The scandal involving horsemeat in foodstuffs and ready-made meals was portrayed by the UK government as a fraud involving criminal gangs outside the UK but yesterday, events took a new turn as food inspectors and police raided two UK based meat plants.
Yesterday, food inspectors from the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) accompanied by police raided a slaughterhouse at Todmorden in West Yorkshire and a meat cutting plant near Aberystwyth in Wales. The FSA said the raids culminated in closure of the two premises following an investigation, however, on BBC television news today, a representative from the Aberystwyth plant explained the Welsh operation was purely engaged in the cutting of horsemeat and re-export to Belgium. The spokesman referred to there being a full paper trail and denied the Aberystwyth plant had been closed.
The FSA discovered horse carcasses had been used in the manufacture of beefburgers and kebabs, reports the Daily Telegraph. It was the first time UK based food suppliers have been implicated in the horsemeat in food scandal since beefburgers containing meat identified by DNA as originating from horses was found in some beefburgers on UK supermarket shelves in mid-January.
Since these first revelations last month, horsemeat has been traced to a food processing plant in France owned by Comigel, which in turn supplied ready-made meals to leading supermarkets right across Europe, in Germany, France, the UK and the Benelux countries. From Comigel, based in Luxembourg and the city of Metz in eastern France, the horsemeat trail had been traced back to Poland and Romania.
In the last few days, leading French supermarket chains Auchan, Casino, Carrefour, Cora, Monoprix and Picard have all removed beef products that were suspected of containing horsemeat instead of beef, reports The Guardian.
According to the BBC the latest raids affected the Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse, in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, and Farmbox Meats Ltd, of Llandre near Aberystwyth in Wales. A UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) spokesman is reported on France 24 saying,
"The agency and the police are looking into the circumstances through which meat products, purporting to be beef for kebabs and burgers, were sold when they were in fact horse.”
During the raids FSA food inspectors are reported to have seized all meat, meat products and paperwork which might give information as to the source of the meat and customers supplied with meat products.
Owen Paterson, the UK's Environment Secretary said in a statement on the FSA website, “This is absolutely shocking. It’s totally unacceptable if any business in the UK is defrauding the public by passing off horse meat as beef. I expect the full force of the law to be brought down on anyone involved in this kind of activity.”
Also speaking on the FSA website, the Welsh Minister for Agriculture, Alun Davies, said:
"Integrity and trust are essential in the food chain. I would be appalled if these allegations are proven. The Welsh Government is working closely with Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and the FSA to ensure this matter is dealt with swiftly and decisively."
Today, the BBC news channel reported that UK Farms Minister David Heath was holding discussions with food suppliers to assess the latest situation concerning food purity. Mr Heath had caused uproar with his 'Keep Calm and Carry on' approach a few days ago when he said,
"The Food Standards Agency says there is no reason to suppose there is a health risk and therefore the advice is to carry on with normal shopping habits until you are told otherwise."
Meanwhile, UK Environment Secretary Owen Paterson was travelling to Brussels today for a meeting of European Ministers to discuss the growing crisis in Europe concerning purity of the food supply chain.
In a separate development, UK meat trades website Meatinfo reported today that the UK upmarket supermarket chain Waitrose had withdrawn some of its own-brand meatballs, labelled as 100% beef, as these were suspected of containing pork. A Waitrose spokeswoman told the BBC that tests on the meatballs had produced contradictory results but all had tested negative for horse DNA but one test had indicated a very small proportion of pork.