UK

Horsemeat scandal: FSA hands evidence to Europol

  • 16 February 2013
  • From the section UK
A scientist puts pieces of meat into test tubes
Image caption Defra has denied Labour claims it was slow off the mark over the horsemeat scandal

Evidence seized from three UK premises as part of the horsemeat investigation has been handed to Europol.

Food Standards Agency (FSA) officers and police took computers, documents and meat samples from two premises in north London and one in Hull on Friday.

Three men arrested as part of the horsemeat probe have been bailed.

Meanwhile, 31% of 2,002 adults questioned for a survey for two Sunday newspapers said they had stopped eating ready-meals as a result of the scandal.

The ComRes survey for the Sunday Mirror and Independent on Sunday found 7% had stopped eating meat completely and that 53% were in favour of a ban on all meat imports "until we can be sure of their origin".

'Utterly wrong'

The survey, carried out on 13 and 14 February, also found 44% agreed with the statement "the government has responded well to the findings of horsemeat in ready meals" with 30% disagreeing.

Earlier, Labour leader Ed Miliband had criticised the government's reaction to the crisis. "I think they've been too slow to get a grip on this situation," he said.

"I think the retailers do have a responsibility but I also think the government has not been as sure-footed as it should have been in its handling of it."

But a Defra spokesperson responded: "It is utterly wrong and misleading to suggest that the government was slow off the mark.

"The FSA reacted immediately when it was alerted to the presence of horsemeat in beef products."

Dyfed-Powys Police and FSA officials are continuing inquiries at Farmbox Meats near Aberystwyth.

The three men who were bailed earlier had been arrested on 14 February on suspicion of fraud. Two were aged 64 and 42 and from the Aberystwyth area the third was 63 and from West Yorkshire.

The FSA said it has submitted a "full file" on its horsemeat investigation to Europol - the EU's law enforcement agency - and the information is being analysed in 35 countries, in Europe and elsewhere.

On Friday, FSA chief executive Catherine Brown said the agency had not brought any of its own prosecutions so far, but she did not rule out future legal action.

Ms Brown said she remained "confident" that testing was the right way to address the issue.

"It is industry's responsibility to get this right - not the government's - and we consider that a comprehensive testing programme at all points of the supply chain and in all sectors is an essential step in addressing this issue.

"And as this programme of testing and publishing results continues, and as action is taken to tackle this issue in supply chains across Europe, we will reach the point where we can say with confidence that horse meat is no longer illegally entering the UK food chain."

The deadline for initial tests on processed beef products was Friday, and horsemeat was found in just over 1% of samples.

After 2,501 fresh tests no new products had been identified as containing more than 1% horsemeat, the FSA said. The 29 positive results were in seven products which had previously been identified and withdrawn.

'Encouraging signs'

The National Farmers Union has responded to the scandal by starting a campaign called Buy British.

Union president Peter Kendall said he wanted to "brag about the traceability" of British meat and encourage supermarkets to source their meat from the UK.

Meanwhile, Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke has sent a message to customers: "Since we became aware that a small number of Tesco processed meat products have been contaminated with horsemeat, we have been working flat out to get to the bottom of the issue.

"While tests continue, today I want to make a clear promise to customers and to tell you about the rigorous processes we have put in place to prevent this situation happening again."

He said that from Saturday if a product tested positive and was withdrawn from sale, Tesco would provide customers with a "better alternative" for the same cost.

On Friday, Sainsbury's chief executive Justin King said the discovery of horsemeat in beef products was "not the tip of the iceberg".

He told BBC Two's Newsnight programme: "I think there are some encouraging signs from today's tests that we are starting to get to the bottom of this particular issue."

No meat at Sainsbury's has so far been shown to contain horsemeat.

Catering giant Compass Group and Whitbread, one of Britain's largest hotel chains, have found horse DNA in products sold as beef, it emerged on Friday.

Horse DNA has also been found in cottage pies supplied to 47 schools in Lancashire - they have been withdrawn.

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