Findus considers taking legal action
The FIndus lasagne that should be impossible to find across Europe
Frozen food company Findus confirmed this evening it was considering legal action after some of its beef products were found to contain horse DNA.
Findus is the latest company to become embroiled in the horse meat scandal with evidence mounting that widespread fraud may be behind the crisis.
The company said in a statement: “Findus is taking legal advice about the grounds for pursuing a case against its suppliers, regarding what they believe is their suppliers’ failure to meet contractual obligations about product integrity."
“The early results from Findus UK’s internal investigation strongly suggests that the horsemeat contamination in Beef Lasagne was not accidental.”
The French ministry of agriculture has confirmed that it has launched an investigation into how horse meat ended up in beef meals produced by the French company at the centre of the scandal. A government spokesman said that they consider the issue a matter of criminal fraud.
Findus in Sweden pulled frozen beef products found to contain horse DNA off supermarket shelves and it joins Ireland, the UK, France, Sweden, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Poland in being linked to the crisis.
The chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) Prof Alan Reilly described it as "a European-wide problem" and he said that the discovery of horse meat in Findus products labelled as beef was "a very serious finding". He said that if Findus and Tesco “cannot have a secure supply line for their products... we do have a major problem within this sector of the trade," he said.
Dr Patrick Wall, UCD's associate professor of public health. said the FSAI had been criticised in the early stages of the crisis but he said it now needed to be recognised that “it has uncovered a huger Europe wide scam. If it had not been for the FSAI this scam could have gone unchecked for years and it has set the standard others across Europe will have to follow.”
Fianna Fáil Agriculture spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív has called on the Taoiseach and Minister Simon Coveney "to urgently raise the latest developments in the horsemeat controversy at EU level".
And he said there needed to be "a pan-European check on all processed beef products. This would involve a comprehensive testing programme that would give us answers into how widespread the presence of equine DNA is in beef product is”.
A spokeswoman for the British Prime Minister David Cameron said "acts of criminality" were behind the crisis. "If you are a company buying a particular meat and you are led to believe it is what you asked for, but then you find it's not, then clearly there's been some law broken there".
The motivation was outlined last night by Dr Wall. He told The Irish Times that dealers stood to make vast profits if they swapped horsemeat for beef. "Beef sells for around €4 a kilo while horse meat costs no more than 90 cent," he said. "So what we are seeing here is fraud on an absolutely huge scale," he said. "And the people behind this fraud would have been making enormous sums of money."
The British Food Standards Agency has given food makers a week to test all their beef products It is " requiring a more robust response from the food industry in order to demonstrate that the food it sells and serves is what it says it is on the label," chief executive Catherine Brown said. "We are demanding that food businesses conduct authenticity tests on all beef products, such as beef burgers, meatballs and lasagne and provide the results to the FSA."
The scale of the crisis was revealed by industry experts yesterday with some predicting it could take months before it was resolved. "This issue is probably going to run all year," said Bryan Roberts, an analyst at Kantar Retail. "The big question is obviously now that we don't know what else we don't know. For the retailers, the challenge may be that some shoppers will become more aware of providence and that cheap comes at a price."