Britain finds horsemeat in school meals, hospitals

By Jill Lawless and Lori Hinnant

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Feb. 15 2013 8:17 p.m. MST

The outside of a butchers where horsemeat is available, in Paris, Friday Feb. 15, 2013. Tests have found horsemeat in school meals, hospital food and restaurant dishes in Britain, officials said Friday, as the scandal over adulterated meat spread beyond frozen supermarket products. French French Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said Thursday that it appeared fraudulent meat sales over several months reached across 13 countries and 28 companies. He identified French meat wholesaler Spanghero as a major culprit. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)

Associated Press

LONDON — Tests have found horsemeat in school meals, hospital food and restaurant dishes in Britain, officials said Friday, as the scandal over adulterated meat spread beyond frozen supermarket products.

Results were coming in after U.K. food safety officials ordered supermarkets and suppliers to test all processed meals labeled as beef for traces of horsemeat.

Whitbread PLC, Britain's largest hotel and restaurant company, said horse DNA had been found in lasagna and burgers on its menus. The company, whose outlets include Premier Inn hotels and the Brewers Fayre and Beefeater Grill restaurant chains, said it was "shocked and disappointed at this failure of the processed meat supply chain."

Officials also said horsemeat was present in cottage pies delivered to 47 schools in Lancashire county, northern England, and in hospital meals in Northern Ireland. David Bingham, of the health service's Business Services Organization, said the hospital meals, from a supplier in the Republic of Ireland, had been withdrawn.

Several British supermarket chains, including Morrisons and Tesco, said Friday that tests on their products had so far been negative for horsemeat.

Duncan Campbell, a senior British food inspector, said the results would give a snapshot of the extent of the horsemeat contamination, which already has seen products pulled from supermarket shelves across Europe. But, he told the BBC, "I think there will be still more discoveries to be made."

"The more people have looked for horsemeat, the more products have been found containing it. I don't think we have got to the bottom of it yet," he said.

Officials from the European Union countries decided Friday to go ahead with a plan for more intensive checks to detect horsemeat in food labeled as beef.

In addition, horsemeat will be tested for phenylbutazone, or bute, an anti-inflammatory veterinary drug that's illegal to use in animals used for food.

EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg welcomed the approval, saying, "consumers expect the EU, national authorities and all those involved in the food chain to give them all the reinsurance needed as regards what they have in their plates."

The testing will go on for a month, and may be extended for two months after that.

The testing will include 2,250 samples of foods labeled as containing beef, ranging from 10 to 150 per country. Tests for bute will be done on one sample for every 50 tons of meat.

The scandal, which erupted after Irish authorities found traces of horse DNA in frozen burgers last month, has grown to take in companies and countries across Europe.

NorgesGruppen, Norway's largest grocery retailer, said Friday that horsemeat has also been confirmed in frozen lasagna sold in its stores.

The escalating crisis has raised questions about food controls in the 27-nation European Union — and highlighted how little consumers know about the complex trading operations that get food from producers to wholesalers to processers to stores and onto dinner tables.

Europol, the European Union police agency, is coordinating a continent-wide fraud investigation amid allegations of an international criminal conspiracy to substitute horse for more expensive beef.

French Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon said Thursday that it appeared fraudulent meat sales over several months reached across 13 countries and 28 companies. He identified French meat wholesaler Spanghero as a major culprit.

The company denied wrongdoing.

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