BRUSSELS – The European Union has agreed to immediately launch tests for equine DNA in meat products, seeking to reassure nervous consumers that their food is safe and to stop the continent’s horse-meat scandal from spreading.
The program will also look for the presence of phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory treatment for horses that is harmful to humans and is by law supposed to be kept out of the food chain.
The crisis continued to build Friday as Austria and Norway confirmed that “beef” meals containing horse meat had been found, stoking fears that many more cases will come to light after falsely-labeled meat was discovered in Britain, France, Germany and Switzerland.
In the U.K., the Food Standards Agency said that 29 out of 2,501 beef products it has tested so far have been found to contain more than 1 percent horse meat, but stressed that these must be considered exceptions. Tests have found horse meat in British school meals, hospital food and restaurant dishes, spreading the scandal beyond frozen supermarket products.
Norway’s largest retailer, NorgesGruppen, reported Friday that horse meat had been found in frozen lasagna dishes made by French firm Comigel and sold in its stores. Austria also said horse meat had been detected in beef tortelloni dishes manufactured by a German food company and delivered to Austrian branches of budget retailer Lidl.
Meanwhile, Danish authorities said Friday they are investigating whether a slaughterhouse may have mixed horse meat into meat marked as beef that was supplied to pizza makers. And in the Netherlands, officials raided a meat processing plant believed to be mixing horse meat and beef and selling it on as pure beef.
Under the measures agreed by the EU, officials said the testing of “foods destined for the final consumer and marketed as containing beef” could begin immediately in the bloc’s 27 member states, with the European Commission paying 75 percent of the costs for the first month.
The DNA controls, “mainly at the retail level,” will include 2,250 samples across the EU, ranging from 10 to 150 tests per country. The phenylbutazone test will require one sample for every 50 tons of horse meat, with each members nation required to carry out a minimum of five tests.