Environment secretary Owen Paterson said the substitution of horse meat for beef was “either gross incompetence or an international criminal conspiracy” and warned further cases of mislabelling were likely to emerge.
But he denied that a ban on all meat imports from the continent would be necessary, saying such a move was “not allowed within the rules of the European Common Market.”.
Meanwhile the Food Standards Agency has ordered manufacturers to carry out emergency DNA tests on all processed beef products, with the first results due out on Friday. The organisation last conducted checks for horse meat in 2003.
Findus was forced to withdraw its frozen beef lasagne products from sale last week following revelations about their provenance. The meals were produced by Comigel in Luxembourg using meat from French firm Spanghero. Spanghero used a network of agents in Cyprus and the Netherlands to source the raw meat from an abattoir in Romania. All involved parties are now considering legal action.
Leading French supermarkets have withdrawn all Findus and Comigel products from sale, despite no proof that other food lines are affected.