Horse meat scandal: is our food safe?

Findus has become the latest company to say its beef products have been contaminated with horse meat. Some of its beef lasagnes were found to contain up to 100% horse meat in the latest development in the horse meat scandal, which has sparked questions about food safety.

Which Findus products are affected?

Some 11 out of 18 of Findus’ beef lasagne products were found to contain between 60% and 100% horse meat following testing by the company. It has apologised to customers and promised refunds for anyone who bought the affected products, made by French food supplier Comigel.

The frozen food firm withdrew its 320g, 360g and 500g lasagne meals as a precautionary measure earlier this week after Comigel alerted Findus and Aldi that their products "do not conform to specification".

Retail giant Tesco and discount chain Aldi have withdrawn a range of ready meals made by Comigel over meat contamination fears.

The scandal first erupted after food safety chiefs in Ireland raised the alert in January 2013.

Should we stop eating frozen meat products?

This is what the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has had to say: “People have been asking whether it is safe to eat any frozen meat products at the moment.

“There is no reason to suspect that there’s any health issue with frozen food in general, and we wouldn’t advise people to stop eating it.”

The Findus lasagne and Tesco burgers contaminated with horse meat have been withdrawn from sale and the FSA is urging anyone with them in their freezers to return to retailers as a “precaution”.

It has recommended people don’t eat the affected lasagne products.

The prime minister's official spokesman has also said there is no evidence to suggest a food safety risk, urging consumers to follow the advice of retailers and the FSA.

Further tests ordered

The FSA is undertaking widespread testing and has told the food industry to urgently conduct its own tests on processed beef products to check whether horse meat is present.

The agency has also ordered Findus to test the lasagne for a veterinary drug called phenylbutazone or "bute".

Animals treated with the drug are not allowed to enter the food chain because it may pose a risk to human health. It can cause rare cases of a serious blood disorder, aplastic anaemia, in humans.

Bute was banned from use in humans after it was found that about one person in 30,000 recipients suffered a serious side effect.

But the amounts found in contaminated meat in the past would have to have been multiplied a thousand-fold to be at the same level that used to be given to humans.

The FSA said: “This suggests that even if someone eats contaminated meat, the risk of damage to their health is very low.”

A Findus UK spokesman said: “We do not believe this to be a food safety issue. We are confident that we have fully resolved this supply chain issue. Fully compliant beef lasagne will be in stores again soon.”

Fears of “deliberate” contamination

The two cases of significant amounts of horse meat found in burgers and lasagne points to “either gross negligence or deliberate contamination” in the food chain, according to the FSA which has called in the police in the UK and in Europe.

"We believe that these two particular cases - the frozen burgers from Tesco and the lasagne from Findus - are linked to suppliers in Ireland and France respectively.

“We are working closely with the authorities in these countries to get to the root of the problem," said the FSA.

More revelations to come?

Labour’s shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh told MSN that there were questions for the FSA and ministers in terms of the response to the scandal.

She’s also raised the possibility of further revelations with worries about the possibility of contaminated food being served in schools and hospitals.

Ms Creagh has demanded official guidance about eating other processed foods labelled as containing beef, reported the BBC.

“I certainly wouldn’t, but I’m waiting for the government, the experts, the scientists, to tell us and issue proper clear advice for consumers,” she said.

Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, said the Findus discovery was unacceptable and that the presence of unauthorised ingredients in food could not be tolerated.

The government was working closely with business to “root out any illegal activity” and enforce regulations.