After the discovery that Tesco Value burgers contained horse and pig DNA, consumers were left reeling as yet more family favourites turned out to contain up to 100% horse meat. Earlier this week, a third-party French supplier alerted Findus to concerns that the beef lasagne product did not “conform to specification”.
The Food Standards Agency (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 The company has withdrawn the meals and reiterated its apology.
The FSA said it was “highly likely” criminal activity was to blame for the contamination.
Trading Standards services are working with the Food Standards Agency on a response strategy that will result in local authorities identifying and inspecting all food premises that are processing or repacking beef products within the UK to protect consumers.
Andy Foster, TSI’s Operations and Policy Director said:
“The discovery of horsemeat in processed food products at such high levels suggests deliberate fraudulent activity not accidental contamination. We are working very closely with the Food Standards Agency to respond to the crisis and all Local Authorities are being encouraged to identify food premises in their boundaries that might pose a risk and take whatever action they feel necessary to protect consumers. This may include audit trails, documentation checks or sampling.
“While this is not a safety issue, this is a clear case of consumers paying for something and not just getting something else they are getting a product which would repulse most UK consumers. As consumers we put a lot of trust and faith in the food manufacturing sector to produce food that is safe and meets its description, this is a gross betrayal of that trust.
“When this is over the food manufacturing sector will have to look very hard at itself and do whatever it needs to do to restore faith and trust back into the food chain that has been inevitably drained through this scandal.
“Trading Standards Officers and the Food Standards Agency will be doing all we can to locate and remove any food that is affected once that is done we will ensure action is taken against those who are responsible.”
Jenny Morris of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health said:
“Environmental Health Officers will be working very closely with trading standards colleagues to provide a coherent response to this crisis of confidence. We would echo that we do not believe this to be a food safety issue but would encourage any consumers who are concerned with anything they have bought to return them to the retailer concerned.”
Consumers have been urged by the Food Minister, David Heath, not to throw away frozen meals unless told to. “The FSA says there is no reason to suppose there is a health risk and therefore the advice is to carry on with normal shopping habits until you are told otherwise,” he told the BBC.
However the Food Standards Agency complicated matters by suggesting anyone who has a Findus Beef Lasagna should return it to retailers as a precaution.
“This is a very serious issue. The evidence we have about the two cases, of the significant amount of horse meat in burgers and lasagne, 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.
“We believe that these two particular cases – the frozen burgers from Tesco and the lasagne from Findus – are linked to suppliers in Ireland and France respectively. We are working closely with the authorities in these countries to get to the root of the problem. Our priority remains to protect UK consumers. People have been asking whether it is safe to eat any frozen meat products at the moment. There is no reason to suspect that there’s any health issue with frozen food in general, and we wouldn’t advise people to stop eating it.
“In the particular cases of the Findus lasagne and the Tesco burgers, they have been withdrawn from sale. Anyone who has them in their freezer should return them to retailers as a precaution. In addition to the widespread testing we are doing, we’ve instructed the industry to urgently carry out its own tests on processed beef products to see whether horsemeat is present.”
Meanwhile consumers are urged by shop local groups to buy their meat from a good quality local butcher. This Ipswich Spy author bought meat for a week at my local Ipswich butchers, to a higher quality than I would get from Tesco and it was cheaper as well.