STORY HIGHLIGHTSNEW: Swedish food agency will report products sold with incorrect labels
UK food firms must produce “meaningful results” in tests on all beef products by Friday
Findus France says it will sue a Romanian producer for horsemeat contamination
Horsemeat isn’t a health hazard, but could contain a veterinary drug unsafe for humans
London (CNN) — Sweden is reporting a food producer to police, marking the latest twist in a growing scandal over horsemeat found in products labeled as beef.The Swedish National Food Agency said it is informing authorities about Swedish frozen food maker Findus after horsemeat was found in beef products in Sweden, the United Kingdom, and France.”When we have discovered that products have been sold with the wrong labels, in this case beef lasagna containing horsemeat, it is normal that we report the company to police, according to the Swedish food legislation,” Lukas Linne, press secretary with the Swedish National Food Agency, told CNN.The agency is currently meeting to discuss the scandal.British police are investigating as well.Findus blames a Romanian producer. The French arm of Findus said it will file a legal complaint Monday against the unnamed Romanian business.”We were deceived,” Findus France said in a statement. “There are two victims in this affair: Findus and the consumer.”Findus said it had been told that its products were being made with French beef, not Romanian horsemeat.The British arm of Findus said it is considering legal action against suppliers as well. Early results of an internal investigation “strongly suggest” the horsemeat contamination of a beef lasagna product “was not accidental.”Horsemeat found in hamburgers in Britain and Ireland
The evidence so far suggests “either criminal activity or gross negligence,” Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said, adding that “more bad news” could come.
UK food businesses have been ordered to test all processed beef products for authenticity and report back to the authorities by Friday.
“I am determined that we get to the bottom of this and that any wrongdoing discovered is punished,” Paterson said in a statement.
Retailers in the United Kingdom, France and Sweden pulled millions of processed beef products off the shelves as the alarm was raised over the Findus lasagna.
The controversy comes less than a month after horsemeat was found in hamburgers sold in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Officials in Ireland have blamed Polish meat ingredients for what was found there.
‘Gross negligence or deliberate contamination‘
The UK Food Standards Agency said the evidence “points to either gross negligence or deliberate contamination in the food chain. This is why we have already involved the police, both here and in Europe.”
An emergency meeting was held in London on Saturday.
An agency spokesman, Brad Smythe, told CNN that participants in Saturday’s meeting agreed “meaningful results” must be achieved by Friday.
Officials discussed what tests are possible, what laboratory capacity is needed, and what can be done to protect consumer confidence, Smythe said.
“This is completely unacceptable — this isn’t about food safety but about proper food labeling and confidence in retailers,” Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday, quoted on his official Twitter feed.
The revelations have thrown the meat industry into crisis and revolted many meat eaters in the United Kingdom, where horsemeat is generally considered taboo, although it is commonly eaten in neighboring France, as well as countries including China, Russia, Kazakhstan and Italy.
Findus said Thursday it had withdrawn its lasagna from UK stores Monday as a precaution after its French supplier, Comigel, raised concerns about the type of meat used.
Meanwhile, Findus France has temporarily withdrawn three prepared dishes — lasagna bolognese, shepherd’s pie and moussaka — because of the discovery of horsemeat in products purported to be made with 100% beef, the firm said. The company added, however, that the three products could still be eaten without health risk.
Responding to questions as to how long it had known about the horsemeat issue, Findus said it had only been alerted by Comigel in a letter dated February 2.
That letter made Findus “aware of a possible August 2012 date” for the contamination, the company said.
British retailer Aldi said it had also withdrawn two of its products, a beef lasagna and spaghetti bolognese, after supplier Comigel “flagged concerns that the products do not conform to specification.”
Concerns about a veterinary drug
While horsemeat is not itself a food safety hazard, its unauthorized presence — in quantities up to 100% — in foods purported to be made with beef has raised serious concerns.
Comigel has not yet responded to CNN requests for comment.
Chief among food inspectors’ concerns is that the illicit horsemeat could contain the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, or “bute,” commonly used to treat horses.
Meat from animals treated with phenylbutazone is not allowed to enter the food chain as it may pose a risk to human health.
Findus has been ordered to test the lasagna withdrawn from shelves in the United Kingdom for the drug’s presence.
Tests showed up to 100% horsemeat
Aldi said in a statement that tests on random samples of its affected products, labeled Today’s Special Frozen Beef Lasagne and Today’s Special Frozen Spaghetti Bolognese, “demonstrated that the withdrawn products contained between 30% and 100% horsemeat.
“This is completely unacceptable and like other affected companies, we feel angry and let down by our supplier. If the label says beef, our customers expect it to be beef.”
Samples of the affected Findus lasagna contained between 60% and 100% horsemeat, according to UK and Irish food safety inspectors.
In nine out of the 10 burger samples, the horse DNA was found at very low levels, the inspectors said, but in one sample from Tesco, Britain’s largest retailer, the horse meat accounted for about 29% of the burger.
Tesco apologized to customers after the revelation and promised action to make sure it never happened again.
The discovery of pig DNA in beef products is of particular concern to Jews and Muslims, whose dietary laws proscribe the consumption of pork products. Jewish dietary laws also ban the eating of horsemeat.
The UK Justice Ministry confirmed last week that a number of meat pies and similar items supplied to prisons in England and Wales were labeled and served as halal — prepared in compliance with Islamic dietary law — but contained traces of pork DNA, the Food Standards Agency said.
Horsemeat is not commonly eaten in the United States, but the country does export it to Canada and Mexico. Congress passed a bill in November 2011 that lifted a 5-year-old ban on the slaughter of horses for meat in the United States.
CNN’s Alexander Felton contributed to this report.
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