* Ministers to meet on Wednesday to debate response
* EU health chief says all firms involved under suspicion
* Germany testing meat consignment
(Adds comments from UK Food Standards Agency, minister)
By Charlie Dunmore
BRUSSELS, Feb 13 European countries are expected
to step up testing of food products in response to a scandal
involving horsemeat falsely sold as beef, as authorities
scramble to identify the source of the suspected fraud.
All companies that have handled falsely-labelled horsemeat
are under suspicion, the European Union's health chief said on
Wednesday, adding that the European Commission was considering
strengthening EU rules on product labelling.
Ministers from the worst-affected nations will meet in
Brussels later on Wednesday to discuss their response to the
scandal, which erupted after tests showed products labelled as
beef contained up to 100 percent horsemeat.
Authorities have said there is no risk to public health from
the tainted foods. But the incident has caused revulsion in
Britain, where many view the idea of eating horsemeat with
distaste, and raised concerns over the safety of Europe's
intricate food supply chains.
"It is evident that somewhere down the line, someone ... has
fraudulently or perhaps negligently labelled a product in a
deceptive way," EU health commissioner Tonio Borg told
"All those countries through which this meat product has
passed of course are under suspicion. By the countries, I mean
the companies in those countries which dealt with this meat
product," he said, adding it would be unfair at this stage to
point the finger at any organisation in particular.
Wednesday's meeting would focus on strengthening existing EU
rules, particularly on product testing and enforcement by
national authorities, Borg said.
Britain's finance minister George Osborne said tougher
product testing was needed to restore public confidence.
"What we want to make sure is that we have got the right
checks in place so that all families know exactly what they are
eating," he told Sky TV.
The Commission said it was also studying the option of
introducing country-of-origin labels on processed meat products,
although officials have said privately that the complexity of
supply chains would make this next to impossible to implement.
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
host of EU countries, from abattoirs in Romania and factories in
Luxembourg to traders in Cyprus and food companies in France.
Germany said it was investigating a consignment of beef
lasagna sent from Luxembourg to an unnamed retailer in North
Rhine-Westphalia on suspicion it might contain horsemeat.
The first evidence that the labelling scandal could go
beyond horsemeat also emerged, as 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.
(Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis, Adrian Croft and
Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Maria Golovnina in London and
Alexandra Hudson in Berlin; editing by Andrew Roche)