Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Reporter: Andy Moore
British and French retailers have withdrawn frozen meals labelled beef but suspected of containing horsemeat.Transcript EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The French government will hold crisis talks with meat industry representatives overnight as Europe's horse meat scandal deepens.
Seven French supermarket chains have withdrawn frozen beef meals thought to contain horse meat.
It follows the discovery that foods sold in the UK and other parts of Europe contained horse meat despite being labelled as beef.
Europe correspondent Philip Williams reports from London.
PHILIP WILLIAMS , REPORTER: What started as a single contamination story in the UK has become a Europe-wide scandal drawing in the governments of at least six countries.
LAURENT FABIUS, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER (voiceover translation): We need an investigation and we also need sanctions. It's terrible.
PHILIP WILLIAMS : A long chain of suppliers from France to Cyprus to Holland apparently ends up here in Romania. It's believed two abattoirs supplied the horse meat, but exactly where the fraud lies is not yet clear. One possible motivation: a recently passed law in Romania has banned horses and carts on the roads, dramatically increasing the potential horse meat supply.
ROLY OWERS, WORLD HORSE WELFARE: Horse meat is cheaper than, for example, beef. And the other issue, it's far less regulated. After BSE, the whole beef system was very much more tightly regulated in terms of identity and testing and locality, but with horses, that's not the case.
PHILIP WILLIAMS: The British government has warned consumers to expect more cases of contaminated products as supermarkets continue emergency testing.
OWEN PATTERN, UK ENVIRONMENT SECRETARY: This is an issue of fraud. This is a case of people being sold one thing and getting another. At the moment we don't have evidence there is a threat to human health.
PHILIP WILLIAMS: What this scandal has done is highlight the vulnerability of the food chain where supposedly respectable companies have been left unable to explain why they didn't know what was in their own products. And until now, regulators have not been on guard against meat substitution.
ANY FOSTER, UK TRADING STANDARDS INSTITUTE: When we submit a food sample for inspection we'd be looking for things like nutritional profile, additives, allergy information, meat content, but not meat species.
PHILIP WILLIAMS: None of which has inspired much confidence amongst consumers.
VOX POP: Concerns me that they're not describing the products correctly, yes, it does, yes. Because, well, they could be putting anything in there, couldn't they?
VOX POP II: The more programs I've seen about processed foods, the more worried I get, to be honest. I just eat vegetables, fresh food. Won't touch processed food and I haven't done for years. It's simply because of things like this.
PHILIP WILLIAMS: With governments demanding answers and food companies threatening to sue one another, it may take some time before the real culprits face justice. In the meantime, what has been exposed are the vulnerabilities of a globalised food chain.
Philip Williams, Lateline.
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