The International Herald Tribune
February 18, 2013
Battling to contain the mounting crisis over horse meat in products labeled as beef, Britain's food safety agency said Friday that tests had shown that fewer than 2% of the items sampled by the industry contained horse meat.
The results were published on another day of fast-moving developments in which horse meat was discovered in meals destined for schools, and three more premises were raided by British officials investigating the possibility of fraud.
Initially viewed as an issue of fraud and mislabeling, the crisis deepened Thursday when it emerged that a powerful equine painkiller, phenylbutazone, might have entered the food chain. Eight horses slaughtered for food in Britain tested positive for the drug. Six of those carcasses had already been exported to France for use in human food.
In Brussels on Friday, officials discussed E.U. plans to step up testing for traces of horse meat and phenylbutazone. The first round of tests, to be carried out by the end of March, will be reported to the bloc's executive, the European Commission, by April 15, said Ireland's minister for agriculture, food and the marine, Simon Coveney.
In England, the Lancashire County Council said it had withdrawn a beef product from 47 school kitchens after it provisionally tested positive for traces of horse DNA. The prepared cottage pie had come from an external supplier, the council said.
''We share the concerns people have about what is clearly a major problem in food supplies across the U.K. and Europe,'' said Susie Charles, a county councilor with responsibility for children and schools.
The British Food Standards Agency said Friday that two locations in London and one in Hull had been raided the day before. ''Computers and documentary evidence have been removed from these premises, as well as meat samples that have been taken for testing,'' it said. Arrests had already been made at a slaughterhouse in Yorkshire and a meat processing company in Wales.
In releasing the results of 2,501 tests conducted on beef products by the British food industry, the agency said 29 contained more than 1% horse meat. Because products like beef lasagna are sold in packs of different sizes, companies often conducted more than one test on the same line and, in all, seven different products were involved. All had already been recalled, the agency added.
Catherine Brown, chief executive of the FSA, said the results ''show that the overwhelming majority of beef products in this country do not contain horse.''
''These examples we have had are totally unacceptable,'' she said. ''But they are the exceptions.''
Only about 25% of beef products have been tested, however, and each day more are being withdrawn from supermarkets, restaurants and schools.
Whitbread, a company that owns restaurants, pubs and hotels, said Friday that hamburger and lasagna products had tested positive for horse DNA and had been withdrawn from sale.
''We are shocked and disappointed at this failure of the processed-meat supply chain,'' the company said by e-mail. The two products were not included in the FSA's list of seven tainted items.
Earlier, the Asda supermarket chain said that it had found horse meat in fresh, as opposed to frozen, produce labeled as beef, in this case a Bolognese sauce. The company said it was also pulling three other products off its shelves: another meat sauce for pasta, a beef broth soup and a chili con carne soup. It said that it was acting as a precaution and that it had not received positive test results for horse DNA in those products.
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