8 Feb 2013

Findus lasagnes may have contained horsemeat ‘since August’

Findus’s beef lasagne may have been contaminated with horsemeat since the summer, Labour MP Tom Watson says.

The Food Standards Agency has ordered food companies to test all their beef products after some Findus beef lasagnes were found to contain up to 100 per cent horsemeat

But Mr Watson claimed he had obtained a letter, sent from Findus to retailers on Monday, warning that a French-based supplier told the company on 2 February that raw materials delivered to it since 1 August last year were “likely to be non-conform and consequently the labelling on finished products is incorrect”.

An extract from the letter, on Mr Watson’s website, says: “Investigations have led one of our suppliers based in France to inform us in writing on 2 February 2013 that the raw materials delivered since 1 August 2012 are likely to be non-conform and consequently the labelling on finished products is incorrect. The supplier has asked us to withdraw the raw material batches.”

Findus's beef lasagne may have been contaminated with horsemeat since the summer, Labour MP Tom Watson says.

Findus reiterated its apology to customers on Friday afternoon, but did not respond to Mr Watson’s claims. A spokesman for the company said: “At Findus UK our first priority is our customers and providing quality products they can trust.

“But we know that many people have been concerned by the news this week that tests have shown that some of our Findus beef lasagne has been found to contain horse meat. We understand those concerns; we are sorry that we have let people down.”

‘Completely unacceptable’

David Cameron said today that the scandal was “shocking” and “completely unacceptable”.

Speaking at an EU summit press conference, the prime minister said: “This isn’t really about food safety, it is about effective food labelling, it is about proper retail practice, and people will be very angry to find out they have been eating horse when they thought they were eating beef.

“… the FSA has got to do everything it can and retailers have got to do everything they can to make sure the food they sell is accurately labelled and described.

“I know there is great public concern about this issue and I want to make sure that everything possible is done to co-ordinate across government so that this is properly gripped.”

He said the secretary of state for agriculture, Owen Paterson, would be returning to the UK on Friday to meet with ministers, and would be meeting with the FSA on Saturday.

Criminal activity

The FSA said it was “highly likely” that criminal activity was to blame for the contamination as consumers were warned not to eat the ready meals.

Shoppers have been told not to eat the following products if they have them at home: Findus beef lasagne in 320g, 360g and 500g sizes. Tests were carried out after Findus withdrew the products over contamination concerns.

A Findus spokesman said in a statement: “All other Findus products have been tested and are not affected. We understand this it is a very sensitive subject for consumers and we would like to reassure you we have reacted immediately. We do not believe this to be a food safety issue.

“We are confident that we have fully resolved this supply chain issue. Fully compliant beef lasagne will be in stores again soon.”

Findus took action after its French supplier Comigel raised concerns about the type of meat used in the lasagne. It tested 18 of its beef lasagne products and found 11 meals containing between 60-100 per cent horsemeat.

Supermarkets Tesco and Aldi had already withdrawn a range of ready meal products supplied by Comigel. Tesco has also decided to withdraw its Everyday Value spaghetti bolognese, which is produced at the same Comigel site.

Urgent tests

Food Standards Agency Chief Executive Catherine Brown said in a statement:

“Following our investigation into Findus products, the FSA is now requiring a more robust response from the food industry in order to demonstrate that the food it sells and serves is what it say it is on the label.

“We are demanding that food businesses conduct authenticity tests on all beef products, such as beef burgers, meatballs and lasagne, and provide the results to the FSA. The tests will be for the presence of significant levels of horsemeat. The deadline for these results to be provided to the FSA is 15 February.”

The latest development in the contamination crisis comes days after supermarket chain Asda withdrew products supplied by a Northern Ireland company which was storing meat found to contain a high proportion of horse DNA.

Newry-based Freeza Meats had been storing the consignment of meat, which was labelled as beef, on behalf of a supplier in the Irish Republic – Co Monaghan-based meat trader McAdam Foods.

Two tested samples were found to contain 80 per cent horsemeat.

Criminal activity?

In a blog published on Thursday, FSA Chief Scientist Andrew Wadge said “While investigations are still on-going, and may lead to prosecutions, the presence of 30 per cent horsemeat in a beef burger suggests adulteration and possibly criminal activity.”

However he added that DNA testing procedures are so sensitive that it may not be practical to avoid some minimal levels of contamination: “What level of DNA carry-over from one species to another might reasonably be expected to occur in a meat plant following hygenic clean-down”.

He added: “We have therefore agreed with representatives of the food industry that a level of one per cent is a reasonable pragmatic level to help distinguish between gross contamination and trace levels of carry-over.”

The latest revelations raise questions about the extent of this scandal – this is no longer just a food safety issue but possibly a criminal trade. Mary Creagh

However, Shadow Environment Secretary Mary Creagh said: “The Irish Government has called in the police and fraud experts to investigate the horsemeat fraud, yet complacent British ministers have not and are asleep on the job.

“The latest revelations raise questions about the extent of this scandal – this is no longer just a food safety issue but possibly a criminal trade.

“The public must have confidence that the food they buy is properly labelled, legal and safe to eat, whether it is purchased from a supermarket or in a school canteen.”

Findus has said that it will offer refunds to anyone involved: “Consumers who have purchased the product should call our Findus UK Customer Care Line on UK 0800 132584, ROI 1800 800500 or email careline@findus.co.uk for a full refund.”