Dutch companies distributed falsely labeled beef to 16 EU countries between January 1, 2011 and February 15 of this year, the European Commission said on Thursday. At least 370 businesses had received the meat, including stores across Germany.
Dutch officials confirmed the information with the European Commission on Thursday following a mass recall of suspicious meat as a "precautionary measure" the previous day.
"Products in question should be withdrawn pending further inquiries," Commission spokesperson Frederic Vincent said.
"At this stage, the origin of the meat is unknown, but Dutch authorities acknowledged that horse meat had been mixed with beef," he said.
An estimated 50,000 tons of beef are suspected of containing traces of horse.
The Netherlands' Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority advised meat vendors to remove suspicious products from their stock.
"If you don't know where the meat originated, then it's, on principle, not suitable for human consumption," the Dutch consumer protection spokesperson Benno Bruggink said, according to the news agency DPA.
The scandal follows a series of similar revelations earlier this year, when more than a dozen European countries began testing for horse DNA in beef products, including many frozen goods.
German authorities begin inspection
Germany's Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection responded to renewed fears among consumers by informing regional food inspectors of the situation, "so that investigations could be carried out immediately," it said in a statement.
The Netherlands estimated that 124 German businesses could have been affected between 2011 and February of this year.
The state-level investigations would seek to retrace deliveries originating in the Netherlands and, if necessary, remove tainted products from the shelves, the German agricultural ministry said.
All of Germany, with the exception of the state of Saarland and the city-state Bremen, have received beef products from the neighboring country.
kms/ccp (AFP, Reuters, dpa)