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February 15, 2013 5:59 pm
The UK released the first tranche of results of tests for horsemeat on Friday, declaring that slightly more than one per cent of supermarket products tested were tainted as authorities across Europe fought to contain a sprawling food scandal.
The test results in Britain came as European officials on Friday officially signed-off an EU-wide programme of meat testing, as authorities scrambled to assess the scale of a horsemeat scandal facing the bloc’s biggest economies.
Up to 150 processed beef products in each member state will be DNA tested for their authenticity. Separate tests will examine legitimate horsemeat on sale for any traces of drugs that can be harmful to humans, such as the anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone. Initial results are expected in mid-April and are likely to be followed by a second round of tests
Tonio Borg, the EU health commissioner, welcomed the swift decision by member states and called on them “to keep up the pressure in their efforts to identify a clear picture and a sequence of events”.
More tests are expected by the UK’s Food Standards Agency. But officials said horsemeat had been found in just 29 of the first 2,501 products tested as part of the biggest round of DNA tests conducted since the scandal broke last month.
“The results show that the overwhelming majority of beef products in this country do not contain horse,” Catherine Brown, the FSA chief executive, said. “The examples we have had are totally unacceptable. But they are the exceptions.”
The European food industry is facing a growing crisis after the discovery of widespread adulteration of beef-labelled processed food products
Earlier, the British government had hit out at retailers caught up in the horsemeat scandal, saying they were nowhere to be seen when they should be trying to reassure their customers.
No one has been charged yet over the scandal, although British police on Thursday announced the arrests of three men on suspicion of fraud at two meat plants closed down by the FSA.
Meanwhile, the wholesaler accused by the French government of knowingly selling as beef horse meat that ended up in Findus lasagne and many other frozen products sold around Europe angrily protested its innocence on Friday, complaining that 300 jobs at its factory in southwest France were now at risk.
“We are in shock,” said Barthélémy Aguerre, head of Spanghero, which ordered the Romanian-sourced meat from a Cyprus-based Dutch trader and sold it on to Comigel, another French company which in turn made the finished products. “We have never ordered horse meat. We ordered beef. We resold [what we thought was] beef. We deny complicity. We never tricked anyone.”
The company has accused the government, which has suspended its sanitation licence, of making it a scapegoat and being overly hasty in condemning him. Mr Aguerre said none of his colleagues were aware that an eight-digit code on a label attached to the meat consignment which the government said designated frozen horsemeat signified the latter.
“Nobody knew it was a code that identified horsemeat,” Mr Aguerre told reporters. “If we had wanted to commit fraud we would have changed the labels showing the code.”
Spanghero was founded by a famous French rugby-playing family of the same name, but the family sold out in 2009.
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