* Concerns over horse sold as beef spread across Europe
* Research company says shoppers changing habits or diet
* Two thirds said they trusted food labels less
(Adds environment secretary, retailers' comment)
By Clare Hutchison and Alice Baghdjian
LONDON, Feb 18 The discovery of horsemeat in
products sold as beef has shocked many British consumers into
buying less meat, a survey showed on Monday.
The furore, which erupted in Ireland last month and then
spread quickly across Europe, has led to ready meals being
pulled from supermarket shelves and damaged people's confidence
in the food on their plate.
It also raised concerns over food labelling and the complex
supply chain across the European Union, putting pressure on
governments to explain lapses in quality control.
A fifth of adults said they had started buying less meat
after traces of horse DNA were found in some products, according
to the poll conducted by Consumer Intelligence research company.
"Our findings show that this scandal has really hit
consumers hard, be it through having to change their shopping
habits or altering the fundamentals of their diet," David Black,
a spokesman for Consumer Intelligence, said.
The online poll, conducted on Feb. 14-15, questioned more
than 2,200 adults on their spending habits following the
horsemeat scandal. It gave no specific figures on how much meat
people were buying, focusing only on broader trends.
More than 65 percent of respondents said they trusted food
labels less as a result.
"(Brands) will have to put in place really stringent ways of
checking that what's being delivered and what's on the label is
indeed what's in there," Black said.
In the month since horsemeat was first identified in Irish
beefburgers, no one is yet reported to have fallen ill from
eating horse but many supermarkets and fast food chains are
already struggling to save their reputations.
Governments across Europe have stressed that horsemeat poses
little or no health risk, although some carcasses have been
found tainted with a painkiller given to racehorses but banned
for human consumption.
Environment secretary Owen Paterson, who met British
retailers earlier in the day for talks on how to restore
consumer confidence, said Britain was closely cooperating with
European countries to investigate what happened.
"Looking ahead, there was absolute determination in the
industry to restore confidence in their products," he said in
televised remarks. "We look forward to meeting on a regular
basis to absolutely make it clear that when consumers buy a
product they get what they bought."
British retailers now expect the vast majority of tests on
processed beef products to be completed by Feb. 22, according to
the British Retail Consortium.
More than 60 percent of adults surveyed said they would now
buy meat from their local butchers, the poll said, while a
quarter of adults said they would now buy more joints, chops or
steaks instead of processed meat.
Michael Suleyman, who owns a family-run butchers' shop in
Brixton, London, said more customers appeared concerned although
for now there had not been any difference in sales figures.
"We have seen people panicking and asking us lots of
questions like 'where do you get your meat from?'," Suleyman,
51, told Reuters. "We assure our customers by showing them the
meat and mincing it for them in front of their eyes."
But with inflation running above central bank targets and an
uncertain job market, the spending power of British consumers
has been eroded in recent years and, for some, buying more
expensive meat is not an option.
Nearly a fifth of respondents said they wanted buy less
processed meat such as ready-meals, but could not afford to.
At a London branch of Britain's biggest retailer, Tesco
, which found horse DNA in some of its own-brand frozen
spaghetti bolognese meals last week, consumers were still buying
"I've got nothing against horse meat," said Sean Cosgrove,
39, a local government employee. "I think you're being ambitious
if you expect top quality meat in those products anyway."
(Writing by Alice Baghdjian and Maria Golovnina; Additional
reporting by James Davey and Neil Maidment; Editing by Michael