* EU Commission wants DNA tests to assess scale of problem
* Aim to determine level of horsemeat in processed beef
* Affair undermining confidence in EU food chain -minister
By Charlie Dunmore and Adrian Croft
BRUSSELS, Feb 13 The European Commission has
proposed increased DNA testing of meat products to assess the
scale of a scandal involving horsemeat sold as beef that has
shocked the public and raised concern over the continent's food
"The tests will be on DNA in meat products in all member
states," European Union Health Commissioner Tonio Borg told
reporters after a ministerial meeting in Brussels to discuss the
The initial one-month testing plan would include premises
handling horsemeat to check whether potentially harmful equine
medicine residues have entered the food chain, Borg said, with
the first results expected by mid-April.
The scandal erupted when tests carried out in Ireland
revealed that meat in products labelled as beef was in fact up
to 100 percent horsemeat. Operators in at least eight EU
countries have since been dragged into the affair, raising fears
of a pan-European labelling fraud.
Officials have said no risk to public health from the
adulterated foods has been identified at this stage but testing
for horse medicine in meat is being undertaken to be sure.
The suspected fraud has caused particular outrage in
Britain, where many view the idea of eating horsemeat with
distaste, and exposed flaws in food controls.
"This is impacting on the integrity of the food chain, which
is a really significant issue for a lot of countries. Now that
we know this is a European problem, we need a European
solution," Irish farm minister Simon Coveney told reporters
before the meeting.
At the urging of ministers, Borg said the Commission would
accelerate work on potential changes to EU labelling rules that
would force companies to state the country of origin on
processed meat products.
Currently the requirement only applies to fresh beef, and is
expected to be extended to fresh lamb, pork and poultry from
But EU officials have warned privately that the complexity
of supply chains would make the requirement almost impossible to
implement in practice.
EU and national authorities are still trying to uncover the
source of the suspected horsemeat fraud.
"All those countries through which this meat product has
passed of course are under suspicion," Borg told a news briefing
earlier on Wednesday. "By the countries, I mean the companies in
those countries which dealt with this meat product."
He added that it would be unfair at this stage to point the
finger at any organisation in particular.
NOT JUST HORSE?
On Jan. 15, routine tests by Ireland's Food Safety Authority
found horsemeat in frozen beef burgers produced by firms in
Ireland and Britain and sold in supermarket chains including
Tesco, Britain's biggest retailer.
Concerns grew last week when the British unit of frozen
foods group Findus began recalling packets of beef
lasagna on advice from its French supplier Comigel, after tests
showed up to 100 percent of the meat in them was horse.
The affair has since implicated operators and middlemen in a
range of EU countries, from abattoirs in Romania and factories
in Luxembourg to traders in Cyprus and food companies in France.
German supermarket chain Real, part of the world's fourth
largest retailer Metro, said tests revealed traces of
horsemeat in frozen lasagna on Wednesday. Real, which operates
more than 300 stores across Europe's largest economy, said it
had already removed the ready-meal from its shelves on Friday.
The first evidence that the labelling scandal could go
beyond horsemeat also emerged when the upmarket British grocer
Waitrose said its testing found that some of its frozen British
beef meatballs might contain pork.
The firm, part of the John Lewis Partnership, has
withdrawn the product from sale.
Horsemeat is traditionally prized by many consumers in EU
countries such as France, Italy and Belgium.