14 Feb 2013

EU ministers urge tests on all processed beef

10:34 am on 14 February 2013

The EU's executive says it will call on all European Union states to carry out DNA tests on beef products to check the presence of horsemeat.

The recommendation was part of a plan devised by the European Commission to contain Europe's horsemeat scandal, EU health commissioner Tonio Borg said at the close of crisis talks with countries embroiled in the food crisis.

Mr Borg said the Commission would also suggest that the bloc's 27 members carry out checks for a veterinary drug, phenylbutazone, that can be dangerous to humans in all establishments handling raw horsemeat, AFP reports.

The proposal would be examined on Friday at an extraordinary meeting of the EU's Standing Committee on the Food Chain called to face the crisis caused by the sale of horsemeat disguised as beef.

If agreed it would go to talks between the EU's agricultural ministers scheduled for 25 February.

Mr Borg also said Europol, the EU police agency, would coordinate inquiries currently being carried out in countries affected by the crisis.

He said the scandal was not due to a lack of rules on labelling but apparently to fraud.

"If there is horsemeat in hamburgers or lasagne there should've been a label indicating this," he said. "It is evident that somewhere down the line, someone ... has fraudulently or negligently, probably fraudulently, labelled a product in a deceptive way."

Last week Britain discovered horsemeat in frozen lasagne sold under the Findus label, but processed by French firm Comigel.

Since then the scandal has engulfed Europe. German supermarket chain Kaiser's Tengelmann took its own frozen lasagne off shelves on Wednesday, 24 hours after supermarkets in Switzerland and the Netherlands became the latest to pull ready-made meals.

Also on Wednesday, French President Francois Hollande warned the scandal could seriously damage the country's frozen food sector.

Comigel, based in northeastern France, has denied all wrongdoing, saying it bought meat from from another French firm, Spanghero, through its own Luxembourg subsidiary. Spanghero said it was supplied by two abattoirs in Romania.

Traders in Cyprus and the Netherlands were also reportedly involved in the supply chain.

Romania denied being to blame with Prime Minister Victor Ponta this week urging EU officials to find out where the fraud originated and identify the culprits.

Raids by British police and officials from the Food Standards Agency on Tuesday on a slaughterhouse in northern England and a meat-producing factory in Wales opened a new front in the pan-European search for the source of the horsemeat. Both sites were shut and all meat seized.

Also on Tuesday, French retailer Picard said tests had confirmed that horsemeat was present in two lots of frozen "beef" lasagne meals made by French firm Comigel.

Retailers in Britain, Sweden, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands have been removing Comigel products after the firm alerted Swedish frozen food giant Findus to the presence of horsemeat in its meals last week.