Ministers Meet over Horse Meat Mislabelling

EU - European agriculture ministers are meeting in Brussels this week to decide a coordinated policy on the issue of horse meat in processed beef products and mislabelling of products.
calendar icon 26 February 2013
clock icon 4 minute read

The move comes as the European Commission has ordered the testing of more than 2,250 beef products across Europe for contamination with horse meat.

The meeting also follows the latest revelation from frozen food company Birds Eye at the end of last week that horsemeat had been found in some of their processed beef ready meals.

Birds Eye said that their Beef Burgers, Beef Pies and Traditional Beef Dinners do not contain horse DNA.

However, the company added: "Regrettably, one product sold in Belgium, Chilli Con Carne, produced by Frigilunch N.V., has tested positive for horse DNA. In accordance with our high standards, we are immediately withdrawing this product from sale in Belgium.

"As a precautionary measure in the UK and Ireland we will withdraw all other beef products produced by the same supplier, namely Traditional Spaghetti Bolognese 340g, Shepherd's Pie 400g and Beef Lasagne 400g.

"Since the first discovery of horse meat in some beef products produced by a number of manufactures and retailers, we have been DNA testing all our own beef products.

"Regrettably, we have found one product, Chilli Con Carne, produced for us by Frigilunch N.V., sold in Belgium has tested positive for horse DNA at two per cent.

"Whilst this is not a food safety issue, it is clearly unacceptable. In accordance with our high standards, we are immediately withdrawing this product from sale in Belgium.

"As a precautionary measure, we will withdraw all other beef products from this supplier. The withdrawn products will not be replaced on supermarket shelves until we have finished our investigations and have complete confidence in this supplier."

Last week, the UK's Food Standards Agency completed testing the second set of products.

The FSA said: "The overwhelming majority, 3599 (over 99 per cent), of tests contained no horse DNA at or above the level of one per cent. "A total of 35 results, representing 13 products, contained horse DNA at or above the one per cent threshold. These products have already been named and withdrawn from sale.

"Overall, there have been 3634 results received from a range of manufacturers, retailers, caterers and wholesalers throughout the UK. This includes the 1133 new results published today that show six further products containing horse DNA, since the first set of industry results was announced last week.

"No tests to date on samples containing horse DNA have found the veterinary medicine phenylbutazone (bute).

"There have been and continue to be instances where food businesses have withdrawn products due to trace contamination levels, or on a precautionary basis; for example, where they have been produced by manufacturers that have supplied other products found to be contaminated with horse DNA.

"The FSA's main focus at this point is on gross contamination of beef products with the substitution of horse meat, where there is more than one per cent horse DNA detected in a product. The Agency believes that such levels of horse DNA indicate either gross negligence or deliberate substitution of one meat for another.

"The major trade organisations, representing the businesses carrying out the testing, have provided estimates of the percentage of tests completed to date. Retailers inform us that they have completed approximately 90 per cent of tests; manufacturers, caterers and wholesalers indicate they have completed around 80 per cent of their tests. This includes all the major suppliers to schools, hospitals and other public institutions."

Following the Food Standards Agency's second publication of industry test results of beef products for the presence of horse DNA, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: "It's unacceptable for any products to be marked as beef, when they also contain horsemeat. Thankfully these results show that the vast majority of products on our shelves match what's on the label.

"Food businesses from throughout the industry, including retailers, manufacturers, caterers and other wholesalers, are putting enormous effort into getting this testing completed as quickly as possible. It's an important first step from them in rebuilding the certainty and trust that consumers deserve.

"There is more work to be done to find out exactly how this happened and how to make the system much stronger. I will continue to insist on concrete, coordinated action right across Europe when I meet European agriculture ministers on Monday."

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