European food safety experts have said they will consider testing beef products EU-wide for horsemeat. Two vendors accused of labeling the horsemeat found in frozen meals as beef have denied any fraud.
The EU Standing Committee on the Food Chain will likely endorse a proposal by ministers to carry out 2,500 tests on processed beef products next month during Friday's crisis talks in Brussels.
Another 4,000 tests would be conducted on horsemeat to look for phenylbutazone: an anti-inflammatory to treat animals, but considered unfit for human consumption. EU member states would have to first approve the tests.
"Customers must be assured that everything will be done at EU level to restore, as soon as possible, their confidence in the products on our markets," EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said in a statement ahead of Friday's meeting. Still, Borg has said that there is no need to panic yet, calling it mostly a matter of false labeling: "Until now this is not a food safety issue."
#video#Across Europe, supermarkets have pulled millions of frozen meals from shelves in the last week, after tests found large quantities of horsemeat in the "beef" products. The scandal has thrown a magnifying glass on Europe's meat suppliers, from Britain to France and Luxembourg and all the way to Romania.
The president of Spanghero, a French meat processor that had its license indefinitely revoked on Thursday, promised on Friday to disprove the allegations, and accused the government of too hastily accusing the company.
"I don't know who is behind this, but I can tell you it's not us," Spanghero boss Barthelemy Aguerre told Europe 1 radio Friday. "I'm astonished. I think we will prove our innocence and that of my associates. I think the government has been too quick."
French Consumer Affairs Minister Benoit Hamon had named Spanghero the likely culprit in the scandal. While speaking at a press briefing in Paris on Thursday, Hamon had admonished the meat-processing firm for deceiving its customers and for denying its culpability.
"It would seem that the first agent in this chain to label the meat 'beef' was indeed Spanghero," Hamon said.
In the Netherlands, the lawyer for the meat vendor Draap denied that the company had misled anyone, although he acknowledged that the supplier's director had been previously convicted of mislabeling horsemeat as halal meat.
On Thursday, police in Britain arrested three men on suspicion of intentionally mislabeling horsemeat as beef. The arrests occurred in Wales and northern England, according to initial reports released late Thursday.
Police apprehended two employees, aged 42 and 64, of a food processing plant in Abersytwyth on the Welsh coast. An additional suspect, aged 63, with links to a slaughterhouse, was arrested by officials in Todmorden in West Yorkshire.
The country's Food Standards Agency had shut down both sites on Wednesday. Initial reports did not provide further details regarding the suspects.
mkg/ccp (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)