BRUSSELS/THE HAGUE: The European Union agreed Friday on the immediate launch of tests for horse DNA in meat products, trying to reassure nervous consumers that their food is safe and to halt the horsemeat scandal spreading across Europe.
The test program will also look for the presence of phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory treatment for horses that is harmful to humans and by law supposed to be kept out of the food chain.
The crisis continued meanwhile to build Friday as Austria and Norway confirmed that ready-to-eat “beef” meals containing horsemeat had been found, stoking concerns cases in more countries will come to light after falsely labeled meat was found in Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland.
Dutch officials raided a meat processing plant in the south of the Netherlands believed to be mixing horsemeat and beef and selling it on as pure beef, the public prosecutor said.
The unnamed plant in North Brabant province allegedly bought horse carcasses from the Netherlands and Ireland that were shredded and mixed with beef and sold on as pure beef, the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
It was not clear whether the plant in question is connected with the tainted beef scandal sweeping through Europe, the statement said.
The scandal has left governments scrambling to figure out how and where the mislabeling happened in the sprawling chain of production spanning a maze of abattoirs and meat suppliers across Europe.
In Britain, the Food Standards Agency said that 29 out of 2,501 beef products it has tested so far have been found to contain more than one percent horsemeat but stressed that these must be considered exceptions.
“The overwhelming majority of beef products in this country do not contain horse. The examples we have had are totally unacceptable but they are the exceptions,” FSA chief executive Catherine Brown said.
Brown added that the results were “still far from the full picture” and that testing continued.
French meat-processing firm Spanghero, blamed by Paris for the growing scandal, insisted again it was not responsible. “I don’t know who is behind this but it is not us,” Spanghero boss Barthelemy Aguerre said.
The French government Thursday charged that Spanghero knowingly sold 750 tons of horsemeat mislabeled as beef over a period of six months, 500 tons of which were sent to French firm Comigel.
That meat was used to make 4.5 million products that were sold by Comigel to 28 different companies in 13 European countries.
NorgesGruppen, Norway’s largest retailer, said Friday that horsemeat was found in frozen lasagna dishes made by Comigel and sold in its stores and Austria said horsemeat was found in beef tortelloni sold in Lidl supermarkets.
Danish authorities said Friday they were probing whether a slaughterhouse may have mixed horsemeat into meat marked as beef that was supplied to pizza makers.
Under the measures agreed in Brussels, EU officials and statements said the testing could start immediately in member states, with the European Commission paying 75 percent of the costs for the first month.
The DNA controls, “mainly at the retail level,” will include 2,250 samples across the EU, ranging from 10 to 150 tests per member state.
The phenylbutazone test will require one sample for every 50 tons of horsemeat, with each of the bloc’s 27 states required to carry out a minimum of five tests.
EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, who proposed the plan at crisis talks Wednesday, said he welcomed its swift approval and urged member states to keep up the momentum.