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Last updated: February 15, 2013 6:12 pm
More than one in 100 products have tested positive in the UK’s first tranche of tests for horsemeat, as the EU approved a Europe-wide DNA probe.
Horsemeat was found in 29 out of 2,501 products, in the biggest round of DNA tests since the scandal began last month, the FSA said. The 29 are different pack sizes of seven different meals and have more than 1 per cent horsemeat.
Most of the positive tests were already known and had been withdrawn: lasagne from Aldi and Findus; burgers from Tesco, the Co-operative Group and Rangeland, the catering supplier; and spaghetti bolognese from Aldi and Tesco.
Catherine Brown, FSA chief executive, said it was the industry’s responsibility – not the government’s – to conduct tests, however much they cost.
“The results show that the overwhelming majority of beef products in this country do not contain horse,” she said. “The examples we have had are totally unacceptable. But they are the exceptions.”
She said the FSA had entered three premises in England on Thursday as part of the investigation.
The EU one-month programme of tests will also check horsemeat for potentially harmful drug residues.
More than 900 UK tests were still in progress and the issue was “fast-evolving”, the FSA said.
The figures are not the most up to date as they may exclude some tests that came too late. They do not include positive tests for Whitbread – which owns the Premier Inn, Brewers Fayre and Beefeater Grill chains, among others – and Compass, the world’s largest catering group, which has discovered horsemeat in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Nor do they include a cottage pie delivered to Lancashire schools.
No further positive tests were found at the Co-operative. Iceland Foods has found only a trace of horsemeat in its burgers, which it said was far below the accepted threshold.
Asda said it had tested 196 processed beef products, and none had tested for the presence of horsemeat against the Food Standards Agency’s threshold. Aldi said it had tested 163 of 179 products and these were all clear of horse DNA.
Whitbread said it was “shocked and disappointed” that two of the 30 products it tested contained horsemeat.
Products supplied to hospitals in Northern Ireland and schools in Lancashire were also found to contain horsemeat.
Tesco, which had withdrawn burgers because of contamination at the beginning of the crisis last month, and spaghetti bolognese earlier this week, said new tests on 149 products were all clear.
The European food industry is facing a growing crisis after the discovery of widespread adulteration of beef-labelled processed food products
Morrison, which has withdrawn salami products, said it had tested 68 own-brand products and had found no contamination.
Sainsbury also said its test results were negative. “No trace of horsemeat has been found in any of our products. However, we are playing our part in the wider industry investigation, including carrying out further testing,” it said.
The Co-operative said tests on a sample of 59 of its 102 own-brand minced beef products had proved negative for horse DNA.
Philip Clarke, chief executive of Tesco, promised to “set a new benchmark for the testing of products”, to give customers “confidence that if it isn’t on the label, it isn’t in the product”.
“I am clear that, as the UK’s leading food retailer, it is Tesco’s responsibility to lead on this issue,” he said.
He said Tesco would be reviewing its approach to the supply chain, and provide customers with more information.
Iceland said all its branded products containing beef had been found to be clear of horse protein contamination. One product did test positive for a trace of horsemeat on initial tests but further tests came back negative.
Earlier, Downing Street 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 country’s Food Standards Agency. Further to the arrests, made in Wales and west Yorkshire, there have been seizures of evidence in Hull and London.
The FSA has submitted a full file and evidence on this issue to Europol, and the information has now been analysed by both Europol and law enforcement agencies in 35 countries – across Europe and elsewhere.
Additional reporting by Duncan Robinson and Tom Batchelor
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