SCHOOLS, hospitals and the world’s largest catering group have become embroiled in the growing food contamination scandal after more horsemeat was discovered in products sold as beef.
Whitbread, which owns pub chains Beefeater and Brewers Fayre and the hotel giant Premier Inn, said beef burger and lasagne products had tested positive for equine DNA and been withdrawn from sale.
Horsemeat has also been found in cottage pies supplied to 47 schools in Lancashire.
The Compass Group – the largest contract food service in the world – said that sites where it operated had been supplied with burgers from Rangeland, an Irish processor found to have had two consignments of meat with horse DNA.
Northern Ireland’s Department of Health said it had cancelled contracts with Rangeland, which supplies meats to the health department.
Last night it emerged that three more plants, two in Tottenham, north London, and one in Hull, have been raided by officials investigating the scandal. Three men were arrested on Thursday following similar raids in Aberystwyth, Wales, and Todmorden, West Yorkshire.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said yesterday that 2,501 tests have been carried out on beef products, with 29 results positive for undeclared horsemeat at or above 1 per cent.
These 29 results related to seven products, which have already been reported and withdrawn from sale, but the agency warned that more contaminated products may be found.
Some retailers missed yesterday’s noon deadline for submitting results and tests on another 900 samples are still to come.
FSA chief executive Catherine Brown said the results were “far from the full picture”.
She said a benchmark of 1 per cent had been chosen because some labs were not equipped to detect concentrations of horsemeat lower than that, and more detailed tests would have to be carried out.
“In terms of faith groups, there remains a significant issue about trace levels of other species below one per cent” she said. “Further results are expected over the coming weeks and the FSA will publish another update this time next week.”
Lancashire County Council became the first local authority to detect horsemeat in school meals, after discovering that cottage pie delivered to 47 schools tested positive for horse DNA.
Analysts at one of six UK laboratories carrying out the tests discovered the horsemeat late on Thursday. Officials insisted children would have only consumed a “minute” amount.
In Bristol, a firm that provides school meals to 128 schools has withdrawn all of its processed beef products from its menus as a precautionary measure.
Staffordshire County Council, which provides meals to 87 per cent of its schools, decided to take beef products off its menus. It said there was no suggestion there had been a problem with contamination.
Local authorities across the UK are conducting tests for the FSA and will submit the results in April.
In Northern Ireland, health minister Edwin Poots said contracts have been axed with Rangeland.
“We have discontinued using Rangeland burgers,” he said.
“I don’t think we will be going back to Rangeland unless they can clearly demonstrate that they have full and proper access to the chain that has delivered meat to them and they can ensure that there is no possibility of other products entering (the food chain).”
A spokesman for Whitbread said: “We are shocked and disappointed at this failure of the processed meat supply chain. It is clear we need the supply chain to deliver products to the highest standards of food integrity and quality that we and our customers expect.”
Compass said the situation as “totally unacceptable” and said all affected sites had been given “unreserved apologies”.
A Rangeland spokeswoman said the affected meat from the EU was processed in September. Following consultation with the Department of Agriculture, the firm recommenced production at its Co Monaghan plant this month, on the basis that it was using only Irish raw materials.
She said: “Responsibility to the consumer for the safety and integrity of the food produced by Rangeland is a central focus of its business.”
In Scotland farming and meat industry leaders yesterday visited a meat processing plant to highlight the benefits of sourcing meat products from trusted local suppliers, following polls which found a rapidly growing number of shoppers are turning to local produce in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.
Quality Meat Scotland chairman Jim McLaren and NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller toured the Simon Howie Foods plant near Dunning in Perth and Kinross and met some of the 110 staff employed at the premises.
Seven products have been confirmed as containing horsemeat since the scandal broke four weeks ago. These are Aldi’s special frozen beef lasagne, Aldi’s special frozen spaghetti bolognese, Co-op’s frozen quarter pounder burgers, Findus’s beef lasagne, Rangeland’s catering burger products, Tesco’s value frozen burgers and Tesco’s value spaghetti bolognese.
Meanwhile, a group of 11 food suppliers, including Tesco and Asda, issued a letter yesterday stating they shared shoppers’ “anger and outrage”.
The letter was signed by Tesco chief executive Philip Clarke, Asda Stores boss Andy Clarke, J Sainsbury chief executive Justin King and Dalton Philips, chief executive of Wm Morrison Supermarkets, among others. Several also released the results of their tests.
The FSA said that the raids in Tottenham and West Yorkshire were carried out on Thursday.
It said in a statement: “FSA officers entered three premises in England with local authorities and the police; one was in Hull and two in Tottenham. Computers and documentary evidence have been removed from these premises, as well as meat samples that have been taken for testing.”
One of the plants raided in north London, Dinos & Sons Continental Foods, confirmed it was “co-operating with local trading standards officers and the FSA”.
The plant, which is based in the Millmead Industrial Estate in Tottenham, issued a statement saying: “Dinos & Sons has been asked to clarify its position in respect of the transportation and storage of frozen beef that was imported by, and belonged to, a third party that the FSA is investigating.
“Dinos & Sons did not keep this frozen beef in the same premises as its own products and there was no possibility of any cross-contamination. At no time has Dinos & Sons produced or manufactured anything that is under investigation or is the subject of any possible contamination or mislabelling.
“There is no suggestion whatsoever that Dinos & Sons manufacturing processes have been compromised in any way. Tests undertaken by independent laboratories on Dinos & Sons products have proved negative to date for any contaminants.”
Scandal spreads to all corners of the continent
OSLO: Lasagne ready-meals have been found to contain horsemeat, Norway’s top retailer said last night, the first confirmation that the Europe-wide meat scandal has reached the Scandinavian nation. Norgesgruppen removed the First Price label meals from store shelves at the end of last week when suspicions first arose that they may contain horsemeat.
AMSTERDAM: Prosecutors have launched a criminal investigation into a company believed to have been falsely labelling beef that contained horsemeat. Inspectors have also started taking samples to discover whether shipments contained the equine painkiller phenylbutazone – known as bute – that is banned for animals intended for human consumption.
BRUSSELS: Governments have approved an EU-wide programme of DNA testing on beef products to assess the scale of the scandal involving the mislabelling of horsemeat. The initial one-month testing plan will also check horsemeat for potentially harmful drug residues after six horses slaughtered in the UK tested positive for bute.
MOSCOW: Investigators have said processed foods marked as beef but containing horsemeat may have been re-exported to Russia and expressed serious concerns about food-safety controls in Europe after the discovery of horse DNA in British retail products.
How a shocking discovery turned into an international crisis
16 January: Silvercrest Foods in Ireland and Dalepak Hambleton in Yorkshire, subsidiaries of ABP Food Group, are found to be supplying beef burgers containing up to 29 per cent horse. Another Irish firm, Liffey Meats, is found to be supplying products with horse DNA.
17 January: The ABP Food Group suspends work at its Silvercrest Foods plant.
25 January: The Food Standards Agency (FSA) clears the Dalepak plant. Silvercrest used meat in products that did not come from list of approved suppliers and was from outside the UK and Ireland, Tesco says.
30 January: Irish authorities believe “filler product” made from horsemeat found in burgers came from Poland.
4 February: Production at Rangeland Foods in Co Monaghan, Ireland, suspended after 75 per cent equine DNA is found in raw ingredients.
5 February: Frozen meat at Freeza Meats in Newry, Northern Ireland, is found to contain 80 per cent horsemeat.
6 February: Tesco and Aldi remove frozen spaghetti and lasagne meals produced by French food supplier Comigel, following concerns about its Findus beef lasagne.
7 February: The FSA reveals some Findus UK beef lasagnes, made by Comigel, were found to contain up to 100 per cent horse. Authority believes “criminal activity” is to blame
8 February: Prime Minister David Cameron says the scandal is “completely unacceptable”.
Aldi confirms two of its ready-meal ranges contain up to 100 per cent horsemeat.
11 February: Tesco drops a major supplier after discovering 60 per cent horsemeat in a range of spaghetti bolognese.
12 February: Slaughterhouse in West Yorkshire and meat plant in Wales are raided under suspicion of passing off horsemeat as beef for kebabs.
13 February: EU agriculture ministers agree to random DNA testing of processed meat products.
14 February: Dafydd Raw-Rees, 64, the owner of Farmbox Meats near Aberyswyth, is arrested. Also, a 42-year-old man and a 63-year-old man are arrested in West Yorkshire. Police say significant amount of horsemeat containing bute could have been entering the food chain for some time.