SIGNIFICANT levels of horsemeat have been found in a Tesco own-brand beef ready meal, the supermarket giant has admitted.
Three samples of Tesco’s Everyday Value range spaghetti bolognese were found to contain more than 60 per cent horse DNA, with trace amounts detected in other samples of the product.
Apologising for “letting customers down”, the company stressed further analysis had shown the horse drug phenylbutazone, which poses a health risk to humans, was not present in the samples.
The frozen ready meals were taken off the shelves a week ago by Tesco as a precautionary measure after Findus products manufactured in the same factory were reported to be at risk of containing horsemeat.
Tim Smith, Tesco group technical director, said: “The frozen Everyday Value spaghetti bolognese should contain only Irish beef from our approved suppliers. The source of the horsemeat is still under investigation by the relevant authorities.
“The level of contamination suggests that Comigel [the French manufacturer of contaminated Findus lasagne] was not following the appropriate production process for our Tesco product, and we will not take food from their facility again.
“We are very sorry that we have let customers down. We set ourselves high standards for the food we sell and we have had two cases in recent weeks where we have not met those standards.
“Our DNA testing programme is under way and will give us and our customers assurance that the product they buy is what it should be.”
The revelation is the latest in the deepening scandal which was first uncovered last month when horsemeat was detected in beef burgers sold by Tesco and other UK supermarkets.
Butchers north and south of the Border have reported a boost in trade, with some saying business is already up by as much as 30 per cent.
Brindon Addy, chairman of the Q Guild representing 130 butchers across the UK, said yesterday: “There has definitely been a spike in sales for the high-street butcher in recent weeks, some are saying by as much as 20 and 30 per cent.
“It is obviously great news for those butchers who have found it difficult to compete with the big supermarkets in the past. People slip into the convenience of supermarket shopping, but whenever there is a scare – be it horsemeat or BSE – they always come back.”
Ministers in Scotland and England continued work to tackle the issue yesterday, with Scottish food standards minister Richard Lochhead repeating his call for people to put their “trust” in the quality of Scotch beef.
He met farmers and retailers at a special meeting during the National Farmers Union Scotland AGM in St Andrews. NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller urged retailers and manufacturers to put “provenance before profit”.
He also called for “wholesale changes” in auditing imports brought in by supply chains stretching back “from a Scottish supermarket freezer cabinet to processing sites in Ireland or France all the way to abattoirs in eastern Europe”.
The Scottish Beef Association and its British sister organisation demanded “proper” labelling of products.
In London, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson, who cancelled an appearance at the NFU Scotland AGM to deal with the crisis, said legal action would be taken in Europe over what he branded a serious “fraud” against the public.
In a statement to the House of Commons, he said the finding last week that Findus lasagne meals contained up to 100 per cent horsemeat turned the issue into one of either “gross negligence or criminality”.
Mr Paterson added: “There appears to have been criminal activity in an attempt to defraud the consumer. The prime responsibility for dealing with this lies with retailers and food producers who need to demonstrate that they have taken all necessary actions to ensure the integrity of the food chain in this country.”
The Food Standards Agency has been in touch with its counterparts in Europe and international crime agency Interpol over potential food fraud.
Meanwhile, the shadow environment secretary, Mary Creagh, claimed that there were 70,000 horses unaccounted for in Northern Ireland, with unwanted animals given false paperwork before being sold for €10 (£8) and then resold to dealers for meat for as much as €500 (£423).
Speaking in the Commons, Ms Creagh said: “The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have clear evidence of an illegal trade of unfit horses from Ireland to the UK for meat, with horses being re-passported to meet demands for horsemeat in mainland Europe.
“It is very convenient to blame the Poles and the Romanians, but so far neither country have found any problems with their beef abattoirs.”