Tesco has placed full-page advertisements in a number of national newspapers to apologise for the horseburger scandal amid concerns that horsemeat could have been added to beefburgers for years.

In the advertisements, which carry the headline “We apologise”, Tesco says: “We and our supplier let you down and we apologise.

“So here’s our promise. We will find out exactly what happened and, when we do, we’ll come back and tell you.

“And we will work harder than ever with all our suppliers to make sure this never happens again.”

The value of Tesco shares fell by 1% – nearly £300m – on the FTSE 100 after horsemeat traces were found in its beef burgers.

The apology, which appears in a number of national newspapers today (Thursday 17 January) was issued as a food expert claimed that horsemeat could have been added to burgers in the UK for years, but remained undetected due to lax regulation.

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, London told the Daily Telegraph: “It could have been going on for years, but we wouldn’t know about it because we have never conducted tests.

“For too long we have had light-touch regulation. The Food Standards Agency has to be institutionalised into taking a more critical approach. They have to work on the assumption that things could go wrong.”

On Tuesday (15 January) the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) published a report that revealed Tesco Everyday Value Beef Burgers contained almost 30% horsemeat.

The study also discovered traces of horse DNA in burgers sold by Iceland, Lidl, Aldi and the Irish Dunnes Stores chain. All the supermarkets have cleared the contaminated brands from their shelves.

Prime minister David Cameron warned British retailers that they were responsible for ensuring that standards in food safety in the supply chain.

Speaking in parliament, Mr Cameron told MPs that the situation was “completely unacceptable” and “extremely disturbing”. He called upon the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) to carry out a full investigation.

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