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Birds Eye has withdrawn three beef ready meals from supermarkets in the UK and Ireland as a precaution after horse DNA was found in a product in Belgium.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There were six positive tests for horse DNA at a level of greater than 1% - all on products which have been withdrawn.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They had all been previously identified and withdrawn from shelves with the exception of beef burgers, minced beef and halal minced beef from Sodexo, a French catering and facilities giant.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Though the company said it had withdrawn the relevant products, it would not give details of public sector institutions it supplied.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 50.

    As for the comment from David who's concerned about the amount of coverage this subject is getting when so many people are being killed in Syria- don't worry David they won't be wasted they will turn up in the next phase of meat products. Then let's see who's put off!

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    BBC, your flogging a dead horse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    To eat beef, or not to eat beef?
    That is equestrian ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Hang on, you mean to say they found birds' eyes in my juicy, delicious, processed chilli? This is the straw that broke the camel's back as far as I'm concerned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Rather than testing for horse DNA, shouldn't the test be for bute? Supposedly, you need to eat 500 horse burgers containing bute to get a therapeutic does. As many people eat horse meat, which is supposed to be have fewer health problems than pork, shouldn't the products be reduced in price and be labelled 'May contain horse meat' rather than being thrown away?

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    It's getting more & more difficult to stop myself from being completely smug...I've been veggie for for 25 years (& I'm a riding instructor). I can just about keep a lid on it outside - until we know for certain there's been no "contamination" of vegetarian products - but at home with my husband, we are disgustingly smug about it. Schadenfreude. But you can't blame me, surely!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    I'm waiting for the next big food scandal ...

    ... traces of beef found in HAGGIS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I'm no fan of the morals of the big supermarkets but it is really not in their long term interest to be deceitful.
    I'd like to hear more about how the horsemeat got into the chain. Where is the BBC coverage of the police investigations into this possible (or likely) fraud?

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I agree with #1. I have no problem with horse meat and wouldn't object to the odd boucherie chevaline opening up on our high streets - I would even use them. But if the supermarkets, the manufacturers and their suppliers don't have any concern for what the main ingedient of their products are how on earth can we trust them with all the other ingredients.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    A bit of horsemeat is dishonest but not going to hurt anyone - unlike traditional preserved meats which are laden with potential carcinogens. I suppose it is un-PC to mention that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Something for the BBC to check. A guy in a pub told me that the labs were told to check for horsemeat and nothing else. Not pork, lamb, goat or dog. If this was true it still leaves a question in my mind as to what is in the food.

    By the way, why does every commentator go on about the contaminated food being 'cheap'. This is a spin word always used about UK food and it is not true.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    The work programme failure is a much more worthy HYS topic. These private companies who run the schemes are making a profit despite poor performance and it throws the spotlight on IDS and his welfare reforms going down the pan. As for this topic no one has died, let the police and legal system take action and report on real news.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    I'm still waiting for an enterprising retailer to explicitly sell horsemeat in the UK (alongside their ostrich, alligator, venison and buffalo offerings) so we can see what all the fuss is about.

    Apparently countries like the Netherlands and Belgium have seen a huge resurgence in interest in what was once seen as an old-fashioned product and butchers are struggling to keep up with the demand!

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    the issue here has nothing to do with being safe to eat. This simply comes down to trust. Trust in the government agencies created to protect us, trust in the companies that sell these products. Corners will be cut in order to make a quick buck which is self evident in this scandal. Same hallmarks as the banking crisis, and it wont be the last. Capitalism gloriously working NOT!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    I suppose this is what happens when you choose the lowest tender, then put a squeeze on the company to deliver the same product at an even lower price so you can make more profit and increase your share value.

    The consumer doesn't figure in their plans because they are not as important as the money.

    It's all about the money people. Always has been, always will be.

  • Comment number 35.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I wonder what else would it test positive for... Scientist did say they can only test it for things they are looking for rather than checking for everything. Makes me wonder why we need all this H&S regulation if the whole nation is fed on unregulated horse meat without any obvious health effects?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Why not just relabel it "Contains Horsemeat", and offer it for sale?

    Some of us would buy it.

  • Comment number 32.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    "He said the price of burgers had risen by 14%,"

    So thats their big apology, put the prices up. Surely if they were totally unaware of horse being in there then the price reflected what they thought were beef products. So why the price hike to reflect better quality, surely they thought the better quality was in there in the first place?

    Lieing Thieves.


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