Fraud, criminal activity, tip of the iceberg — the language surrounding the contaminated beef scandal is getting worse by the day. And just as the language is getting worse, so has the number of products and countries involved increased. Suppliers are losing contracts and processors are required to carry out more testing. 

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In the latest revelation, French supplier Comigel warned that a number of products it had made for sale in the UK could be contaminated. As a result, Findus UK announced that it had withdrawn certain lasagna products. The UK Food Standards Agency published that of 18 beef lasagna products tested, 11 meals contained 60 percent and 100 percent horse meat. 

In a statement, the Food Standards Agency said: “This is a very serious issue. The evidence we have about the two cases, of the significant amount of horse meat in burgers and lasagna, points either to negligence or deliberate contamination of the food chain. This is why we have involved the police, both here and in Europe.” 

Findus’ UK website now simply displays an apology rather than its normal product information. 

More countries affected

The French Ministry of Agriculture said: “As far as we are concerned, this is an issue of fraud, rather than food safety. For us, the most important thing in this case is the lack of transparency, which constitutes fraud.” 

In addition to the withdrawals in the UK, seven French supermarkets have now withdrawn products supplied by Findus and Comigel. Food products in a further 11 EU countries may be affected. The origin of the mislabeled horse meat is now thought to be Romania, prompting a statement from Romania’s president and meetings between the country’s and EU officials. 

More testing agreed

New testing measures have been agreed in the UK.  Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: ”I called the major retailers and food distributors in today to agree to a clear path of urgent action to deal with the problem of horse meat in processed beef products. 

“People should have absolute confidence in what they are buying. The responsibility for that lies with the retailers, who need to be absolutely sure that what they are selling is what they think it is. We agreed that more and tougher testing will take place. I asked them to agree to publish test results every three months through the Food Standards Agency.

“The retailers and industry bodies agreed to my proposal that they work with the FSA on making checks further down the food chain.” 

While the authorities across European countries insist that the issue is one of labeling and not food safety, the UK Food Standards Agency has nevertheless ordered some companies to test for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone. Animals treated with phenylbutazone are not allowed to enter the food chain as it may pose a risk to human health. 

Contracts lost

Supermarket chain Tesco, hit by contaminated product supplied by Silvercrest, has posted a video on its website in which group technical director Tim Smith says: “This is such a breach of our contract with them that we’ve made the decision today not to continue to take product from that supplier.  In the future, we are going to launch a new program of activity which will test on a DNA fingerprinting basis all the meat and meat products that we source from our suppliers.”

A number of other companies are thought to have delisted Silvercrest. 

Contamination was first discovered in burgers. In the UK, the Food Standards Agency has two classifications for burger products — standard and economy. A standard beef burger can only be classified as such if it comprises a minimum of 62 percent beef. Similarly, a chicken, or other poultry, burger must contain a minimum of 55 percent meat.  The percentages are lower, however, when it comes to economy products. An economy beef burger must contain 47 percent beef, while a chicken burger must contain 41 percent chicken. 

Other products have now been found to be contaminated with horse meat, and the list is expected to grow. In the UK, concerns have now been raised that meat used by catering companies to supply schools could have been similarly contaminated.