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 214.

    Perhaps the FSA would like to get off their backsides and start checking our meat for rat and cat!

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    #196. Sorry, but when supermarkets consistently force their suppliers to accept ever lower prices, then they must accept that the product quality will suffer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    When the Supermarket's get a small fine from the FSA. Will the Customer finally get some comeback and recover any of their money for mis selling. Nope, thought not !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Who cares? It's all meat. What difference does it make if it comes from a cow or a horse? Good grief.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    what other meat might be entering the food chain?
    They have only tested for Horse DNA, and allowed the companies to test these products themselves - it's totally corrupt. I do not believe that a criminal gang would be finding horses to slaughter when it would cost them nothing to farm cats, dogs or rats. Perhaps the FSA is scared of what might actually be found if they tested properly?

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    @186.temporarily out of order
    All of the companies involved, including the retailers, should also have their ISO 9001 quality certification withdrawn immediately
    You have identified the inherent weakness in ISO certification. It is sufficient to buy from another ISO company without further checks to maintain your own ISO status. It merely employs lots more unproductive people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    As a former farmer I am only too familiar with the strict standards laid down by the authorities and retailers - including not least regular farm assurance inspections which are essential if you want to sell your product to the UK retailers...

    So how is it that UK producers must meet these strict rules to supply a retailer, yet the same retailer will accept an "unknown" product from elsewhere?

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    "The Food Agency has dismissed claims that 'bute' may have entered the human food chain in horsemeat."

    "Horse meat scandal: cancer causing horse drug has entered food chain, minister announces"

    Less government regulation aka cutbacks, always results in this mayhem and always under a Tory government.

    How long did it take British Beef Industry to recover from the BSE scandal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    197.paulmerhaba - "Anyone starting to wonder what was in their coq au vin."

    My god, that thought has just given me the willies.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    By the way even if it was only "beef" in the product be careful about the definition of beef they use and what part of the animal can be used in mince - it's not all prime cut. Have you ever wondered what's the difference in the make-up of a beef and hamburger? If you want to know what you're eating prepare it youself with fresh UK products. Prepared meals are cheap because they use cheap products

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    Please Mr Cameron, should I throw out the horseradish?

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    You can buy an electric meat ginder with sausage attachments for around £30 or handcrank on E-bay for less than £6. theres really no excuse for not making your own burgers and sausages, that way you know EXACTLY what goes into them. I have, for years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    Of course the supermarkets are angry and outraged. Angry and outraged they have been caught out. Damage limitation is their main aim here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    The scandal is the unlawful labelling of a product saying it is something which it isn't! Horse meat getting into the food chain is outrageous but let's get something clear, horse meat will not harm us. It is eaton all over the world. And these are DNA traces, without this science the scaremongering wouldn't be happening. I have not and will not change my purchasing or eating habits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.


  • rate this

    Comment number 199.


    Right. I can see your point. So.....I bought a bag of apples and was sold a bag of onions instead. Now, I quite like onions, there's no health risk, in fact they're a positive benefit, and although the price is slightly in favour of the vendor, it's only one smallish bag. So I told the bloke, "Fine. The kids can have an onion for lunch this week".

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    89. timetothink “Self Interest will always top Self Regulation - It's been proved time and time again, when will we learn.”

    I think that most ordinary people know that self-regulation doesn’t work; it is our Government who need to learn (although they probably won’t because their party donors wouldn’t like it).

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Anyone starting to wonder what was in their coq au vin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    188. brazilwatcher
    I don't know what all the fuss is about... There is no free lunch in quality food production.
    The fuss is about the fact the supermarkets did not know what they were selling, labelled it wrongly and then we ate it not knowing what was in it. Does that help?

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Surely the "elephant in the room" is being missed here and no, I'm not suggesting that other large animals might be entering the food chain!
    The important question is; if horse meet is entering the food chain ( through fraudulent activity ), then what other meat might be entering the food chain? Could we be eating meat that is classed as "unfit for human consumption".?


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