Rory Mulholland Paris
Nestlé, the world’s biggest food company, has become the latest to be swept up in Europe’s horsemeat scandal.
The Swiss firm said on Monday that it would remove two pasta meals from supermarket shelves in Italy and Spain because of contamination.
The news came on the same day that German discount chain Lidl pulled ready-made meals from the shelves of its Finnish, Danish and Swedish stores as it also confirmed the presence of horsemeat.
Spanghero, the French firm that sparked the Europe-wide food alert by allegedly passing off 750 tons of horsemeat as beef, would be allowed to resume production of minced meat, sausages and ready-to-eat meals, French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said. However, it would no longer be allowed to stock frozen meat.
Horsemeat found its way into 4.5 million Spanghero “beef” products sold across Europe, setting off the alarm last month.
Nestlé said: “Our tests have found traces of horse DNA in two products.
“The mislabelling of products means they fail to meet the very high standards consumers expect from us.”
As a result, the company would voluntarily remove two chilled pasta products – Buitoni beef ravioli and beef tortellini – from sale in Italy and Spain.
A Nestlé frozen meat product for catering businesses, produced in France, would also be withdrawn from sale.
Nestlé apologised to consumers while giving the assurance that “actions being taken to deal with this issue will result in higher standards and enhanced traceability”.
On Monday, Lidl pulled ready-made meals from the shelves of its Finnish, Danish and Swedish stores after tests confirmed the presence of horsemeat.
Lidl said last week it had found traces of horse in beef goulash and a tortellini bolognese product sold by its Austrian subsidiary.
Concerns about horsemeat emerged in mid-January when Irish authorities found traces of horse in beefburgers made by firms in Ireland and Britain and sold in supermarket chains including Tesco and Aldi.
The scandal intensified this month when French firm Comigel alerted Findus, a multinational food business with its headquarters in the UK, to the presence of horsemeat in meals that were on sale in Britain.
Since then, supermarket chains have removed millions of products as tests are carried out to detect horsemeat, which is eaten in many European countries but is considered distasteful in Britain.
Horsemeat in “beef” ready-to-eat meals has already been confirmed in products found in Britain, Ireland, France, Austria, Norway, the Netherlands and Germany.
With Italy and Spain now also tainted by the horsemeat scandal, it appears that most of the continent has been affected.
France’s anti-fraud office, known as the DGCCRF, concluded after an initial inquiry that 500 tons of Spanghero horsemeat were sent to Comigel, whose frozen meals were sold to 28 different companies in 13 European states.
Spanghero’s sanitary licence was suspended last week after it was accused of passing off huge quantities of mislabelled meat over a period of six months.
Spanghero again insisted on Friday that it was not responsible for the mislabelling.
“I don’t know who is behind this, but it is not us,” said Spanghero boss Barthelemy Aguerre, adding that the accusations were putting his 300 workers’ jobs on the line. “I will prove our innocence.”
Union leaders at Spanghero had warned that revoking its licence would put the company out of business.
The EU, seeking to reassure nervous consumers that their food is safe and to end the horsemeat scandal, agreed on Friday to the immediate launch of tests for horse DNA in meat products.
Germany said on Monday that it planned to tighten checks and sanctions on food production under an action plan to counter the scandal.
Nestlé shares had risen 0.4 percent by mid-morning in Zurich yesterday. – Sapa-AFP