Horsemeat scandal Q&A: the facts and what you should do
Consumers should brace themselves for more unwelcome news this week in the ongoing horsemeat scandal, the Government has warned.
While all processed beef products are safe to eat, further revelations are likely as tests are carried out.
Food retailers have been told to carry out tests on all processed beef products after some Findus lasagne were found to contain more than 60 per cent horse meat.
The horsemeat scandal kicked off last month when Irish food inspectors announced they had found horsemeat in some burgers stocked by a number of UK supermarket chains including Tesco, Iceland and Lidl.
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It emerged over the weekend horse meat contamination may have found its way into school meals and hospital food across the country.
Environmental health officers from Nottingham City Council are carrying out checks following the nationwide controversy. The council has not confirmed exactly what food is being checked, but it provides food for some schools, day centres and residential homes.
Meanwhile the suppliers of school and community meals in Bath have assured their produce does not contain horsemeat.
But how did the scandal come to light and what should consumers do? Find out with our Q&A guide:
The horsemeat controversy came to light last month when the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) revealed 10 of the 27 burger products it had tested contained traces of horse DNA and 23 contained pig DNA.
Burgers containing almost 30 per cent horsemeat were found in a brand sold by Tesco, and smaller amounts of horsemeat and pig DNA were established in other products.
The FSAI said the meat came from two processing plants in Ireland - Silvercrest Foods in County Monaghan and Liffey Meats in County Cavan - and the Dalepak Hambleton plant in Yorkshire.
The BBC explains: “Subsequent tests saw Rangeland Foods in Co Monaghan, which supplies one of Ireland's biggest burger chains, shut down after a sample at the factory tested positive with a reading of 75 per cent horse DNA in raw ingredient.
“In the case of Silvercrest and Rangeland, the FSAI believe the horsemeat was introduced in blocks of frozen burger filler product imported from Poland”.
The focus switched to Romania over the weekend, as it emerged officials are investigating whether horsemeat found in beef products in Britain and France came from a Romanian abattoir.
The Independent yesterday reported horse meat found in British supermarkets could be donkey meat. Horses have been banned from Romanian roads and millions of animals – potentially including donkeys - have been sent to the slaughterhouse, campaigners say.
The Romanian prime minister today denied allegations two abattoirs in his country sold horsemeat purported to be beef to European food companies.
What is being done?
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has started a sampling programme to investigate how far the contaminated products have been distributed, and ordered food businesses to carry out authenticity tests on all beef products such as beef burgers and meatballs.
The tests are for significant levels of horsemeat, and businesses must have the first set of results by Friday February 15.
The FSA is also conducting a survey in which 28 local authorities across the UK will take a total of 224 samples in accordance with a detailed protocol, with the aim of selecting products which are representative of goods on the market.
The FSA will publish the results from the study, including brand names, and will disclose any formal action taken. It is anticipated a full analysis of the results of this survey will be published in April 2013.
The FSA is also considering whether legal action is appropriate.
Meanwhile Findus has been ordered by the FSA to test its beef lasagne which contains horse meat for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, or 'bute'.
Animals treated with phenylbutazone are not allowed to enter the food chain as it may pose a risk to human health. The outcome of this test is expected over the next few days and will be published on the FSA website.
The following products have been recalled:
- Aldi Today’s Special Frozen Beef Lasagne and Aldi Today’s Special Frozen Spaghetti Bolognese
- Findus Frozen Beef Lasagne (320g; 360g and 500g; all date codes affected)
- Tesco Everyday Value spaghetti bolognese
- Tesco Everyday Value eight-pack of frozen beef burgers; Tesco four-pack of frozen beef quarter pounders and Flamehouse frozen chargrilled quarter pounders
I’ve already eaten the products named – what should I do?
The FSA says there is currently no reason to think there is a food safety problem with the horse meat.
On its website, the FSA says: “Horse meat is not a risk in itself. However, if the horses have illegally got into the food chain, they may contain the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, or 'bute'.
“‘Bute’ is not allowed in the food chain because in humans it can cause rare cases of a serious blood disorder, aplastic anaemia. Because it is not possible to say what triggers the anaemia, it is not possible to identify a safe level of residue in meat.
“Bute was banned from use in humans after it was found that about 1 person in 30,000 recipients suffered a serious side effect. But in levels reported in previous FSA testing of contaminated meat, the maximum level found would have to be multiplied a thousand-fold to be at the same level as that which used to be given to humans.
“This suggests that even if you have eaten products which contain contaminated horse meat, the risk of damage to your health is very low.”
The UK's chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies today said there is a "limited public health risk" if 'bute' is found in beef products which have been adulterated with horsemeat.
Meanwhile Findus lasagne have been withdrawn from sale, and anyone who has this product in their freezer should return it to retailers as a precaution.
What should consumers do now?
As explained above, the evidence to date does not suggest there is a food safety risk. If further information indicates any health risk, the FSA will provide consumers with advice.
There is no reason to suspect there is any health issue with meat products in general, the FSA says, and it would not advise people to stop eating them.
But people who have bought Findus beef lasagne products are advised not to eat them.
In a bid to reassure consumers the FSA has also announced in future the results of tests on meat set to appear on UK shelves will be made public. It has said it will now work with businesses to establish a standardised sampling and testing system.
I don’t really care if I eat horsemeat. What’s the big deal?
Food labelling rules state a product's label must not mislead, so if a product is labelled a burger it would have to state all the types of meat in it.
Earlier this month the FSA 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 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”.