Horsemeat scandal: Don't dump meat, says food minister


Owen Paterson says he would eat withdrawn meat products because "they pose no threat to human health"

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People should not throw away frozen meat products in the wake of further revelations in the horsemeat scandal, the food minister has said.

David Heath advised consumers to carry on eating meat unless told otherwise.

The Food Standards Agency has asked UK firms to test all processed beef foods, but said it did not "suspect there is any health issue with frozen food".

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson is to hold a summit with heads of meat retailers and suppliers on Saturday.

Food Minister Mr Heath said the government's advice was "exactly that" of the FSA's.

"The FSA says there is no reason to suppose there is a health risk and therefore the advice is to carry on with normal shopping habits until you are told otherwise," he told the BBC.

But shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh has expressed fears that other contaminated foods may be found.

'Criminal activity'

Supermarket chain Aldi said tests on its Today's Special Frozen Beef Lasagne and Today's Special Frozen Spaghetti Bolognese showed they contained between 30% and 100% horsemeat. These products had already been withdrawn after a warning from French supplier Comigel.

Is it a health risk?

Horsemeat itself should be no more dangerous than beef and is eaten in many countries around the world.

However, there is concern around a drug given to horses - known as bute (phenylbutazone) - which is dangerous if taken by humans.

Decades ago it was used as a treatment for gout and arthritis, but it caused a serious blood disorder, aplastic anaemia, in rare cases.

While it was banned for human use, it is still used for animals. However, it is not allowed to enter the human food chain.

Findus has been asked to test for bute in its products.

If people have any of the affected meals lurking in their freezer, they are advised to return them to the store they were purchased from.

An Aldi spokesman said: "This is completely unacceptable and like other affected companies, we feel angry and let down.... If the label says beef, our customers expect it to be beef."

Findus UK became caught up in the row this week after horsemeat was found in its lasagne.

A third-party French supplier alerted Findus on Monday to concerns the beef lasagne product did not "conform to specification".

The FSA said Findus had tested the meat in 18 of its beef lasagne products and found 11 meals in which it contained between 60% and 100% horsemeat. Findus has withdrawn the meals. Comigel said it had withdrawn all products related to its own supplier.

The FSA said it was "highly likely" criminal activity was to blame for the contamination.

Mr Paterson said: "Clearly there are some people who believe they can get away with selling cheap meat and passing it off as something else. Our investigations will find them and they will feel the full force of the law."

In other related developments:

  • The body representing school caterers in the UK says it is "as certain as anyone could be" that that horsemeat products have not been used in schools
  • Prime Minister David Cameron describes the latest revelations as "very shocking" and "completely unacceptable"
  • Ms Creagh says she has contacted police to pass on information concerning UK companies who are potentially involved in the illegal horsemeat trade
  • The GMB union says all hospitals, schools and meals-on-wheels services should verify that horsemeat has not been served to vulnerable people
  • The Ministry of Agriculture in France says it is investigating the possibility of criminal fraud in relation to horsemeat found in ready meals
  • Trading standards and environmental health bodies say their officers across the UK are on "high alert"
  • Findus says it is "sorry that we have let people down", in a fresh statement. It has also withdrawn several ready-meals from supermarkets in France and Sweden.
  • Retail analysts warn the latest disclosures could be "disastrous" for the meat processing industry

FSA chief executive Catherine Brown told the BBC: "We are demanding that food businesses conduct authenticity tests on all beef products, such as beefburgers, meatballs and lasagne, and provide the results to the FSA."

The FSA's website advises consumers: "There is no reason to suspect that there's any health issue with frozen food in general, and we wouldn't advise people to stop eating it."

UK  beef consumption Between fresh and processed, the UK consumes more fresh or frozen beef.
Imports and exports The UK still produces and consumes more of its own beef than it imports
Imports of processed beef Ireland and Brazil are major suppliers of the UK's imported processed beef

Peter Kendall, president of the National Farmers' Union, said farmers who had suffered from food scares in the past were "furious" over the horsemeat revelations because they had already "raised their game".

He urged consumers to buy British meat to be sure of what they are eating.


The French authorities have been slow to react. But today the French Ministry of Agriculture did finally issue a statement. It considers the issue "a matter of criminal fraud" and the authorities will be investigating.

The question - as yet unanswered - is how horsemeat ended up in the beef chain. Was there confusion between the two meats - beef and horse - that were processed in the same plant? Or, as is more likely, was Comigel duped by a third party supplier?

There is also a wider issue for the European authorities. The rules on labelling for meat products are fairly straightforward. But the rules are less clear on the provenance of meat when it comes to the ingredients of processed products. And food analysts are now calling for a review.

Since Comigel also supplies the Benelux, Scandinavian and Eastern Bloc supermarket chains, this is fast becoming a European problem.

Horsemeat may not pose a significant risk to humans but the health of European food processing is very much open to question.

Findus is the latest company to be caught up in the controversy surrounding contamination of meat products, which has affected firms in the UK, Irish Republic, Poland and France.

Last month, Irish food inspectors announced they had found horsemeat in some burgers stocked by a number of UK supermarket chains, including Tesco, Iceland and Lidl.

Ms Creagh expressed fears there were further revelations to come from the food industry.

"What we have had over the last four weeks is a constant drip, drip, drip of revelations from the food industry, from the Food Standards Agency, and what I am worried about is that the more they are testing for horse, the more they are finding," Ms Creagh said.

She suggested further guidance was needed on whether people should eat other processed foods labelled as containing beef.

Mr Heath said the FSA was undertaking the "biggest testing of beef products that has ever taken place" in order to offer reassurance.

A statement from the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said it "deplores the latest reported incidents of gross contamination of some processed meat products".

It urged members to review their raw material and ingredients-sourcing procedures.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1067.

    buy from the butcher and you'll know whats in the meat you eat! Think its more expensive? we've found it to be cheaper

  • rate this

    Comment number 1066.

    Maybe the meat companies could include a free horse-shoe inside every ready meal, just like cereal boxes have their toys.

    Also, can we all sue? I'm sure in America the lawyers would be dizzy with happiness at the thought of such an event, "your honour! apart from having been lied to, my client can no longer see a fence-post without jumping over it, it's destroyed his sunday walks in the park."

  • rate this

    Comment number 1065.

    Your outrage should have nothing to do with there being horsemeat in processed meat products - the point is that they didn't know it was there! If they didn't know there was horsemat in processed meat, how can we be confident that they have ANY idea what else is in it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1064.

    Another example how ingredient suppliers, growers, farmers, processors and retailers all around world try cut costs and maximise profits without us knowing and dangers to humans. Many examples recent years published and no doubt many more yet to be caught, including illegal. Remember BSE crisis in cattle (CJD infection and deaths in humans) when farmers fed them ground up remains of other animals

  • rate this

    Comment number 1063.

    If the label says beef then what you buy should be beef. if some spiv will sell me a horse instead of a cow what's to stop them doing the same with a goat, dog, cat or giraffe? corporate britain treats people like idiots on a daily basis. Our government should be talking about fines, criminal charges and compensation. Or at least attempting to show some leadership here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1062.

    I like to have the choice to what meat i more frozen muck for me. i will never trust mass produced food i would rather go with out then eat horse DRUGS

  • rate this

    Comment number 1061.

    Horse meat is safe, but this is not the issue here.
    Know one can say how it got into "beef" products or state for sure where it has come from therefore it cannot be declared safe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1060.

    I feel sorry for the UK and Irish processors which are having their names dragged through the mud. I'm almost certain that Findus etc have all of the correct paperwork for their products but they've been let down by their suppliers.

    I hope that the slaughterhouse/s where horses go in and beef comes out will be prosecuted to the full extent of European law.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1059.

    Has this Government and the FSA completly missed the point..

    Meat we:

    - Dont know thesource
    - Whether diseased
    - Stored properly
    - Whether drugs or had antibiotics

    Yet they want us to eat this rubbish. I have no issue with eating horsey but its the unknowns that are concerning me.

    FINDUS claiming suppler and not them? Are they for real?

    Are they not supposed to check?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1058.

    I am glad this has come about. This will serve the meat eating hypocrites right. Every animal is equal. Therefore, they should realise that, should you choose to think that eating one species is wrong, it applies to all. As with everything in life, you do not discriminate. I, for one, do not believe that eating any living creature is right; but, that's another debate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1057.

    Don't eat anything that might possible be contaminated. You'll soon get very, very hungry.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1056.

    Welcome to rip off UK, Smaller portions, cheep ingredients for Higher prices
    it's called inflation and we don't even notice until Red Rum is on the menu

  • rate this

    Comment number 1055.

    The FSA has issued the following, "There is no reason to suspect that there's any health issue with frozen food in general, and we wouldn't advise people to stop eating it." Are they mad? Would it not be a "faint possibility" someone inadvertantly bought the suspect meat and froze it. So according to the FSA it is OK now! We're tired of inane comments like this issued in state of panic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1054.

    I used to eat processed Beefburgers when I was a teenager. My young body could cope with eating the odd bit of crap. Nowadays if it's burgers on our home menu they're home made.. I've eaten horse meat (I live in Belgium) and it's very healthy and nutritious but not to my taste, If you want to feed your family processed crap be prepared for some surprises! here and there, you really don't

  • rate this

    Comment number 1053.

    I purchase all of my meat products from my local butcher Harrods of Knightsbridge.

    They would never even dream of substituting Horse Meat for beef. One can tell the difference you know. After all horse meat tastes more like dog food than finely slaughtered game.

    But one does have to ask oneself what did happen to Shergar ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1052.

    what else is in the food. We never eat processed food. we are not rich, my wife just knows how to cook. Fresh mince bulked up with carrots goes a long way. We have cook books from the 50's and 60's that show what can be done on a budget. My shopping bill this week was £27 and that included steak, mince and lamb chops which will last the week.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1051.

    1009; waspnet, the answer to that is yes, Burger King have and have now changed their supplier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1050.

    I hope this is good news for the British food industry, from farmers to new jobs in factories. Hopefully now these supermarkets will only source their products from british factories that get their meat from British farms.
    I know one thing chicken suppliers must be loving this!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1049.

    I don't see any problem with eating horse meat. How is it any different to the cow, pig, sheep, chicken, duck, rabbit etc that I already eat? They're all animals. What I find objectionable is that these products are labelled as "beef", when they are not. The companies involved should be be heavily fined for not monitoring the quality of their products.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1048.

    We should have more freedom when choosing our meat products. Like many people I am concerned over methods of slaughter required for religious beliefs which, as the Farm Animal Welfare Council have pointed out, involve welfare deficits. I would like it either prohibited, or labelled so I can exercise choice in accord with my ethical beliefs. I also call for a review of all slaughter methods


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