Horsemeat scandal to be reviewed, government announces

Beef burger generic
Image caption Burgers and ready meals were among the products recently recalled by supermarkets and caterers

A "wide-ranging" strategic review of the horsemeat scandal is to be carried out, the government has announced.

In a written statement to Parliament, Food Minister David Heath said it would look for any vulnerabilities in the food chain that could be exploited by fraudsters.

Consumers "must have confidence in the food they buy", he said.

The move follows a series of revelations that beef products sold and supplied in the UK contained horse DNA.

'Restore consumer confidence'

The government's review will consider the responsibilities of food businesses and practices throughout the supply chain, including safety, food authenticity, auditing, testing and health issues.

In his statement, Mr Heath stressed that members of the public "had a right to expect that food is exactly what it says on the label".

He said: "We are establishing a wide-ranging review to help restore consumer confidence by looking at our whole food system - identifying weaknesses and looking at what food businesses, regulators and government are responsible for."

The minister said the Food Standards Agency (FSA) would also be looking at whether to commission a review of its handling of the crisis.

The City of London Police was continuing to coordinate investigations in the UK into how meat came to be contaminated, he added.

Horsemeat was first discovered in January in frozen burgers on sale in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, and since then traces have been discovered in processed beef products and prepared meals across the EU.

A wide range of supermarkets and food suppliers have withdrawn suspect products.

'Very low risk'

In response to the horsemeat scandal, the FSA requested that local authorities test minced beef products and ready meals sold at shops, wholesalers and catering suppliers for horse and pig DNA above a 1% threshold.

Any companies that have found horsemeat in their products have also been testing for the veterinary painkiller phenylbutazone, known as bute.

Animals treated with bute are not allowed to enter the food chain because the drug could pose a risk to human health.

On 10 April, Asda announced it was recalling all corned beef from its budget range after traces of bute were discovered in its Smart Price Corned Beef product. The supermarket had already withdrawn the product on 8 March.

The FSA said it was the first time bute had been found in a meat product in the UK since the horsemeat scandal started. Officials said it posed a very low risk to human health.

Traces of horsemeat have also been found in numerous processed beef products across Europe, including in France, Switzerland, Sweden and Germany.

Ongoing investigations, spanning many countries, are currently examining whether the substitution of beef for horsemeat was not accidental but the work of a criminal conspiracy.

Earlier this month, it emerged some 50,000 tonnes of meat supplied by two Dutch trading companies and sold as beef across Europe since January 2011 may have contained horsemeat.

Authorities said the meat was being recalled where possible.

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