Dutch authorities have ordered the recall of up to 50,000 tons of beef sold by
two wholesalers to retailers across Europe because they suspect that it is contaminated with horsemeat.

The order is the largest move yet in the European horsemeat scandal, which led to a continent-wide search for companies trading in contaminated meat after horsemeat was discovered in frozen lasagne labelled to contain beef.

Announced by authorities on Wednesday, the order applies to meat sold by related Dutch wholesalers, Wiljo Import-Export and Willy Selten Meat Wholesalers, which are both based in the town of Oss.

Authorities said they had sent letters to about 130 known clients of the two wholesalers in the Netherlands, telling them to trace any meat supplied by the two wholesalers. They had also written to 370 groups across Europe.

Benno Bruggink, a spokesman for the NVWA, the Netherlands food and product safety authority, told Dutch radio the order applied to meat with a sell-by date between the beginning of 2011 and February 2015. Much of it may have been consumed already.

“We do not have any indications of problems for public health, but because we cannot guarantee where the meat comes from – the origin is not certain – we are saying this is not fit for human consumption,” Mr Bruggink said.

The NVWA said enforcement of the recall in other European states, including Germany, France and Spain, would be a matter for national governments, which had been alerted to the problem.

Some Dutch politicians reacted to the news angrily. Marianne Thieme, leader of the Party for the Animals, called for a parliamentary debate on Thursday to address the NVWA’s failure to prevent the labelling breach.

“Fifty million kilos of meat – how many meals is that? How are you going to trace all of that?” asked Ms Thieme, whose party has two seats in the Dutch parliament.

Authorities said inspections beginning in February carried out at Willy Selten’s meat warehouse in Oss revealed that beef had been mixed with cheaper horsemeat. The recall order had stemmed from the results of these inspections, they added.

The two companies from which the beef was recalled are not related to Draap Trading, a smaller concern in the town of Breda, which was at the centre of an earlier stage of the horsemeat scandal in February.

Draap’s owner was convicted of substituting horsemeat for beef by a Dutch court in 2012, but had continued trading in wholesale meat through his new company, the name of which was the Dutch word for horse, paard, spelt backwards.

In that case the horsemeat had been shipped in correctly labelled packages from Romanian slaughterhouses, and had apparently been relabelled in the Netherlands before being shipped to France and elsewhere.

The NVWA did not specify which countries or companies it believed had supplied the horsemeat being used by Wiljo Import-Export and Willy Selten Meat Wholesalers.

Since the original horsemeat scandal several smaller incidents of food labelling fraud have come to light.

In late February investigations found that normal eggs were being fraudulently sold under organic labels.

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