Horsemeat scandal: Birds Eye withdraws UK ready meals

A butcher works behind a "no horsemeat" sign at Bates Butchers in Market Harborough, central England The scandal began last month after horsemeat was found in frozen beefburgers

Birds Eye has withdrawn three beef ready meals from supermarkets in the UK and Ireland as a precaution after horse DNA was found in a product in Belgium.

Birds Eye said its chilli con carne had tested positive for 2% horse DNA.

Meanwhile, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has announced results from 1,133 new tests on beef products.

There were six positive tests for horse DNA at a level of greater than 1% - all on products which have been withdrawn.

The tests covered a range of frozen, chilled or canned products that included lasagne, chilli con carne, cottage pie, ravioli, cannelloni and spaghetti bolognese.

UK food suppliers have now carried out a total of 3,634 tests, the FSA said, and more than 99% had come back negative.

However, 35 results, representing 13 products, contained 1% or more horse DNA.

They had all been previously identified and withdrawn from shelves with the exception of beef burgers, minced beef and halal minced beef from Sodexo, a French catering and facilities giant.

In the UK, Sodexo supplies food to schools and colleges, hospitals and via "meals on wheels", as well as running four prisons.

Though the company said it had withdrawn the relevant products, it would not give details of public sector institutions it supplied.

Further findings

Food firms have also been testing products for the veterinary medicine bute (phenylbutazone).

The medicine can be dangerous to humans because in rare cases it causes a serious blood disorder known as aplastic anaemia. While the FSA insists there is a low risk to health, bute is not allowed to enter the food chain.

On Thursday, a Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) statement reported a "productive" meeting with industry leaders over the use of horse passports.

It said: "Everyone agreed that the steps already taken have eliminated the risk of horses containing bute from entering the food chain.

"We are pleased that the sector agreed the need to tighten and investigate ways to improve the horse passport system.

"We welcome the commitment of the sector to develop their own equine database."

Birds Eye

Although Birds Eye's chilli meal is only sold in Belgium, the company said it would withdraw all other products made by the supplier - Belgian group Frigilunch.

The company said as a precautionary measure in the UK and Ireland it would clear its Traditional Spaghetti Bolognese 340g, Shepherd's Pie 400g and Beef Lasagne 400g from the supermarkets. It will also clear the chilli from shelves in Belgium.

The BBC's Jeremy Cooke goes behind the scenes at a meat processing plant, where food is tracked from abattoir to packet

Birds Eye said: "Whilst this is not a food safety issue, it is clearly unacceptable."

"We want to reassure you from the testing we have completed that all Birds Eye beef burgers, beef pies and beef platters do not contain horse DNA."

Customers who have bought any of the three products will be offered a refund if they contact Birds Eye customer services, the group said.

"We want to apologise to consumers and reassure them that we will keep them fully informed and that we are taking action to deal with this issue," the company added in a statement.

Birds Eye is the latest in a growing number of companies, including Findus and Nestle, to recall beef ready meals.

Last month's discovery of horsemeat in some processed beef products sold by a number of UK supermarkets has sparked widespread investigations.

The FSA asked UK food retailers to test the beef in thousands of their products. In the first results, released on 15 February, 29 out of 2,501 tests were positive - that is, they contained at least 1% horsemeat.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    This storm in a teacup needs to disappear from our news. How so much coverage can be justified to something that offends a few peoples over sensitive natures when the massive scale of death and destruction in Syria gets fewer and fewer lines is the real scandal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    @20 Some people can only afford to eat 'junk'. Many single people, as well as families. Don't blame people for being lied to. The problem in society is liars, cheats, con men and capitalists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Why are the news outlets inflaming this story? The scandal is the companies defrauding us by mislabelling and possibly contamination or deliberate use of horsemeat. Most results have been negative and others report DNA. Horse meat will NOT harm us. Stop making it sound like a threat to the public. It is fraud and bad monitoring by the FSA not a Heath issue, get a grip BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Surely the real failure here is with the food standards agency? Yet another government agency not fit for purpose.

    It's interesting that it took the supermarkets themselves, under consumer pressure, to ban or minimise hydrogenated fat and msg in processed foods, or Sainsbury's to focus on butter instead of margarine.

    I bet supermarkets stop selling aspartame years before the FSA gets onto it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    16. Bradford
    The complete failure of the Food Standards Agency to identify the problem.
    The wider issue of non-accountability of highly paid senior public workers for errors.
    it was reported at the weekend that a member of the FSA did warn the government of this last year, and his allegations were being looked into. That was the last we heard of that, of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    This whole situation makes me wonder what else is in these products that they haven't actually tested for. They should be testing for all contaminants - is there dog or cat in these products?

    FSA should be doing random tests on a regular basis. If they don't look for it they won't find it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    I hope their Fish Fingers don't contain any Sea-horse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    @3.NW1837 You really don't want know about mechanical meat recovery

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Traditional Spaghetti Bolognese, Shepherd's Pie, and Beef Lasagne -
    all made to traditional Belgian recipes!

    What a load of waffle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I wish they would stop using terms like "contaminated" and such, makes it sound like it's poisonous or something. If all of these ready meals that are being withdrawn are simply destroyed then that would be a greater scandle than some misleading labels. Why cant they repackage them and resell them in countries that are not as squeamish about eating equine meat?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Lets face it processed food is junk. It always has been. To make a burger from minced beef is one of the simplist cooked meals in the world. It also takes very little preparation time. From a pound of mince you can easily feed a family of five. Home made pizzas are also simple and cheap. Anyone who buys this junk gets what they deserve.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    All a load of balls (and horsemeat clearly)

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Chris Mallon's comment is unwise at best , but implies that whilst products are being sold as top quality beef products he knows that they aren't , or this is our excuse guys to whack the price up. Perhaps he is not the best man for the job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    It's all about profits for the supermarket chains!! They will never put customers first and this is a consequence of such actions!! Also the food/delivery chain to supermarkets starts all the way in Romania, then pass through France etc etc. As a result it becomes very difficult to monitor. Never a better reason to buy from your local butcher!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Can the news teams move on from the shock horror of horsemeat & focus on the underlying issues.

    The complete failure of the Food Standards Agency to identify the problem.

    The wider issue of non-accountability of highly paid senior public workers for errors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    "He said the price of burgers had risen by 14%, which suggested manufacturers were now using better quality ingredients"

    - And suggests that they knew damned well that they were getting more for their money than they should have been, perhaps?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Notice birds eye has promised refunds for anyone who has purchased these products... time to ask for purchase history on your supermarket loyalty card... see ho far back they will honer that promise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Hmm, this horsemeat thing is just going to run and run.
    Still, if they don't care about properly regulating Financial products such as mortgaged backed bonds (should be illegal in current form) then why would they bother regulating anything else properly ?
    If buying meat go and buy from a local butchers if you have one, support small business and you know where your meat is from !

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    If it's not a food safety issue... If it is safe to eat... What are they going to do with the removed products? I have an empty freezer here would happily fill it... No sense in wasting the food, too much is wasted anyway!

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    What worries me about these reports is that its a positive result for horsemeat if it contains over 1%.

    Does that mean its OK to have a little bit in there?


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