transparent about discussing the findings.”
Later today, Irish agriculture minister Simon Coveney will chair a crisis meeting of EU farm ministers, as the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) offered to help track the source of the contamination.
EU ministers will meet in Brussels to identify ways of re-assuring consumers about the provenance and safety of meat products.
Paterson will join ministers from France, Luxembourg, Sweden and Romania in a bid to boost consumer confidence.
Earlier this week, Romania denied exporting horse meat labelled as beef.
A government spokesman said horse meat exports were not minced and clearly labelled as horse.
EFSA said while there was no evidence of a food safety concern, it was ready to assist the European Commission or Member States if necessary.
“The contamination of beef products with horse meat raises issues of false labelling, food quality and traceability in the EU food chain,” it said.