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Legal action plan in horse meat row
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson speaks to the media outside Defra headquarters in central London
Legal action over the horse meat scandal is to be mounted in Europe, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has said as he described the contamination of beef products as a case of fraud against the public.
Mr Paterson said the scandal appeared to be "extensive" across Europe but he repeated his rejection of calls for a ban on meat imports, saying that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) advice was that all products on sale are safe for consumption.
"This is a case of fraud and a conspiracy against the public, this is a criminal action, substituting one material for another," he told BBC Breakfast in answer to questioning about calls for a ban on meat imports.
"If a British consumer goes into a retail store and buys a beef product, they should expect to get beef in that product, not horse. So this is a straight case of fraud and I think you will see legal actions beginning in certain continental countries today. I will be taking it up with certain ministers and also with the Commission in Europe, because this is overall a European Commission competence. It is absolutely unacceptable that consumers are being passed off with one product when they buy another."
Asked about his prediction that there could be more bad news to come after the next set of test results has been completed, Mr Paterson said: "It looks as if this conspiracy, criminal conspiracy, criminal action, whatever you want to call it, may be extensive. I understand the plant in Luxembourg has had to issue warnings to customers in 16 different countries."
Mr Paterson added: "The FSA's clear advice is to continue buying and eating all the products for sale. Should evidence come forward of any serious threat to health obviously we will react very swiftly, and that could mean action on imports. But at the moment, all the evidence is that these products are entirely safe and people are open to eat them if they are advised so by the FSA - and they are."
The FSA has said there is no evidence to suggest the horse meat detected in beef products poses a danger to humans, but confirmed that tests have been ordered for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone as animals treated with "bute" are not allowed to enter the food chain.
The Government's Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: "We are working closely with the FSA and Defra to investigate how horse meat got into the UK food chain. There is nothing to suggest a safety risk to consumers who may have eaten the products. All of the retailers involved so far have removed potentially affected products from their shelves."
Tesco later announced that tests had confirmed that its frozen Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese had been contaminated with horse meat, with some exceeding 60%.
The ready meal was made by Comigel, Tesco said, and announced it was becoming the latest retailer and manufacturer to drop the beleaguered firm in the wake of the contamination.