The authenticity of all processed meat products was called into question yesterday (February 7), after the Food Standards Agency (FSA) ordered all food businesses to test all their beef products, in response to news that some Findus beef lasagne contained up to 100% horse meat.
The food safety watchdog said processors and retailers should test products − such as beef burgers, meat balls and lasagne − and send the results to the FSA, in order to assess how widespread horse meat contamination has become. The FSA has demanded to receive the results by February 15.
In addition to the authenticity of meat products, investigations will focus on the presence of the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, or bute. Banned from the food chain, bute can cause “rare cases of a serious blood disorder, aplastic anaemia”, said the FSA. “Because it is not possible to say what triggers the anaemia, it is not possible to identify a safe level of residue in meat.”
The FSA added in a statement “even if someone eats contaminated meat, the risk of damage to their health is very low”.
The boss of the FSA described the latest revelations of horse meat contamination as “appalling". Catherine Brown told BBC Radio’s The Today programme this morning: “This is an appalling situation. It is highly likely that criminal and fraudulent activity is involved.
“There are systems in place to ensure that what a product is said to contain on the label is in the box. But that has totally broken down in these two cases.”
Brown was referring both to Findus’s beef lasagne and Tesco’s value burgers found to contain up to 29% horse meat.
Findus recalled its beef lasagne products after its French supplier, Comigel, questioned the type of meat used in the product.
FSA advice to consumers who bought Findus beef lasagne products is not to eat them and to return them to the shop they bought them from.
‘Slow to act’
Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, questioned why the government had proved slow to act on uncovering the extent of the contamination of beef products.
She also demanded a police investigation. “Irish government ministers have called in the police this week. Why have the authorities in the UK not done the same?”
Creagh told the Today programme: “It's clear now that there is widespread criminal activity.”
She said: “It is vital that people have confidence that food that they buy is properly labelled, legal and safe for them to eat.”
Environment secretary Owen Paterson said the latest revelations were “completely unacceptable”.
He said: “The responsibility for the safety and authenticity of food lies with those who produce it, and who sell or provide it to the final consumer. I know that food producers, retailers and caterers are as concerned as we are at the course of recent events.”
A Findus spokesman said: “We understand this it is a very sensitive subject for consumers and we would like to reassure you we have reacted immediately. We do not believe this to be a food safety issue. We are confident that we have fully resolved this supply chain issue.”
'Done nothing wrong'
Earlier this week, the boss of Food Service −one of two Polish companies implicated in the supply of beef products containing horse DNA – told FoodManufacture.co.uk his company had done nothing wrong. His firm did not handle horse products, he said.
Last month the FSA admitted that five horses which tested positive for bute were exported to France for food last year.
It reported identifying eight cases of positive results for bute. “Where the meat had been exported to other countries, the relevant food safety authorities were informed,” it said. “The other three did not enter the food chain. None of the meat had been placed for sale on the UK market.”