U.K. Health Officials Find “Beef” Lasagna Meals Containing 60%-100% Horse Meat

Our neighbors across the pond are caught in an equine-lover’s nightmare: First, beef hamburgers on shelves were found to contain horse DNA and recalled, after authorities traced the contamination back to a couple processing plants. Burger King got caught up in it as well, although no burgers with horse in them made it to stores. And now the scandal has spread to frozen “beef” lasagna meals.

Health officials say after testing some frozen lasagna products, it’s been revealed that what’s supposed to just contain beef also has  horse meat in it as well. It’s not a piddly figure either, reports the Associated Press — the products tested had anywhere between 60% and 100% of the meat as horse.

Those products have already been recalled from British stores, said food safety authorities. The frozen-food company behind the meals said a French supplier hit the alarm bell as the products didn’t “conform to specification.” Was the specification, “this should be from a cow, not a horse”?

Those meals were tested as part of an overall investigation into the mislabeling of meat products in Europe. The company that produces the meals tested 18 products, and found 11 that had the range of 60% to 100% horse meat in them. Officials declined to say if any of those actually hit the 100% horse meat mark or were all just somewhere in between.

The Food Standards Agency stressed that there’s no evidence yet of any risk linked to eating the products, although tests are ongoing to see if the meat in the lasagna had any traces of a veterinary drug called “phenylbutazone” which could pose a health risk to humans.

The health risk, if it exists or not, might not be the main problem. As in the United States, eating horses is a somewhat abhorrent idea to many British people. And if something is labeled “beef” it should be beef, that’s just how it should be. Public perception is vital to any company that wants to earn customers’ trust, and in turn, get their money.

The company behind the lasagnas apologized and said it’s working to fix things.

“We understand this it is a very sensitive subject for consumers and we would like to reassure you we have reacted immediately,” the company said.

The government says it’s also working to beef up (pun intended) meat testing in the industry, “in order to demonstrate that the food it sells and serves is what it says it is on the label.”

“We are demanding that food businesses conduct authenticity tests on all beef products, such as beef burgers, meatballs and lasagna, and provide the results to the FSA. The tests will be for the presence of significant levels of horsemeat,”said an executive from the Food Standards agency.

UK: Lasagna products 60 percent horsemeat [Associated Press]