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Published April 16, 2013, 02:10 PM

Horse meat scandal re-emerges

Traces of horse drug found in British beef product.

By: Stephen Castle, New York Times News Service

LONDON — After disappearing briefly from public view, the scandal over horse meat sold as beef re-emerged April 10 with an alert on more than 50,000 tons of meat sold across Europe and an earlier recall of a product in Britain containing a veterinary drug banned from the human food chain.

The Dutch food safety authority says it was trying to trace meat sold to 130 companies in the Netherlands and 370 in 15 other countries, including France, Germany and Spain. The Dutch suppliers of the meat, in which traces of horse meat were discovered, were unable to say where the 50,000 tons in question originated, says Tjitte Mastenbroek, a spokesman for the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority.

"There is no specific indication that this is a danger to the public," Mastenbroek says, "but the company cannot give the origin of the meat, so we cannot give a guarantee."

The food safety authorities in the 15 countries have been notified about the concerns, and the Dutch companies that bought the meat will be asked to remove it from sale if it can still be traced. The two Dutch meat suppliers were named as Wiljo Import en Export B.V. and Vleesgroothandel Willy Selten B.V.

Meat recalled

Late April 9 in Britain, the Asda chain, which is owned by Wal-Mart, announced a recall of Smart Price Corned Beef. The product was withdrawn from shelves in March after it was found to contain traces of horse meat, and further tests showed that the banned drug, known as bute, had been detected in very small doses, the company says.

"Asda is recalling this product and anyone who has Asda Smart Price Corned Beef should not eat it," said a statement on the company website, which added that the risk to health was extremely low. Consumers were asked to return the product to stores.

Eight horses slaughtered in Britain for human consumption tested positive for bute, and although some of that meat was exported to France, none of it was used in British food, according to authorities.

Tests to detect bute take longer than those for horse DNA, which is why the Asda product was withdrawn from shelves last month well before the discovery of traces of bute that prompted the recall.

A second Asda corned beef product that also contained horse meat traces and had been taken off supermarket shelves is also being recalled as a precaution, although no bute has been discovered, the company says.