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Horsemeat timeline: A month that changed the world

14 February 2013

Within one month, UK consumers’ perception of traceability within the food supply chain has been changed forever. Here, we publish a timeline that shows just how quickly the horsemeat scandal has spread.

15 January 2013

  • The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) publishes results of tests that reveal the presence of equine DNA in some beef burger products – up to 29% horse DNA is identified in Tesco economy burgers.

16 January 2013
  • Irish food processing plant, Silvercrest Foods halts production. A subsidiary of ABP Food Group, the firm is one of the plants that tested positive for traces of horse DNA in its burger products. Approximately 10million beef burger products are removed from supermarkets, including Tesco, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland.

22 January 2013
  • The EBLEX Quality Standard Mark Scheme (QSM) for beef and lamb announces random DNA testing.

23 January 2013
  • Burger King, which had sourced much of its products from Silvercrest, announces it is switching to products from Germany and Italy.

25 January 2013
  • Waitrose announces it is withdrawing burgers made by Yorkshire based Dalepak – a subsidiary of ABF Foods. A food safety specialist from R-Biopharm Rhône warns that dubious practices in the meat processing industry are ‘far from a new phenomenon’, stating: “The surprise is that people are surprised. The risk of adulteration of food either by unscrupulous traders or lackadaisical processors is something to which standards agencies - not just in the UK but around the world - must stay continually alert.” 
30 January 2013

4 February 2013
  • Farm Minister, David Heath, meets with food safety officials and retailers in a bid to discuss DNA testing of meat products. Following a meeting between the FSA and industry officials, it is announced that DNA testing on meat products will be introduced, with an assurance that all results will be made available to consumers.

5 February 2013
  • The FSA discovers a consignment of frozen meat containing 80% horsemeat at Freeza Meats, based in Northern Ireland.

6 February 2013
  • ABP Foods speaks out against Irish meat wholesaler, McAdam Food Products. According to ABP, it purchased 170tonnes of contaminated meat products from the export company that operated across Europe. McAdam responds by saying it never knowingly purchased or supplied horsemeat. 
  • The FSA publishes a protocol for a survey of food authenticity in processed meat products across the UK. 
7 February 2013
  • Findus’ beef lasagne is withdrawn from supermarkets following tests that detect up to 100% horsemeat in some products. As a result of consumer concern, Tesco and Aldi withdraw lasagne and frozen spaghetti produced by French supplier Comigel. 
  • The FSA says it is ‘highly likely’ that criminal activity is to blame for the contamination and consumers are warned not to eat the meals. The agency demands a more comprehensive meat testing programme from food businesses. Analysts advise on the importance of traceability in the food industry.

10 February 2013
  • An unprecedented product screening takes place across the UK. The Romanian government investigates whether horsemeat has been mislabelled at abattoirs before being globally transported. 
  • Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, announces a series of crisis talks with ministers across Europe, describing the contamination as ‘sickening’.

11 February 2013
  • Labour reveals that an estimated 70,000 horses remain unaccounted for in Northern Ireland.  
  • Food safety expert Professor Mike Lean, from the University of Glasgow, warns that unknown meat flooding markets could be carrying drug extracts or diseases harmful to humans. 
  • Tesco reveals results of tests that confirm its Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese contains ‘significant’ levels of horse DNA. Tests for phenylbutazone (bute) are negative. 
  • A survey by market analyst Pollsters Lightspeed Research reveals that one third of consumers will avoid buying processed meat. 
  • NSA chairman calls for new alliance of farmers’ organisations, saying: “We have tried hard to promote the food security warnings of the UK’s Chief Scientific Advisor, and the horsemeat scandal is evidence that our Government has failed to listen.”

12 February 2013
  • Owen Paterson urges shoppers to buy British saying the UK has ‘splendid cattle, rigorous traceability systems, strictly run abattoirs and a splendid finished product’. 
  • A slaughterhouse in Yorkshire and Welsh meat plant are raided by police and the FSA. Both firms are suspected of mislabelling meat. The plant in West Yorkshire is the Peter Boddy Licensed Slaughterhouse, Todmorden, West Yorkshire, and the FSA believes it supplied horse carcases to Farmbox Meats, at Llandre, near Aberystwyth. An FSA spokesperson announces: “The agency and the police are now looking into the circumstances through which meat products, purporting to be beef for kebabs and burgers, were sold when they were in fact horse.” 

13 February 2013
  • Prof Mike Lean tells Food Processing magazine: “As I see it, this entire scandal, like the BSE crisis before it, is a consequence of quite extraordinary greed in the quest for more profit from a food industry whose margins have been squeezed to the point of collapse, and from the foolish (American-led) promotion of quantity rather than quality.”

14 February 2013
  • Horsemeat is detected in frozen lasagne on sale in Germany and supermarkets start removing the product from their shelves. The Real supermarket chain says it has withdrawn TiP frozen lasagne. 
  • The EU urges member states to conduct random DNA tests on processed beef for traces of horsemeat, for three months from 1 March. 
  • British MPs describe the Government’s response to the horsemeat scandal as ‘flat-footed’, calling for more intense product testing to reassure the public. 
  • The French Government says that meat company Spanghero knowingly sold on horsemeat labelled as beef. Morrisons reports booming fresh meat sales. 
18 February 2013
  • Nestle withdraws beef pasta meals from shelves in Italy and Spain, following tests that reveal traces of horse DNA above 1%.

19 February 2013
  • During a debate in the food safety committee, MEPs voice concern over member states’ level of commitment to enforcing the EU’s existing rules for labelling. They urge the European Commission to step up controls.
20 February 2013
  • FSA steps up its testing programme, by examining stewing steak and ready meals that contain ‘beef’ that has not been minced. So far it has ordered 28 local authorities to test 224 lines of burgers, ready meals and other minced ‘beef’ products for horse and pork. This is expanded to include another 140 products including sandwiches sold by cafes, while a new EU testing programme will examine a further 150 products including gelatine and stock cubes.
21 February 2013
  • Euro MP Paul Nuttall says the European Union is ‘primarily to blame’ for horsemeat entering the UK food chain. “Food safety is an EU competence,” he states. “What the EU has done has shifted responsibility for food safety on to the producers rather than government agencies.”
  • Renfrewshire Council removes meat products from schools, after its supplier – the Brakes Group – discovers horse DNA in another of its products. 

22 February 2013
  • Co-Op chief executive, Peter Marks, publishes an open letter to customers saying that food retailers must ‘accept ultimate accountability’ for products containing horsemeat sold to customers, adding that ‘the buck stops here’. He writes: “The Co-op was forced to pull two lines of frozen burgers, made by Silvercrest Foods in Ireland, after they were found to contain horse meat. Further tests on the company’s own-brand minced beef products have proved negative. I believe that as a result of this food scandal we have let you down. We cannot blame the government or the regulators, or even our suppliers. At the end of the day, the buck stops here."

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