Horsemeat scandal: Supermarkets 'share anger and outrage'


Tesco boss Philip Clarke on the "terrible event"

UK retailers have rejected government criticism they "remained silent" over the horsemeat crisis - as they begin to release test results on beef products.

In a public letter, 11 firms, including Tesco and Asda, said they shared shoppers' "anger and outrage".

Many retailers say results so far show no sign of horsemeat, but pubs owner Whitbread and school supplier Compass Group found horse DNA in some products.

Number 10 said it was pleased retailers had finally spoken out in public.

A Downing Street source said: "Consumer confidence is one of the things that has been missing and that needs the retailers to explain themselves, and what they have been doing."

Earlier, Downing Street said big retailers selling affected products had a responsibility to answer key questions on the scandal.

Sources said it was not "acceptable for retailers to remain silent while customers have been misled about the content of the food they have been buying".

'Criminal conspiracy'

Safety issues

  • The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has demanded food businesses to check for horsemeat in all processed beef products, such as burgers, meatballs and lasagne. The first set of results are expected on Friday
  • There is concern that some horses are given a drug called bute (phenylbutazone), which can be dangerous to humans
  • In rare cases bute 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 ordered Findus to test its beef lasagne that contains horsemeat for bute, but no traces were found

Meanwhile, the results of up to one third of tests on the presence of horsemeat in processed meals ordered by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are being released.

Iceland said that all of its own brand beef products have been found to be free from horsemeat.

The Co-Operative Group said 59 of its 102 own-brand minced beef products have been tested so far, with all found to be clear of horsemeat. And Morrisons says 68 test results on its products have not found horsemeat, with more results still to come.

Tesco says tests on 149 of its products are clear, and Sainsbury's say their tests show no horse adulteration.

But Whitbread, which supplies thousands of pubs and owns Premier Inn, Beefeater Grill and Brewers Fayre, has confirmed two of its products have been found to contain horsemeat.

And Compass Group, one of the biggest school food providers in the UK, says its tests have found between 5% and 30% horse DNA in burgers it sold in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

It says the burgers were supplied by Rangeland Foods in County Monaghan, which previously withdrew more than 9,000 burgers made for the UK market after some were found to contain horsemeat.

A spokesman for Compass said the affected burgers had been supplied to a small number of sites on both sides of the Irish border, including two colleges which the firm would not name.

In other developments:

  • Cottage pie delivered to 47 schools in Lancashire has tested positive for horse DNA. The product has now been withdrawn from kitchens
  • UK police investigating allegations horsemeat was mislabelled as beef have arrested three men on suspicion of offences under the Fraud Act
  • The arrests came after the FSA said on Thursday that tests had found eight horses, killed in the UK, had tested positive for the equine painkiller bute and that six may have entered the food chain in France
  • On Friday, it emerged beefburgers containing horsemeat had been withdrawn from hospitals in Northern Ireland.
  • The French government has accused meat processing company Spanghero of knowingly selling horsemeat labelled as beef. The firm has denied the allegations, but apologised to British consumers, saying it was "tricked as well"
  • European food safety experts have met in Brussels to draw up plans to conduct DNA testing of beef products across the continent in the coming weeks
  • Culture Secretary Maria Miller earlier stepped up criticism by saying retailers should not be "let off the hook" for putting wrongly labelled products on their shelves. But Labour's Mary Creagh accused ministers of being "asleep on the job"

In the letter issued on Friday, the group of food suppliers said: "We can't accept a situation where the trust customers place in us is being compromised by fraudulent activity or even as alleged, an international criminal conspiracy.

"We will do whatever it takes to restore public confidence in the food they buy and eat."

They also said they were "working around the clock" to resolve the matter.

The letter was signed by chief executive of Tesco, Philip Clarke, Asda Stores boss, Andy Clarke, the chief executive of J Sainsbury, Justin King, and Dalton Philips, chief executive of Wm Morrison Supermarkets, among others.

Supermarket chain Morrisons also responded on Twitter, saying: "Contrary to what No10 is saying, we haven't all been silent."

Helen Dickinson, British Retail Consortium: "Retailers have not been reticent"

A spokesman told BBC News the company had carried multiple interviews and had communicated with customers. "We couldn't have been more transparent," he said.

Fresh beef

Last month, Irish food inspectors said they had found horsemeat in beefburgers made by firms in the Irish Republic and the UK, and sold by a number of UK supermarket chains, including Tesco, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl.

Since then, a growing number of UK retailers have recalled processed beef products found to contain horse DNA.

The British Retail Consortium's Helen Dickinson told BBC Radio 4 retailers had been focusing on the swift testing of products.

Ms Dickinson added lessons must be learned by "all parts of the food industry" in the UK and Europe.

Some shops have already recalled products found to be adulterated, including Asda, which withdrew a beef Bolognese sauce on Thursday - the first fresh beef product to be involved.

Aldi, Tesco and Findus have also withdrawn some beef-based ready meals.


French food producer makes order

Comigel HQ in Metz, north-east France, asks its subsidiary, Tavola in Luxembourg, to make food products - including beef lasagne for Findus.

Factory orders meat

The Tavola factory orders the meat from Spanghero in the south of France.

Subcontractor used

Spanghero contacts a subcontractor in Cyprus to source the meat.

Subcontractor enlists trader

The Cypriot subcontractor in turn contacts a trader in the Netherlands.

Trader orders from Romania

The trader in the Netherlands places an order for meat with abattoirs in Romania.

Abattoirs send meat to France

The meat from the abattoirs travels to Spanghero in France. However, Romania rejects claims that it was responsible for wrongly describing the horsemeat from its abattoirs as beef. Horsemeat is always labelled as such, they say. The Romanian authorities claim records show orders had been for horse carcass - easily distinguishable from beef.

Meat used to make products

Spanghero sends the meat to the Comigel subsidiary’s factory in Luxembourg before the finished products are supplied to Findus and retailers across Europe, including the UK. The president of Comigel says the company was unaware the meat was coming from abroad.

Horsemeat found in Ireland and UK

Tests by Irish authorities have found equine DNA in beefburgers made by firms in the Irish Republic and the UK. Traces of horsemeat have also been found in stored meat at another plant in Ireland and one in Northern Ireland. In mainland Britain, police and officials probing alleged horsemeat mislabelling have carried out raids at a slaughterhouse in West Yorkshire and a meat firm near Aberystwyth. Three men were later arrested on suspicion of offences under the Fraud Act..


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  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Simple answer. Avoid 'ready' meals containing meat. I am going to make sure that I only buy my meat from a butcher now. It will work out more expensive but the portions will be bigger and at least I'll know that the meat I have chosen is what it purtanes to be.
    Looking at the European meat merry-go round above only ensures that the quality of meat is questionable even for processed purposes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Look is it a health risk, no.
    they eat it on the continent. Goes down well with a bit of Horseradish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Time for another lengthy gonvernment enquiry, because they always get results....

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    First the UK authorities suggested just a problem in Ireland. Then the Romanian scapegoat was perfect for a right wing government to concentrate on. Now we are discovering this cheap food chain and its merrygo round of outsourcing to lower and lower quality suppliers is part of the price we pay for buying off multi national retailers whose sole interest is the share holder and company bonuses

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    This country has sunk to a new low!

    We have been feeding our children horsemeat whose origin is totally unknown.
    1) Where were these animals slaughtered?
    2) What state were they in at slaughter?
    3) What drugs were present in these animals?

    The laughable part is we have a system that nobody can determine when this was accidental or criminal in origin!

    So much for traceability!

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    How is this still an issue? Look, stop buying cheap rubbish food and the problem goes away.

    Butcher > Supermarket

    And don't whine about prices. Food you actually cook and put effort into is always cheaper in the long run.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    What happens to Dairy cattle when they cease to be viable as milkers?
    How much 'old cow' is fed back into the human food chain as 'beef' - after all, they are bovines?
    Is it legal to sell dairy cow for human consumption?
    How much meat destined for pet-food ends up as processed meat in supermarkets?
    Are the recent and scandalous discoveries just the 'tip of the iceberg?

    FSA some answers please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Fuss over nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Supermarkets - Exactly how long have you been selling horse meat labelled as beef? (and mixing pork in with beef and lamb products)? Why is it only now that this story is in the news that you have begun to analyse the contents of what you are selling.

    Sell what you say you are selling, and don't blame your suppliers for not doing your own checking.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    i'm struggling with why all this is such a big deal ?? - at the end of the day it's all meat from 4 legged creatures ... surely there's bigger things in the world to worry about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    So retailers share the anger of consumers - really!

    I wonder where their anger comes from, is it they fell ripped off, or is it simply anger at being found out! They retail a product so the least I, as a consumer, expect is they they, not someone down the supply chain, knows exactly what they are selling.

    Retailers have failed the consumer & any misdirection of blame by them is unacceptable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Retailers, YOU are responsible for what you sell. YOU make huge profits and have been patting yourselves on the back for years about what great businesses YOU are. YOU should have tested the products that YOU chose to sell. What part of YOU are YOU struggleing with ? Invest in proper quality checks from YOUR profits. Surely YOU are criminally and civilly liable for YOUR products.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Can the public have confidence in anything anymore? It seems a mixture of incompetence, greed and self interest are discrediting all institutions, corporations and authorities.

    Food standards can now join the queue behind banks, governments, health, police, news papers, etc, etc

    What next? Pandora's box is well and truly opened.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Prepare and cook from scratch.

    The only way be be sure exactly what your eating - if you are that bothered.

    I personally think there's more important issues in the World.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Lets have a Parliamentary debate on what to do.
    Oh its half term, damn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Why has it taken a scandal like this to raise the issue of food traceability? In this day and age why is food traceability not a standard, legislated practice already? Health (and carbon footprinting of food transport and production) must come first.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    For the last three decades, politicians have asked for deregulation in all forms of public life.

    That was the cause of the banking crisis, and is now the cause of this food crisis.

    I guess that shows the power of lobbying by commercial interests :-(

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    The first thing super markets should have done is a product recall, and refunded every product at risk. The Government should have kept their big mouths shut until they had some evidence to work on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    This is yet another example of too many bosses not wanting to know about the risks to their business. Heads in the air as they laugh all the way to the bank. They are all at it; even in the NHS.

    For a few years now many riding hacks and pet ponies have been sold as their owners could not afford them. It doesn't take a genius to work it out. They all should have been on their guard against this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Will the FSA be dropping plans to allow abattoirs to self regulate? This crisis shows that businesses cannot be trusted to self-regulate where profit is concerned


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