Horsemeat scandal: Findus leak reveals horse in ‘beef’ for six months

Minister blames ‘criminal activity’ for the contamination and promises to find culprits

Britons have been eating horse meat in “beef” ready meals for up to six months, according to a leaked document from the frozen food company at the centre of the scandal.

Findus admitted in a letter to retailers on Monday that its French supplier Comigel had indicated that there was likely to have been a problem with its frozen ready meals since last August.

Supermarkets alerted to the contamination earlier this week were told "that the raw materials delivered since 1 August 2012, are likely to non-conform... " As the crisis spread, Aldi admitted that its frozen own-brand lasagnes and spaghetti bolognese – also containing meat from Comigel – contained up to 100 per cent horse DNA.

"Tests have been completed that show horse meat in the withdrawn products. In samples selected at random, tests demonstrated that the withdrawn products contained between 30 per cent and 100 per cent horse meat," the budget retailer said.

Britain's biggest supermarket chain, Tesco, said it was still awaiting test results on its own-brand spaghetti bolognese. The disclosures suggest that many tens of thousands of British people have been unwittingly eating horse meat. Public health scientists fear that the covertly added meat may have traces of the banned veterinary drug "bute", which is harmful to humans in large amounts.

As the police were called in to deal with the adulteration, and trading standards officers said they were "on high alert", the Food Standards Agency (FSA) maintained there was no evidence the horse meat was unsafe.

Comigel, based in Metz, said it had "identified" the supplier responsible and withdrawn all its produce from sale. Company director Erich Lehagre was reported saying it originated from a Romanian abattoir.

The FSA said it had demanded that food businesses conduct authenticity tests on all beef products such as burgers, meatballs and lasagne. With the apparent complete breakdown of the meat traceability system introduced after the BSE crisis in the 1990s, manufacturers, retailers and the FSA were left facing awkward questions.

Findus was informed by Comigel that there was a problem with its frozen lasagnes and spaghetti bolognese more than a week ago, according to the Labour MP Tom Watson, who obtained Findus's letter to retailers.

Findus only informed Britain's supermarkets of the problem on Monday – and the FSA on Wednesday afternoon. The FSA then waited all day before issuing a public statement at 6pm on Thursday, saying tests showed the presence of "more than 60 per cent" horse in Findus foods. The actual figure, the FSA admitted later, was 60 to 100 per cent.

Tesco and Aldi withdrew Comigel-supplied packs of their own-brand frozen meat products earlier this week but did not alert public and media to their product withdrawals until Wednesday.

The Government faced hostile questions over its handling of the scandal at yesterday's press conference but it wasn't until after 8pm that the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, made a public statement when he said the FSA had "ordered food businesses" to test processed beef products and was trying to find out if schools and hospitals had received adulterated meat.

He blamed criminal activity for the contamination: "Clearly there are some people who believe they can get away with selling cheap meat and passing it off as something else. Our investigations will find them and they will feel the full force of the law.

"British food prides itself on scrupulous traceability. I will not have that undermined by the selfish, reckless and potentially illegal actions of anyone – whether in this country or abroad."

However, his statement raised further questions about when the FSA learnt Findus products had been adulterated. He said Findus informed the FSA on Thursday, contradicting the FSA's earlier statement when it told The Independent it had been told on Wednesday.

The minister also said it had been agreed "businesses will publish the results of their own testing", which went further than earlier indications that they would inform the FSA, which would then decide which should be made public.

Mr Paterson said there was no reason to suppose beef products on sale were unsafe but told consumers who had bought the Findus lasagnes to return them.

The Serious Organised Crime Agency has been alerted to the adulteration by Labour's shadow Environment Secretary, Mary Creagh, who last month exposed the presence of bute in UK-slaughtered horses. She said: "I have been given information about British companies who may potentially be involved in the illegal horse-meat trade."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Content Manager - Central London

£35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Content Manager - Central...

HR Business Partner - Banking Finance - Brentwood - £45K

£45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: ** HR Business Partner - Senior H...

PA / Team Secretary - Wimbledon

£28000 - £32000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: PA / Team Secretary - Mat...

Mechanical Lead

£65000 - £75000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Mechanical L...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on