Horsemeat scandal: Beef products 'pose no health risk'

The production line at the Spanghero factory in Castelnaudary, France UK and French supermarkets are among those who have withdrawn ready-meals

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All processed beef products are safe to eat but consumers must be prepared for more unwelcome news in the ongoing horsemeat scandal, the government says.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said "nothing seen so far presented a health risk".

Mr Paterson, who is to update MPs later on the latest developments, said it looked as if an "extensive" criminal conspiracy may have taken place.

Legal action is set to begin in continental Europe on Monday, he added.

Mr Paterson has already said a moratorium on EU meat imports, which has been called for, is not allowed under EU rules.

In France, the government has summoned meat industry representatives to talks and some ready meals were withdrawn after horsemeat was found in some beef-labelled foods sold in Europe.

Mr Paterson said reports from France suggested the problem had been pinned down to two abattoirs in Romania.

'Continue buying'

The controversy surrounding contamination of meat products has spread all over Europe, affecting countries including Sweden, Poland and the Republic of Ireland.

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.

Safety issues

  • Experts say horsemeat itself should be no more dangerous than beef to eat and is safe
  • The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has ordered food businesses to check for horsemeat in all beef products, such as beef burgers, meatballs and lasagne. The first set of results are expected on Friday 15 February
  • There is concern that some horses are given a drug called bute (phenylbutazone) which can be dangerous to humans
  • In rare cases it causes a serious blood disorder known as aplastic anaemia where the body does not make enough new blood cells
  • Animals treated with phenylbutazone are not allowed to enter the food chain for this reason
  • The Food Standards Agency has ordered Findus to test their beef lasagne that contains horsemeat for bute
  • Results are expected in the next few days

Mr Paterson told the BBC a factory in Luxembourg, which has been linked to the French cases, had to issue warnings to 16 different countries. He said he did not know how widespread the problem was but "we have to be prepared for more unwelcome news".

Tests were continuing and it was the responsibility of the retailers to "convince their consumers of the validity and quality of their products", he said.

Mr Paterson added that the Food Standards Agency's (FSA) advice was to continue buying and eating processed beef products, but if any evidence of a serious threat to health emerged "we will act very swiftly".

The FSA has ordered food businesses to conduct authenticity tests on all beef products for significant levels of horsemeat and the deadline for the first set of results is Friday 15 February.

Last week Findus UK took its frozen beef lasagne, made by the Comigel food processing company in France, off the shelves after some were found to have up to 100% horsemeat in them.

Findus UK said the only product on sale in the UK using ingredients from the French supplier had been its beef lasagne and all other beef products on sale in the UK had been DNA-tested and cleared.

The FSA has asked Findus to test their contaminated beef lasagne for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone as animals treated with "bute" are not allowed to enter the food chain. The results are expected in the next few days.

The Chief Medical Officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, said: "It's understandable that people will be concerned, but it is important to emphasise that, even if bute is found to be present at low levels, there is a very low risk indeed that it would cause any harm to health."

High Street butchers

Six French supermarket chains - Carrefour, Monoprix, Auchan, Casino, Cora, and Picard - have also withdrawn ready-meals from Findus and Comigel.

Findus France has said it will take action in the French courts, believing itself to be the victim of fraud.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson: "This is a case of fraud and a conspiracy against the public"

But the company that supplied the meat, Spanghero - based in southern France - has also said it was the victim of fraud and intends to sue its Romanian supplier.

Romania's president, Traian Basescu, said if false labelling had been carried out with the intention of making money that would discredit the country for a long time and raise the risk of export restrictions.

Constantin Savu, a representative of Romania's National Food Safety Authority, said more than 25 abattoirs there were authorised not only to butcher horsemeat but also to export it within the EU.

Meanwhile, High Street butchers in the UK say they are experiencing a spike in trade, some by as much as 30%.

Brindon Addy, chairman of the Q Guild representing 130 butchers across England, Scotland and Wales, said: "It is obviously great news for those butchers who have found it difficult to compete with the big supermarkets in the past.

"People slip into the convenience of supermarket shopping, but whenever there is a scare - be it horse meat or BSE- they always come back."

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

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  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    27. Bill Walker
    I think you wil find the problem is with international capitalists taking shortcuts with quality control, not individuals looking for work.
    Are you also going to tell us the EU is clogging up industry with too much regulation in the face of evidence that it is actually lack of controls.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Clearly, labelling horse as beef is a crime an should be punished accordingly, whoever the responsibles are.

    And meat travelling across too many borders and gong through too many traders is foolish in itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    Beef products pose no health risk?
    But we're not talking about BEEF are we?
    We're talking about HORSE!
    I don't know about the rest of the world but when i buy beef i expect to get beef and when we have Owen Patterson trying to deffend it he needs to be out of work along with the food companies i will now be botcotting!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Do you really believe the government on this, that it’s safe, how can they know that when they don’t even know exactly where the meat came from, we had the same kind of nonsense with BSE when John Gummer tried to force feed his kid a cheeseburger in front of the press.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Call me back when it's traces of rat, or that crocodile that's just died...

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Roll up! Roll up!!! Come buy my do-do burgers

    1% beef, 99% pure excrement.

    It is the responsibility of the retailers to "convince their consumers of the validity and quality of their products". I think they are GREAT!

    Should evidence come forward of any serious threat to health obviously we will act very swiftly...but at the moment all the evidence is these products are entirely safe ;o)

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Everyone is aware that horse meat is not a health risk. what the 'Please keep buying food....please!' lobby don't understand is that if someone can get horse meat in without changing the label, what else are we eating that we don't know about? Just testing 'processed beef' products is not good enough.

    Is buying food now like buying an ecstasy tablet? no one knows what's in it till you wake up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    "All processed beef products are safe to eat"
    "nothing seen so far presented a health risk"

    Meaning beef products which actually contain just beef are safe or the products which say they are but may well not be? Since the testing is still incomplete, possibility of bute and a vast number of products beeing falsely labelled, safe or not, this seems a stunningly complacent attitude by the govt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    The product is probably as safe as houses, it is the labelling that is incorrect, there is nothing wrong with horse meat, it is probably better for you than beef. I do not understand the"British" and food especially if it considered a pet.
    I do appreciate that if it sold as beef then it should be as it says on the packaging otherwise it is fraudulent and therefore illegal, and heads should roll.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    When did the government take on the role of PR consultants to the food industry? The peddlers of processed meat don't want to lose sales so they've wheeled out Owen Patterson to tell us eveything's fine. It's clear that no one knows what's in these "products", so how can they be declared safe? Fortunately, consumers will make up their own minds about this gross betrayal of trust.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I always thought that Dave Cameron and Nick Clegg talked Bull Poo every time they opened their mouths.

    I have to now admit that I may have been incorrect, it could well be horse poo instead.

    On a more serious note, I have no objection to eating horse meat as long as its fit for human consumption. I just resent it being labelled as beef - when I eat a meat, I like to choose which one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    How they honestly say they are safe?

    If criminals are passing off horse meat as beef how can we be certain that they have not put unfit animals into the food chain. I have no faith in Mr Paterson or the FSA telling us they are safe to eat when they don't even know the extent of the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    The fact is that regulated horse meat although distasteful to the British palate is a well sourced and desirable delicacy in large parts of the world.

    The emotive word "horse" should not detract from a far larger and more sinister issue which is the infiltration of the supply chain by criminal gangs in parts of Eastern Europe.

    The British Govt has been slow and lax and heads should roll1

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Concidering the low quality of meat i buy, i think its a safe bet i've consumed horse meat. Aslong as it doesnt contain dangerous levels of phenylbutazone, i've no complaints.

    My only real comment is, concidering how people race, raise, ride etc. horses, wouldnt you think horse meat would be more expensive than beef? and thus not a cheap money making substitute?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Wow talk about deja-vu.

    All that's missing is the minister feeding his daughter a burger.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Soylent Green is people!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Re : 23.
    2 Minutes ago
    It is little wonder that British food is derided world-wide.
    Cheap, nasty, unpalatable and unhealthy.

    ER - Swedish company, from a French manufacturer sourced from Roumania , Hardly qualifies as British now does it??

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I'm not worried about Horsemeat at all, healthier and safer than beef.

    I am worried about the whole issue of processed foods; there was supposed to be tighter control after the risk of BSE from beef, but it seems that has not worked as we still have an issue of contamination. If horsemeat can enter the food chain what is to stop banned beef products and the potential risk of BSE?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    The point is that after the CJD crisis the consumer needs to be certain that he is getting what he is paying for and that the providence of the feed chain is correct. If there is horse meat in some food what else is in there. Is the beef it contains free of CJD? Was the horse meat from healthy or sick animals? The government are not taking this seriously slow to act and not showing leadership

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    The company in the centre of the scandal, Findus, was bought by an asset-stripping investor who saddled the company with debt. To make him happy and richer, they now must make a profit and get out of debt. How do they do this? By buying everything as cheaply as possible. No questions asked. Corners cut. Also, people here are so cash strapped that they will eat this stuff. Soylent Green is next...


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