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Birds Eye has withdrawn three beef ready meals from supermarkets in the UK and Ireland as a precaution after horse DNA was found in a product in Belgium.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There were six positive tests for horse DNA at a level of greater than 1% - all on products which have been withdrawn.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They had all been previously identified and withdrawn from shelves with the exception of beef burgers, minced beef and halal minced beef from Sodexo, a French catering and facilities giant.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Though the company said it had withdrawn the relevant products, it would not give details of public sector institutions it supplied.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 350.

    I have had horsemeat overseas, damn good too! However if people sneak horse into our food to cheat us, where will it end? Arsenic, toxins in drinks to sweeten, Chalk, wood pulp? We need to crucify these cheats, and the retailers who profit and shrug shoulders when accountability is needed!
    Many pies made here are 100% imported meat! Think about that!, buy British meat for quality assured!

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    Any idea how many hys have been run on horse meat so far . 8 /9 maybe more .
    What story justifies that much coverage by a supposedly sensible media organisation .
    Given that an 8p per day fall in spending will reduce GDP by 0.1% . Ot is easy yo see that the BBC are desperate to turn + 0.1% into -0.1% .

  • rate this

    Comment number 348.

    340: Think there's a lot of people who wouldn't be bothered to eat horse/dog whatever but it's when it is labelled as such when there's a problem. It's fine being a vegan but i would rather risk some horse than have to do it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    Alos fed up with people spouting clap trap about buying local, buying non processed food.

    Maybe if you have the time and money to do this then bully for you! You're not gonna get a medal for it! Stop looking down on those, including me who buy processed products! Your not better in any way than us. You're just annoying! Stand down!

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    Vegans are not exempt from this disgraceful wave of product misrepresentation. I bought a beef tomato the other day, turns out it was contaminated by horse-radish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    For thousands of years kosher food has been effectively supervised.

    The FSA should look at the methods of supervision for kosher food and apply it in full to bring this scandal to a close. Kosher meat is more expensive than other kinds but at least kosher beef really is beef!

    Meanwhile, either buy from a known honest butcher, buy at the farm gate, grow your own or buy kosher meat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    Can't post what I really think, it would be censored!
    Like many I no longer have any confidence in the Food Industry or Supermarkets; if anyone wants my trade, they'll now have earn it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    'May contain traces of Nuts' is a legal cop-out. If the contents of a product can't be guaranteed, it should read, 'May contain almost Anything' (But please don't sue)

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    Horse steak is 38 calories per ounce. Beef steak is 79 calories per ounce. If horse meat were for sale in the UK, I would buy it, but it isn't. Perhaps they added it to reduce the overall calories found in these lean meals?

  • Comment number 341.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    Nope, still smug! I'm just enjoying the discomfort of beef-eaters who are trying to stay at ease with eating one type of large, hoofed mammal while being discombobulated about having perhaps eaten a different type of large, hoofed mammal. People, we're going to have to admit it: if it's ok to eat one, it's ok to eat the other - otherwise it's just picking on the chickens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    Sad if people stop eating ALL beef - we have some fantastic butchers in this country, whose sourcing of beef is, without doubt, beyond reproach. Buy fresh, UK sourced beef from your butcher!

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    This is what happens when you take a risk based approach to regulation and curtail inspections... it happened with Financial Services and it has happened in the Food Supply Sector it becomes reactive regulation with regulators undertaking fewer and critically announced inspections.. Is it "Better Regulation" or just "No Regulation"

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    @310.Chungas Revenge

    oh how you made me laugh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    Maybe now people will stop buying all this processed muck.

    You get what you pay for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    Carl Sagan once said "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe."

    .. and as well all know the Universe contains horses.

    Is nothing safe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    "All these "hilarious" posters who claim they would eat horse meat - really ??"

    Yup, really. If I was given horse steak, I would have no moral objection. Indeed: I'd consider myself a bit of a hypocrite to distinguish between murdering a cow for meat and a horse for meat on the grounds that one is a little bit cuter looking than the other.

    My issue isn't that it's horse; it's that it's fraud.

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    If you can't see what it comes from then you run the risk of being duped or worse. Buying local shortens the supply chain giving less chance of criminal activity and also has the advantage of supporting your community. A further likely advantage is the animals involved will have had better welfare during their short lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 332.

    Ref Furgie's comment at 271, I'm sure the FSA would love to a load more testing on a greater percentage of the foodstuffs that we are presented with. However, like so many other govt. agencies they are subject to cutbacks in the public sector and therefore probably find their resources stretched to breaking point.
    Regulations and testing getting in the way of profits also springs to mind!

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    326. StuartF
    'Rather than pull all food that may have horse ... label it correctly. '

    What would you put on the label?

    'May contain horse meat of unknown origin. The horse might have been treated with harmful medication, it might have been a diseased horse sold illegally to the meat factory. It might even have been a dead horse someone found and made a few quid on. We're not sure'.
    No thanks.


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