Food safety tests carried out on beef products across Europe found less than 5% were contaminated with horsemeat.

The DNA tests also found about 0.5% of samples were contaminated with the equine painkiller phenylbutazone, which if consumed can pose a risk to human health.

The European Commission (EC) launched the tests last month as part of an EU-wide co-ordinated testing programme in the wake of the horsemeat scandal.

Food safety authorities in the 27 EU member states carried out 7.259 tests, of which 4,144 were tested for the presence of horsemeat DNA and 3,115 for bute.

The results showed 193 samples revealed positive traces of horsemeat (4.66%) and 16 showed positive traces of bute (0.51%).

In the UK, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) submitted 150 samples of prepacked beef products and 34 that were not prepacked for the EU survey. But the results showed none of the samples tested positive for horsemeat.

Ireland submitted 47 prepacked and three non-prepacked samples of beef, but none tested positive for horsemeat.

However beef products tested in France and Greece found the most cases of horsemeat. In France, 47 out of 353 samples tested positive for horse DNA, with 36 out of 288 tests giving positive results in Greece.

Tonio Borg, EC commissioner for health and consumers, said the findings confirmed that the horsemeat scandal was a matter of food fraud, through the mislabelling of products, and not food safety.

“Restoring the trust and confidence of European consumers and trading partners in our food chain following this fraudulent labelling scandal is now of vital importance for the European economy given that the food sector is the largest single economic sector in the EU,” he added.

In the coming months, the commission will propose to strengthen controls along the food chain to ensure there is no repeat of the fraud.

The European Commission and food safety experts will meet on Friday (19 April) to discuss whether the EU testing programme should be extended to investigate fraudulent practices and introduce fines for fraudsters.

On Monday (15 April) the government announced plans for a “wide-ranging” strategic review of the horsemeat fraud to “restore and maintain consumer confidence in the food supply chain”.

Horsemeat was first discovered in frozen burgers in the UK and Ireland in January. The discovery led to thousands of beef products being removed from supermarket shelves across the EU.

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