Horsemeat: Scottish councils to avoid frozen beef

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead, who is dealing with the horse meat findings in Scotland. Picture: Getty
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead, who is dealing with the horse meat findings in Scotland. Picture: Getty
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SCOTLAND’S councils have been ordered not to use any frozen beef products, amid the escalating horsemeat crisis.

The discovery of horse DNA in a burger at Cumbernauld High School led to councils being advised not to use any frozen beef, including mince, until further investigations are carried out.

The warning was issued by Scotland Excel, the procurement agency that serves local government. It applies to local authority schools, council leisure facilities and some social care establishments.

The ban was imposed as further evidence of horsemeat contamination came to light. Catering firm Sodexo, which supplies 2,300 UK outlets, withdrew all frozen beef after a product tested positive for horse DNA.

Sodexo products were among those listed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) when it published its latest horsemeat test results from across the UK.

In the past week, there were six new positive results out of almost 1,133 tests, bringing the total number of positive results to 35 – involving 13 different products – out of 3,634 tests over the past two weeks. No Scottish meat company was involved.

Although not mentioned in the FSA tests, Birds Eye said yesterday it was withdrawing three beef ready meals from sale in the UK and Ireland. It followed tests that found 2 per cent horse DNA in a chilli con carne dish sold by Birds Eye in Belgium.

Its spaghetti bolognese, shepherd’s pie and lasagne are made by the same Belgian company, Frigilunch, and were withdrawn “as a precautionary measure”.

In Scotland, the discovery of a single contaminated burger in a school canteen led to anger being directed at environment secretary Richard Lochhead, who was accused of “complacency” by political opponents.

North Lanarkshire Council confirmed the burger found at Cumbernauld High had been supplied by Brakes Group, which put an immediate hold on its beefburgers.

A spokesman for the local authority said: “It is simply unacceptable to the council that a supplier would supply a product containing horse DNA to one of our schools. We will continue discussions with Scotland Excel with a view to ensuring we are satisfied with the integrity of food supplied to us.

“In the meantime, we have removed all frozen beef products from our menus across all our premises. We will continue to carry out additional testing in the coming days.”

He said he was not in a position to reassure pupils and parents that no contaminated meat had been eaten at the school.

“We cannot confirm that these products have not been consumed,” the spokesman said. “However, the consumption of horsemeat is not considered harmful to health. This is a consumer confidence issue. When we buy a product, we expect it to contain what it says on the label.”

Scotland Excel said it had extended original advice to put a hold on frozen burgers so that it applied to frozen beef in general.

A spokesman said: “In response to discovery of horse DNA in a frozen beefburger at North Lanarkshire Council, we immediately issued an advisory note to our customers recommending they place a hold on the use of current stocks of frozen burgers. Since then, we have consulted widely with regulatory agencies, environmental health officers and our customers, and we have taken the decision to recommend to all of our customers that they should take a precautionary approach and suspend further use of all frozen beef products, including frozen mince, until further detailed investigations are completed.

“It is important to emphasise that this is a purely precautionary measure and, at this time, no other samples of frozen beef products have returned a positive result for horse DNA.”

The advice does not apply to the supply and use of fresh meat.

The contaminated burger’s discovery was described as “unacceptable” by Mr Lochhead, who said: “Of the thousands of tests, this is the first positive result in our schools, but it is one too many. No company should be supplying our schools with food with beef products that contain traces of horsemeat.”

The positive test came to light on Thursday night, two days after Mr Lochhead had stood up at Holyrood and reassured MSPs that “to date” there was no evidence of horsemeat in public-sector catering in Scotland.

Labour’s rural affairs spokeswoman, Claire Baker, said: “We will likely never find out how much horsemeat there has been in school meals across the country.

“This scandal has shown the Scottish Government to be asleep on the job. The inaction of the Cabinet secretary shows him to be out of touch with the concerns of Scots. Both producers and consumers deserve better than this level of complacency and incompetence.”

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “Richard Lochhead has been caught asleep on the job while one of the biggest food scares for several years has been taking place.

“This week, he stood up in parliament in an attempt to give public reassurances that the Scottish Government was on top of the horsemeat scandal.

“The reality is that, under his watch, there are 50 per cent fewer meat inspectors in Scotland and his government has ripped £1 million out of the food standards budget in the past six months.”

Mr Lochhead’s colleague Rob Gibson MSP accused the SNP’s opponents of playing politics.

He said: “Of the thousands of tests, there has been one product has tested positive in Scotland, for a small amount of horse DNA – which is clearly unacceptable. We have had one positive test result and we have acted on the results.”

• Friday yielded 35 results, representing 13 products containing horse DNA at or above a 1% threshold. These products

have already been named and withdrawn from sale.

Overall, there have been 3,634 results received from a range of manufacturers, retailers, caterers and wholesalers throughout the UK.

The overwhelming majority of 3,599 (over 99%) of tests showed Zero horse DNA at or above the level of 1%.

This includes the 1,133 new results published on Friday.

Zero tests to date on samples containing horse DNA have found the veterinary medicine phenylbutazone (bute).

Irish export horsemeat labelled ‘beef’ to Czechs

An Irish processing plant has been shut down after inspectors found it was exporting horsemeat under a Czech-language label that translated as beef.

B&F Meats, a small deboning factory in Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary, was selling the mislabelled product to a customer in the Czech Republic through a UK-based trader.

Irish agriculture minister Simon Coveney said all operations at the plant had been suspended.

“I am seriously concerned about this development and the gardai have been fully appraised of this development and are working closely with my department. The issue here is one of mislabelling and that will be the focus of the investigation,” he said.

The agriculture department said B&F Meats had been approved to debone beef and horsemeat, and its special investigations unit was carrying out searches at the factory yesterday.

Elsewhere in Ireland, officials said wider investigations into the extent of the horsemeat scandal involved forensic examination of electronic data and records associated with consignments of beef products.

The special investigators and police were involved, with inspections taking place of food firms such as traders, transporters, processors and exporters.

As part of the EU-wide co-ordinated control plan, another 50 food samples will be checked for horse DNA during March in Ireland.

An approach to DNA testing for horsemeat has been agreed with businesses to inspect pre-packaged beef products on sale in shops or to mass caterers, beef products sold without pre-packaging to consumers or to mass caterers, and meat ingredients used in processed beef products.