Blog: Katy AskewHorse meat scandal moves to ready meals

Katy Askew | 7 February 2013

As confirmation comes that horse meat, which was initially detected in frozen beef burgers, has now been discovered in beef ready meals, one is left wondering just how deep this issue goes.

Findus UK told just-food this morning (7 February) that horse meat had been found in its frozen beef lasagne. The ready meal was produced by French firm Comigel, which also manufactures ready meals for other third parties - including Aldi and Tesco.

The news - which would be an unwelcome development for any manufacturer or retailer - must seem like a double blow for Tesco and Aldi, who have found themselves at the centre of the scandal since it broke last month.

The jittery retailers have been quick to react, no doubt conscious that consumers should see them doing their utmost to root out products containing horse meat. A spokesperson for Tesco emphasised that it was pulling Comigel-manufactured products as a "precautionary measure" as there is - as yet - no proof that its own label frozen bolognese is in fact contaminated. Likewise, Aldi stressed that it is performing tests on its own products and - until such time as the results come back - the group refused to be drawn on the possibility that yet another product could contain undeclared horse meat.

But this level of uncertainty is telling. The horse meat scandal has uncovered just how easily the food supply chain can break down. It only takes one unscrupulous trader - or one point of contamination - somewhere in the chain for it all to come crashing down like a house of cards.

There is not yet any sign that regulators will not be able to trace the horse meat back down the chain, but it remains a time-consuming and costly process. According to the Irish food standards body, the product originated with suppliers in Poland. But the complex nature of the food sector means that there is a danger that contaminated meat remains in the system.

Cue frenzied testing from food manufacturers and retailers alike. Behind the scenes, companies are working fervently to verify the reliability of their products and it seems possible that one of the longer-term effects of the scandal will be increased scrutiny of the supply chain. But even this will have its limitations: it is simply impossible for a comprehensive enough set of tests to be conducted to identify any and every potential contaminant.

With the UK headlines dominated by horse meat revelations, it is also probable that the incident could spread to the continent. As yet, it is unclear what European customers are serviced by France's Comigel. Nevertheless, if horse meat has entered the European supply chain, this is an issue that will not be contained by national borders.


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