Tesco has apologised to its customers after it found three Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese products were found to have more than 60 per cent trace of horse DNA. Tesco withdrew the product a week ago as a precaution and carried out a number of tests on the products' content.
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 was not following the appropriate production process for our Tesco product and we will not take food from their facility again.
We have carried out a number of tests on the product [Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese] and those tests identified the presence of horse DNA. Of the positive results, most are at a trace level of less than 1% but three showed significant levels of horse DNA, exceeding 60%. We have carried out further tests to ensure that there is no danger to health through the presence of potentially harmful bute. The test for bute was clear.
"It is outrageous that consumers have been buying products labelled beef, but which turn out to be horsemeat. The government is taking urgent action with the independent Food Standards Agency, industry and European partners."
Environment secretary Owen Paterson said his Romanian counterpart was convinced meat had been packed and correctly labelled when it left the country.
But Mr Paterson added: "The fact is, we do not know yet, and we need to get absolutely clear where the problem has occurred and get it sorted."
When he was asked why UK local authorities could not get tests on meat going to schools and hospitals tested before April, he said: "There is a limit across Europe and across the world in laboratory capacity. We would all like these tests to be done as fast as possible."
The National Beef Association has hit out at the "murky" side of the processing industry in the wake of the horsemeat scandal and called for all UK beef to be labelled with the words "United Kingdom" origin on its packaging.
Chris Mallon, national director of the NBA, urged consumers to prevent "further cheating" by suppliers by ensuring the beef they purchased was taken exclusively from cattle born, reared and processed in Britain. He added:
The integrity of their product contrasts hugely with the horsemeat that has infiltrated the domestic food chain as a result of careless, or unscrupulous, actions undertaken by participants in a supply chain which is understood to cover companies in Poland, Luxembourg, Romania, France and the Republic of Ireland. None of this can be traced to point of origin, and some of it may fail provenance tests, so it is no surprise that criminal investigations are already taking place.
The FSA is meeting retailers and suppliers today, David Cameron's spokesman has confirmed, and the first "meaningful" results of a programme of product tests by retailers and suppliers should be available by Friday and will be made public.
Those tests may point to the possibility of fraudulent behaviour, the spokesman said. But he played down the chances of an import ban on meat products given that EU law only permits such a move in the case of a risk to public health. He added:
When it comes to questions of food safety, the right thing to do is to go on the expert advice, and we have had that from the FSA and the Chief Medical Officer.
The spokesman said "the primary responsibility is with the retailers and suppliers" in the horsemeat contamination scandal, plus a "responsibility on those purchasing to check with their retailers and suppliers about the steps they have been taking to ensure the correct labelling".
David Cameron's official spokesman has said the horsemeat contamination scandal is "an issue of significant public concern".
He confirmed Environment Secretary Owen Paterson and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt met with Mr Cameron at Downing Street this morning to discuss the problem.
"The Prime Minister will want to keep very much up to speed with what is going on," he said, adding that Mr Cameron had full confidence in Mr Paterson's response.
"Yes, the Prime Minister's view is that the Secretary of State is doing the right thing," he said.
British butchers have said they are enjoying an upturn in trade "by as much as 20 and 30%" as consumers steer clear of imported and processed products amid the horsemeat scandal.
"There has definitely been a spike in sales for the High Street butcher in recent weeks," said Brindon Addy, chairman of the Q Guild, which represents 130 butchers across England, Scotland and Wales.
He put the boom in home-grown meat sales down to a "trust issue," with confidence in cheaper meats of now-dubious content from Ireland and the continent plummeting.
"Some people are wising up," Mr Addy added. "If they buy a sausage worth tuppence, they've got to wonder what is really going into it. Horsemeat would probably be one of the better things to find in it."
Legal action over the horsemeat scandal will be taken in Europe after the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson described it as "a case of fraud" against the public. The government says cases appear to be widespread across Europe, but has ruled out a ban on meat imports:
This is a case of fraud and a conspiracy against the public, this is a criminal action, substituting one material for another. If a British consumer goes into a retail store and buys a beef product, they should expect to get beef in that product, not horse.
So this is a straight case of fraud and I think you will see legal actions beginning in certain continental countries today. I will be taking it up with certain ministers and also with the Commission in Europe, because this is overall a European Commission competence.
It is absolutely unacceptable that consumers are being passed off with one product when they buy another.