EU agriculture ministers have announced plans to test beef products at random in a bid to crack down on horsemeat contamination.
Member states have agreed to carry out DNA testing of processed beef products for three months from 1 March.
Tests have also been ordered on horsemeat for the equine drug phenylbutazone – or “bute” – a powerful anti-inflammatory drug that can be harmful to humans.
In total, 2,500 horse DNA tests will be carried out on processed beef and 4,000 bute tests on horsemeat in March, with results to be published in mid-April.
Speaking after an emergency meeting in Brussels on Wednesday (13 February), attended by seven member states, DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson outlined key policies agreed by ministers to tackle the “unacceptable situation” of meat adulteration.
“We will introduce a three-month programme of random DNA testing of beef products, whether made in the EU or imported from elsewhere. It will begin on 1 March and the first results will be published on 15 April,” said Mr Paterson.
“Secondly, we agreed a new intelligence-sharing system so that new information about the current investigations can be shared immediately.
This will enable other member states to act straightaway if they have any suspicions that food businesses are not playing by the rules.
“It will also allow Europol to coordinate investigations into criminal activity.”
Ministers also agreed that the European Commission’s recommendations on labelling the origin of all processed meat should be accelerated and published as soon as possible to give consumers more certainty about the origins of meat.
The policies will be ironed out in a further emergency meeting of food experts on Friday (15 February) and in the next meeting of EU agriculture ministers on 25/26 February.
Irish agriculture minister Simon Coveney said the mislabelling of meat was a “fraud issue” which was an “EU-wide problem that needs an EU-wide solution”.
The UK Food Standards Agency is due to publish the first results of DNA tests on processed beef products on Friday (15 February). Mr Paterson said he was prepared for “further bad news”.
Horsemeat has been discovered in frozen burgers, ready meals, lasagne and spaghetti bolognese in the UK. Findus frozen beef lasagne, supplied by French company Comigel, was found to contain 100% horsemeat.