British police raid slaughterhouse
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney wants the Brussels meeting to discuss 'whatever steps may be necessary at EU level to comprehensively address this matter'.
British police and regulators raided a slaughterhouse and a meat processor today suspected of selling horsemeat as beef, expanding a Europe-wide scandal that has shocked consumers and exposed flawed food safety controls.
In Paris, French prosecutors opened a preliminary judicial investigation to determine whether fraud was committed in the growing scandal.
The prosecutor's office said a judicial inquiry had been opened in the northeastern city of Metz yesterday, but subsequently it was transferred to Paris, where national issues of food security are investigated.
In Britain, the raids on companies were the first by officials investigating horsemeat supplies in a country where the issue has angered consumers and led to several big retailers pulling contaminated products from their shelves.
British government said anyone found to have fraudulently sold horsemeat should be prosecuted.
"It is totally unacceptable if any business in the UK is defrauding the public by passing off horsemeat as beef," Britain's environment secretary Owen Paterson said.
"I expect the full force of the law to be brought down on anyone involved in this kind of activity."
The Food Standards Agency, the British regulator, said it had suspended operations at an abattoir in northern England and a meat processing company in Wales while it investigates whether they were involved in horsemeat being missold as beef for kebabs and burgers.
The scandal, affecting a growing number of European countries and retailers, began in Ireland when horsemeat was found in frozen beef burgers. The inquiry has implicated companies across Europe, from France and the Netherlands to Cyprus and Romania.
A meeting of ministers from European countries affected by the horse meat scandal has been called for tomorrow by Ireland, as the holder of the EU presidency.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney wants the Brussels meeting to discuss "whatever steps may be necessary at EU level to comprehensively address this matter".
European Union health commissioner Tonio Borg and ministers from EU countries affected by the horse meat scandal will attend. The issue will also be on the agenda of the next formal meeting of EU agriculture ministers on February 25th.
Concern grew last week when the British unit of frozen foods group Findus began recalling its beef lasagne on advice from its French supplier, Comigel, after tests showed concentrations of horse meat in a range from 60 to 100 per cent.
Comigel said the questionable meat came from Romania.
Tesco, Britain's biggest retailer, said yesterday it had found horse DNA exceeding 60 per cent in some of its own-brand frozen spaghetti bolognese meals withdrawn from stores last week.
In a separate development today, upmarket British retailer Waitrose, part of the John Lewis group, withdrew packs of frozen beef meatballs after tests suggested they might contain pork.
"The meatballs are safe to eat but pork is not listed as an ingredient and should not be part of the recipe," it said.
Rogue suppliers are suspected of trying to increase their margins by passing off cheap horsemeat as more expensive beef.
Food experts say globalisation has helped the industry grow, but has also created a complex system which has fuelled the risk of adulteration through neglect or fraud.
In France, frozen food seller Picard became the latest French retailer to recall lasagne and other meals from its stores today after discovering horsemeat in packaged foods advertised as beef.
An initial French investigation revealed that the horse meat ended up in Comigel's Luxembourg factory, supplied by a French firm, and that a Dutch and Cypriot trader had also been involved. However, the meat originally came from a Romanian abattoir.
Yesterday, Romania's prime minister denied that any Romanian companies had committed fraud in the affair.
More cases are expected to emerge during tests on processed beef products in Britain, with results due on Friday.
At the planned EU meeting, France wants to raise the question of origin labelling for meat in processed products, French farm minister Stephane Le Foll said.
French government inspectors are currently going through the sales records of Comigel to see if any products liable to contain mislabelled horsemeat are still on the market despite the withdrawal of products by six retail chains.
Fianna Fail TD Thomas Byrne said there needed to be a pan-European response to the crisis either through the police or Departments of Agriculture.
Michale Silke of the Irish Farmers' Assocation today called for structures to be put in place that puts the same onus of traceability on meat processors and the retailers as on farmers. "Irish farmers are very angry over this whole business," Mr Silke said.