Rogue horsemeat was on Friday found in British school dinners and hospital meals for the first time as officials from the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) confirmed further police raids on three more food companies.
Tests of processed beef dishes sold in supermarkets revealed that 2 percent of those examined so far had found horsemeat, but as those results were being announced the scandal was confirmed to have spread to public-sector caterers and major restaurant chains owned by Whitbread PLC.
In Lancashire, northern England, cottage pies destined for 47 schools across the county were withdrawn after testing positive for horsemeat. It was not clear how long the contaminated food had been on the menu or how many pupils may have eaten it.
In Northern Ireland, a range of burgers bound for hospitals were withdrawn after officials confirmed they contained equine DNA and food group Compass, which supplies more than 7,000 sites in Britain and Ireland, including schools and hospitals, said a burger product it supplied to two colleges and a small number of offices in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland had tested positive.
As the horsemeat scandal continued into its sixth week, it was revealed that:
‧ The FSA’s first wave of test results from retailers found 2 percent of 2,500 samples of processed beef products contained more than 1 percent horsemeat, though experts warned the testing “did not get to the root of the scandal.” The contaminated samples were from seven withdrawn products, including Findus lasagne and Tesco burgers. None tested positive for the drug phenylbutazone — or “bute” — used on horses, but which is banned from the food chain.
‧ Pub and hotel group Whitbread, which owns Premier Inn, Beefeater Grill and Brewers Fayre, confirmed that horse DNA had been found in meat lasagnes and beef burgers.
‧ The UK’s Department of Health said it had written to tax-funded National Health Service hospitals and “social care providers” asking them to carry out “suitable checking regimes on the authenticity of food.”
‧ Sheffield Council has suspended the use of all processed meat in schools and Staffordshire Council said it had taken beef off school menus as a precaution.
‧ The EU decided to start testing for the presence of unlabeled horsemeat in foods across member states. Tests will also be carried out for bute residues. In France, veterinary and sanitary inspectors continued to investigate Spanghero, a meat processing and wholesale company, accused by the government of fraudulently stamping the label “beef” on 750 tonnes of cheap horsemeat.
On Friday, officials from the Food Standards Agency and police carried out three raids on suspect food companies — one in Hull and two in Tottenham, north London. A spokesman confirmed that computers and documentary evidence was seized, as well as meat samples.
The British Hospitality Association, which represents many of the major providers of meals to schools, said that its members were testing their minced-beef products in agreement with the FSA and the government, although they said they were still waiting for the “vast majority” of results to come through owing to a backlog at the testing laboratories.
FSA chief executive Catherine Brown said the results published on Friday following tests carried out by food retailers confirmed the “overwhelming majority of beef products in this country do not contain horsemeat.”
However, the results only account for about a quarter of all the products eaten by consumers and did not look for trace contamination, a decision described as “pragmatic” by the FSA.
The results also did not include the positive tests uncovered by Whitbread and Compass.
“Clearly, this is a fast changing picture,” said Brown, who said more test results would be revealed on Friday next week.
Mark Woolfe, who led the FSA’s surveillance for a decade up to 2009, said the testing did not get to the root of the scandal because the problems in the supply chain that led to the contamination in the UK were still largely unknown.