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Birds Eye has withdrawn three beef ready meals from supermarkets in the UK and Ireland as a precaution after horse DNA was found in a product in Belgium.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There were six positive tests for horse DNA at a level of greater than 1% - all on products which have been withdrawn.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They had all been previously identified and withdrawn from shelves with the exception of beef burgers, minced beef and halal minced beef from Sodexo, a French catering and facilities giant.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Though the company said it had withdrawn the relevant products, it would not give details of public sector institutions it supplied.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 150.

    The more we are told not to panic and to carry on buying and eating the way we usually do, the more I think hell no. Makes you wonder whats next and just how much further down the rabbit hole we have to go before we get to the truth of all this. Maybe the conspiracy theories arent so far fetched after all. Want food safe? grow your own, that way you avoid all this and the possibility of GMO spuds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Even Captain Birdseye turns out to be corrupt. What's next? John Noakes was on the take, Bambi was a dealer and Santa Clause had a glamour modelling career?

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Those that preach buying meats from local butchers need to consider where the additional volume will come from. How long will it take to breed a new cow, grow it on to eating ready? If demand rises, supply can't, not quickly, so prices will. When the short term boost fades off any farmer rushing to produce more may well be left with too many. So probably go back in a years time as prices collapse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    There will soon come a time when the UK has to be more protective of its farmers , like the French, rebuild and reestablish its farming community and reduce dependence on imports.

    Is that time now??

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Refund please, not just for the unopened products but the ones already consumed which didn’t comply with the description on the box. The only question is how far to go back, a year maybe or more? Electronic receipts make it easy to prove purchase.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.


    "I for one love horse meat, I would actually go as far as to say its my favourite meat. Can I buy it in the UK - no."

    Actually you can, there are several farms that have a website where you can buy it online and have it delivered if you don't live close enough :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    For years the meat industry has be saying:

    “Trust us, we don’t need all those health inspectors.”

    And, has successfully lobbied government for fewer inspections.

    Hmm… Trust you and look what happens!

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    At the end of the day this is only the tip of the iceburge, its been going on for years,now that horsemeat is out in the open lets take a look at all processed foods, fish fingers, fish pies, chicken nuggets etc, etc, what do they really contain, a high percentage of our chicken comes from thailand, makes you think doesnt it, electronically extracted meat what exactly is it, we havent got a clue .

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    118. Howesyourview
    @70. Gammarus
    It's just the thought of it that puts me off opposed to taste (as I have not tried them) Id still rather consume horse meat if i had the choice.

    There's not much that I haven't eaten apart from tripe (who would?), but the important thing is that I've always known exactly what I've been eating as I never buy processed food. It's the old adage about paying peanuts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    I for one love horse meat, I would actually go as far as to say its my favourite meat. Can I buy it in the UK - no. Sell it for what it is and for those that can get over the stigma and try it, might actually be surprised! HOWEVER I don’t expect to buy beef to find its not actually beef, that is not acceptable...

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    So the BBC is happy to open up comments on 'Birds Eye bashing' - yawn another horsemeat scandal - but lacks courage to do the same on its own Newsnight Saville report ?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    Is there not now a case for mandating more information on who actually produces these products. When you buy a product should you not be able to read the back and see whether it was, in fact, made by Birds Eye, Tesco, Findus, Waitrose or was actually made by Frigilunch, Paragon etc etc so we consumers can actually choose this?

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    At school we used to say

    " I am so hungry I could eat a scabby horse!"

    And now, perhaps, we actually have.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    5 Minutes ago
    "Do the fish fingers have seahorse in them?"

    They probably would if they could catch them..........

  • Comment number 136.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Are there not enough British farmers producing good quality beef? All these lengthy supply chains are bad for traceability as well as the environment.

    Some sort of limit on the distance a product comes from needs to be imposed especially where food is concerned.

    Be British, Buy British and save the local economy!

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Visited my local butcher this week, and found that his prices had risen by about 15% in two weeks. I take it this is because he thinks he doesn't have to bother competing with the supermarkets at the moment. As they keep telling us, if you want quality and want to be ripped off, shop local.

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Heeehh way

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    It was reported last week that this 'wasn't the tip of the iceberg'. It's akin to a used car salesman saying 'It's a great car - honest'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    I completely lost faith in the meat production industry (I hesitate to call it ‘farming’) after the BSE scandal and repeated outbreaks of e-Coli.

    The truth is out of the Laboratory virtually nobody can be sure what species of meat seeming is once it’s off the bone, even less so it’s history.

    One reason why I’ve not eaten the stuff in over 15 years, I suspect a few more will join me.


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