Scandal extends to Europe: horsemeat in frozen lasagne and spaghetti Bolognese
British Environment secretary is to meet representatives from the Food Standards Agency and meat retailers and suppliers to discuss the horsemeat scandal. Owen Paterson said investigations into how beef products had been contaminated with horsemeat were ongoing but the evidence so far suggests... it is either criminal activity or gross negligence.
Tesco, Aldi and Findus have all had to withdraw food products. But the Metropolitan Police says it is not investigating any alleged criminality.
A statement from New Scotland Yard said: Although we have met with the FSA we have not started an investigation and will not do so unless it becomes clear there has been any criminality under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police service.
Food minister David Heath said frozen food should not be discarded, and advised consumers to carry on eating meat unless told otherwise.
The FSA has asked UK firms to test all processed beef foods, but said it did not suspect there is any health issue with frozen food. And Mr Heath said the government's advice was exactly that of the FSA.
However shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh has expressed fears that other contaminated foods may be found.
Mr Paterson said: I completely understand why people are so concerned about this issue. It's totally unacceptable that people have been sold something that is not what they think it is.
We believe that the two particular cases of the frozen burgers from Tesco and the lasagne from Findus are linked to suppliers in Ireland and France respectively.
The French authorities are saying they are viewing the issue as a case of fraud rather than food safety. Anyone who has these products in their freezer should return them to retailers as a precaution.
Supermarket chain Aldi said tests on its Today's Special Frozen Beef Lasagne and Today's Special Frozen Spaghetti Bolognese showed they contained between 30% and 100% horsemeat. These had already been withdrawn after a warning from French supplier Comigel, which has told both Findus and Aldi that its products did not conform to specification. Comigel also said it had withdrawn all products related to its own supplier.
Findus UK became caught up in the row this week after horsemeat was found in its lasagne. The FSA said Findus had tested the meat in 18 of its beef lasagne products and found 11 meals in which it contained between 60% and 100% horsemeat. The meals have been withdrawn by Findus.
The FSA also said it was highly likely criminal activity was to blame for the contamination.
There is also a wider issue for the European authorities. The rules on labelling for meat products are fairly straightforward. But the rules are less clear on the provenance of meat when it comes to the ingredients of processed products. And food analysts are now calling for a review.
Since Comigel also supplies the Benelux, Scandinavian and Eastern Bloc supermarket chains, this is fast becoming a European problem.
Horsemeat may not pose a significant risk to humans but the health of European food processing is very much open to question.