Brussels urges DNA tests, EU police in horsemeat crisis

RELATED QUOTES

SymbolPriceChange
IRLD0.18-0.01
KGHI3.500.00

The EU's executive called in Europe's law enforcers and urged bloc-wide DNA food testing to restore consumer confidence in a widening scandal over horsemeat-tainted processed food.

"We do not know exactly what has gone wrong," British food and environment minister Owen Paterson told reporters after emergency talks in Brussels and amid growing public anger over mislabelled meat products.

As he prepared to drive to the headquarters of the Europol law enforcement agency in The Hague, he warned: "We have to get to the bottom of these cases."

France and Switzerland have now joined Britain in finding horsemeat in frozen beef lasagne, while supermarket chains in Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany have pulled millions of frozen ready meals off the shelves.

The row has exposed the complex web of suppliers involved in the food chain, raising public fears about health as well as suspicions of fraud.

British police on Tuesday raised two meat plants in their search for the source of horsemeat found in kebabs and burgers, and Paterson warned in Brussels: "This is a criminal conspiracy to defraud the public."

The EU's health commissioner Tonio Borg, who joined eight EU nations at Wednesday's talks, said Brussels was calling on all 27 European Union states to carry out DNA tests on beef products to see if they contained horsemeat.

The European Commission would also urge checks in all European establishments handling raw horsemeat for phenylbutazone, an equine veterinary drug that can be dangerous to humans.

"No one has the right to label as beef something that is not beef," he said after the talks involving Britain, France, Germany, Ireland (OTC BB: IRLD - news) , Luxembourg, Romania, Poland and Sweden.

"Someone will be held responsible, even criminally responsible," he added.

Ireland's minister for farming, Simon Coveney, who chaired the meeting, said: "It has become very clear that this is a European problem that has to be dealt with Europe-wide.

"We need to find out who is responsible, how it happened and make sure it doesn?t happen again," he said.

EU ministers had favoured slapping a country-of-origin tag on processed meat products, which is currently only required on fresh meats, Coveney said.

Since Britain last week discovered horsemeat in frozen lasagne -- made by French firm Comigel and sold under the Findus label -- supermarkets across Europe have pulled millions of frozen ready meals from the shelves.

In the latest incidents, Switzerland's Coop said it had found horsemeat in its own-brand frozen lasagne produced by Comigel, and German supermarket chain Kaiser (Other OTC: KGHI - news) 's Tengelmann withdrew its frozen lasagne as a precaution.

Comigel, based in northeastern France, has denied all wrongdoing, saying it bought meat from another French firm, Spanghero, through its own Luxembourg subsidiary. Spanghero said it was supplied by two abattoirs in Romania -- who also insist they have done nothing wrong.

Media reports in several European countries focused on a Dutch trader, Jan Fasen.

Fasen, director of Draap Trading Ltd, confirmed to Britain's Guardian newspaper that he had bought a consignment of horsemeat from two Romanian abbatoirs and sold it to French food processors -- but he denied mislabelling it.

"We sold it to Spanghero in France as well as to clients in Belgium and Holland. It was all sold as horse. There is no issue," Fasen said.

"Somebody made a mistake and it was definitely not us," he insisted.

Romania has repeatedly denied being to blame, its Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin insisting Wednesday that "all the horsemeat provided by the Romanian companies that was placed on the EU market was correctly labelled."

Should the EU proposals to tighten controls on processed foods be accepted, in the first month, in March, there would be 4,000 tests for the drug phenylbutazone and another 2,500 for horsemeat. Initial results would be expected by April 15.

The proposals, which would be half-funded by Brussels, will be examined Friday at an extraordinary meeting of the EU's Standing Committee on the Food Chain.

If agreed there, they go to EU agricultural ministers on February 25, Borg said, adding that Europol would coordinate inquiries currently being carried out in countries hit by the crisis.

"The quicker we get this resolved the quicker we can get confidence established across Europe in our food systems and the products," Paterson said.