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Owen Paterson says he would eat withdrawn meat products because "they pose no threat to human health"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 These products had already been withdrawn after a warning from French supplier Comigel.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.

Analysis

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
    +2

    Comment number 607.

    It's not that horse mean is unsafe in itself, it's that without traceability there is no way of telling if these animals went through a licensed slaughterhouse and past qualified animal inspectors. The FSA hasn' t found this contamination before, because it wasn't looking. Not very reassuring for the public!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 606.

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

    I suspect that the drive for higher and higher profits is more likely to be the culprit.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 605.

    Just a thought but have been abroad on you jollies recently or perhaps you're going this year? Spain, Greece, Turkey, Eastern Europe or further afield perhaps ? I wonder how many times you've unkowingly eaten Horse meat or even worse !!! , Surely I can't be ok to slaughter a cow and eat it but taboo to eat Equine meat . But selling us Horse meat as Beef is deception .

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 604.

    Many countries arround the world eat horse meat, there is no health risk... we are the weird ones here.

    Many places round the world have people dieing of starvation, if you bin food because you dont agree with it then you're disgusting

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 603.

    actually I do not think horsemeat harms you other than the fact that it has been put in for a cheap ilegal alternative for beef, However lambasting countries for banning our beef because of BSE is totally differnt, that made people die a horrible death

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 602.

    David Cameron is very very wrong when he says that the problem is with the labelling of food. Its how meat which is not beef got into the food chain. Meat which vets are saying could contain phenylbutazone ,which has been banned for ingesting by humans. Why are the FSA not doing more? Are they frightened of the big supermarkets or are they aiding and abetting them? Stop all suspect food sales now.

  • Comment number 601.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 600.

    I sat down and thought about it for a bit, and decided that I honestly don't care. There are bigger things to cry about, like the government regularly taking my hard earned income on pain of imprisonment. Perhaps if I eat enough dubious horsemeat, not being able to afford a pension won't matter as much.

    Welcome to the UK.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 599.

    My worry is if banned meat can be slipped into our food chain, what is stopping a terrorist attack via the same route?

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 598.

    What does 'up to 100%' mean? It can't be up to 150% can it?
    This is a pointless statement innitially devised by the advertising industry to confuse the unwary. It hs no place in BBC news.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 597.

    I wish I could afford to be able to waste food like that. I'm unemployed and we are in the middle of some pretty harsh economic realities. The headline's are about people dumping food because it might be horse? What is wrong with these people?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 596.

    a lasagne a lasagne my kingdom for a lasagne!

    i think all this is a ploy to start getting horse meat on our shelves, personally i dont give a monkeys, lasagne is my fave dish and now i'll probably get it a quarter of the price yummmm

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 595.

    There should be statements from government, statement from Findus, explanations from the suppliers, a statement from the French company guilty of this... and yet the near blanket silence on this is deafening.
    Is this a case of "shut up and keep eating you plebs"? I want to see raids of offices and arrests of those managing these companies, and I want it NOW!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 594.

    489. MacRS200 “How do you know that the mince you use for the home made Lasgne is not contaminated with horse meat?”

    When I was little we had this thing called a “Meat Mincer”, which the remains of the Sunday Joint was put through to make Mince. That was then used to make the next day’s meal.

  • rate this
    -2

    Comment number 593.

    You can't trust the tories to do anything write - they scrap quangos, education without thinking things through and leave health, obesity issues and the like to their mates - how on earth people like that run are country is amazing - thank goodness for the EU who protect us from so many things the tories don't care about like us "plebs"

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 592.

    next rat and hedgehog burgers? yummy?

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 591.

    WHAT HAS ANY OF THIS TO DO WITH HEALTH AND SAFETY OR THE ETHICS OF EATING HORSE MEAT.THIS IS ABOUT A WHOLE POPULATION BEING LIED TO BY BIG BUSINESS FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROFIT OPTIMIZATION. IF IT ISN'T CRIMINAL IT SHOULD BE.IF IT IS CRIMINAL TO LIE IN THIS WAY THEN THOSE RESPONSIBLE OUGHT TO BE PROSECUTED.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 590.

    Come on VEGGIES don't get all prissy - just wait till they uncover a few nasties in your meat free burgers - animals have to die for you to get your food too. But at least you don't have to eat them rentakill et al sort that for you.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 589.

    you reap what you sow. Meat is murder.
    Simple answer don't eat meat!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 588.

    543.Graphis
    6 Minutes ago
    "I'll be buying all my meat from the local butcher now."

    You're lucky you still have one, mate.

    +++

    30 years ago, Bishops Waltham had 3 butchers, that number fell to z5ro. A new butcher opened up several years and is still in business. How he will fare when the Sainsburys stupormarket is built is anybody's guess.

 

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