EU steps in as horse meat scandal rages in Europe

Mislabelled beef outrage shows complicated web of suppliers, abattoirs and distributors.

In Europe, the United Kingdom has been at the centre of outrage over the revelation products sold as beef contained horse meat.

Suppliers to retailers including Asda, owned by Wal-Mart, Tesco the discount grocer Aldi, are being tested in the UK for the presence of horse meat.

The European Union has agreed the immediate launch of tests for horse DNA in meat products, seeking to reassure nervous consumers that their food is safe and to end the horse meat scandal spreading across Europe.

The test programme will also look for the presence of phenylbutazone, or bute, an anti-inflammatory treatment for horses which is harmful to humans and by law supposed to be kept out of the food chain.

On Friday, Austria and Norway confirmed that ready-to-eat "beef" meals containing horse meat had been found, after falsely-labelled meat was found in Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland.

The scandal has left governments scrambling to figure out how and where the mislabelling happened in the sprawling chain of production spanning a maze of abattoirs and meat suppliers across Europe. In Britain, the food standards agency (FSA) said 29 out of 2,501 beef products it had tested so far had been found to contain more than 1 per cent horse meat. The FSA chief executive Catherine Brown said that was "still far from the full picture" and testing continued.

The French meat-processing firm Spanghero, is accused by the French government of knowingly selling 750 tonnes of horse meat mislabelled as beef over a period of six months, 500 tonnes of which were sent to French firm Comigel and used to make 4.5 million products sold to 28 different companies in 13 European countries.

"I don't know who is behind this but it is not us," said Barthelemy Aguerre, the Spanghero chief executive.

Under the measures agreed in Brussels, EU officials said the testing of "foods destined for the final consumer and marketed as containing beef" could start immediately in member states, with the European Commission paying 75 per cent of the costs for the first month.

The test results will be reported to the European Commission by April 15.

* with AFP

Published: February 17, 2013 04:00 AM


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