A UK slaughterhouse suspected of deliberately mis-selling horsemeat as beef was shut down on Tuesday as the contamination scandal escalated.
A BRITISH slaughterhouse and a meat processing plant were shut down yesterday under suspicion that horsemeat was sold as beef for kebabs and burgers.
The latest development in the food contamination scandal came after Food Standards Agency (FSA) officials and police raided the premises in West Yorkshire and Wales. They closed down Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, after inspections suggested the firm had supplied horse carcases for use in products said to contain only beef.
Officials also visited a Welsh farm, Farmbox Meats, in Llandre, Aberystwyth, which has been ordered to suspend operations.
The FSA has seized all meat found and paperwork, including customer lists from both companies, and a police investigation is under way.
The raids coincided with the publication of a poll yesterday that showed one in three people has already been put off buying meat-based ready meals since contamination was first discovered a month ago.
The Kantar survey of 6,000 consumers revealed that just over a third (36 per cent) were less likely to buy processed meat as a result of the growing revelations over contaminated products.
Although a further third said the issue would not make any difference to their weekly shop, about one in ten (13 per cent) said they would switch to more locally sourced meat in future, while 5 per cent were cutting down on meat altogether.
Speaking after yesterday’s raids, Andrew Rhodes, FSA director of operations, said the agency had ordered an audit of abattoirs in the UK after the horsemeat issue first came to light last month.
“I have suspended both plants immediately while our investigations continue,” he added.
It is the first indication that possible fraud in the escalating horsemeat scandal has been committed not just in mainland Europe, but in the UK too.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson described the case as “absolutely shocking”.
Mr Paterson said: “It’s totally unacceptable if any business in the UK is defrauding the public by passing off horsemeat as beef. I expect the full force of the law to be brought down on anyone involved in this kind of activity.”
There were also fears raised yesterday that some lamb products may have been contaminated. The Food Standards Agency stressed there was “no evidence” of that yet, but said further testing would be carried out ifnecessary.
The developments came as ministers in Scotland launched a £1 million campaign to help restore public confidence in Scottish beef, lamb and pork. The funding from the Scottish Government will support and develop new markets at home and abroad for Scottish meat. It will also fund a study across the meat sector to assess the market and determine what is on sale and which retailers provide the best support for producers.
Kantar’s poll appears to confirm growing concerns that the horsemeat allegations will do lasting harm to the industry.
A spokesman said:“One-third of us are less likely to buy processed meat due to the horsemeat scandal. We conducted the poll to see the impact of the news that some beef products were actually horsemeat. A quarter of people questioned say they don’t buy processed meat anyway, and a further third say it won’t make any difference.
“As the horsemeat scandal continues to rumble on with new revelations almost daily, it will be interesting to see what the medium- and long-term impact is on the purchasing of processed meat in the UK.”
However, supermarkets and other shops disputed the suggestion that many consumers’ shopping lists were changing due to the scandal.
Scottish Retail Consortium spokesman Richard Dodd said yesterday: “What our members are telling us is that they are not seeing any significant change in customer buying habits. There have been no big switches from one category of meat product to another. There has been a bit more interest in fresh burgers, as opposed to frozen ones.
“Clearly, we’re very keen that customers recognise the enormous effort retailers are putting in to demonstrate that their products are what retailers and customers expect them to be.”
He added that the retailsector was taking “huge” steps to address the issues, with the results of tests on thousands of processed beef products – analysis ordered by ministers after up to 100 per cent horsemeat was detected in Findus lasagne – due on Friday.
A spokeswoman for the Food Standards Agency Scotland, which is leading the audit of 229 factories north of the Border, said testing would be extended if there were grounds to do so. She said: “We have no evidence to suggest horsemeat is being used in lamb products, but it may be credible.
“If we do find evidence to suggest that could be the case, then we would be looking at it.”
In another move yesterday,Supermarket chain Waitroseannounced it was pulling a range of beef meatballs after tests revealed that they might contain pork.
A spokesman said the result of tests on the 480g packs of frozen Essential Waitrose Meatballs had been contradictory, but that it was removing them from sale as a precaution. “We have discovered that in two batches of our frozen meatballs produced last summer, some of the meatballs may contain some pork,” he said.
“Several tests have been done on this product, and even though the results have been contradictory, we have taken the precautionary action of removing the frozen meatballs from sale and putting up customer information notices in all our branches.
“The meatballs are safe to eat, but pork is not listed as aningredient and should not be part of the recipe.”
Only 480g packs of 16 meatballs labelled as Best Before End June 2013 and August 2013 were affected, he added.
Meanwhile, the National Beef Association (NBA) has suggested the addition of the words “United Kingdom origin” to packaging to prevent “further cheating” by suppliers on the continent.
The scandal has spread all over Europe, as details of the elaborate supply chain in the meat industry emerge.
French consumer safety authorities said companies from Romania, Cyprus and the Netherlands, as well as its own firms, were involved.
Romanian authorities have confirmed they are investigating, while their Dutch counterparts said they were ready to do so if necessary.