The Dutch food safety inspectorate has launched a major investigation into the fraudulent use of horse meat across some 100 Dutch companies, ranging from abbatoirs to supermarkets.
Inspectors will take hundreds of samples from meat and meat products labelled as 100% beef to find out if they also contain horse meat.
They will also check the labelling at 40 meat production companies and trace meat back to its source. Horse meat at some 40 slaughterhouses will also be tested for the presence of the horse painkiller bute, which can be dangerous to humans. Several horses containing bute have been found in the food chain in Britain.
Several Dutch supermarkets have already withdrawn products labelled as 100% beef which have turned out to contain horse.
The measures were announced on Thursday evening by junior economic affairs minister Sharon Dijksma. ‘It is unacceptable to deliberately deceive consumers for profit,’ the minister said. ‘Pre-packed products should have a label which lists what it contains.’
Dutch food inspectors have also been carrying out random tests throughout the country since February 11, Nos television said. The sale of meat from one company has been halted.
Meanwhile, Cyprus-based Dutch meat trader Jan Fasen has issued a statement through his lawyer denying any involvement in the widening scandal.
His company Draap Trading has been described in the Dutch and foreign media as being central to the deception.
The lawyer also denied claims that Fasen has been given a year in jail for passing off horse meat as halal beef. The court case involved ‘another issue’ and Fasen is appealing against the conviction, the lawyer said.
Horse steaks used to be a popular meat in the Netherlands but are now much less widely eaten. Instead, horse is used to bulk out more expensive meat in snack products.
Checks on popular Dutch snacks such as bitterballen carried out by Wageningen University in 2007 found horse meat was included in 32% of them. And in 2008, a television consumer programme found horse was still used by many producers of frikandellen.
The Netherlands is also a major processor of horse meat imported from abroad, largely from South America.
On Thursday, the Parool newspaper reported that an Amsterdam restaurant praised for the quality of its steaks had been selling consumers fillet of horse instead.