STOCKHOLM: Swedish furniture giant Ikea has withdrawn some of its meatballs from sale in at least 15 European countries after horsemeat was found in the product by Czech authorities, the company said Monday.
Czech authorities said yesterday they have detected horsemeat in meat balls labeled as beef for Swedish furniture retailer giant IKEA, while European Union officials met to discuss tougher food labeling rules to counter the developing scandal.
“We take this very seriously and have withdrawn one-kilo bags of frozen meatballs from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, France, Britain, Portugal, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Cyprus, Greece and Ireland,” in addition to Sweden, said company spokeswoman Ylva Magnusson.
The product had also been removed from shelves in Denmark, according to Dorte Hjorth Harder, spokeswoman for Ikea Denmark.
“We have today been informed that our meatballs could contain traces of horsemeat, based on a test done in the Czech Republic,” Ikea said in a statement.
“Our own tests haven’t shown any traces of horsemeat. We now obviously have to study this further,” it added.
The horse meat was found in one-kilogram packs of frozen meat balls made in Sweden and shipped to the Czech Republic for sale in Ikea stores there, the State Veterinary Administration said. A total of 760 kg of the meat balls were stopped from reaching the shelves.
IKEA’s furniture stores feature restaurants and also sell typical Swedish food, including the so-called Kottbullar meatballs.
It was not immediately clear whether Ikea exported the same product to other countries. Calls seeking comment from IKEA in Sweden were not immediately returned yesterday.
The Czech authority also found horse meat in beef burgers imported from Poland during random tests of food products.
Authorities across Europe have started doing random DNA checks after traces of horse meat turned up in frozen supermarket meals such as burgers and lasagna beginning last month.
The European Union’s agriculture ministers gathered in Brussels yesterday to discuss the widening scandal’s fallout, with some member states pressing for tougher rules to regain consumer confidence.
The 27-nation bloc must agree on binding origin disclosures for food product ingredients, starting with a better labeling of meat products, German agriculture minister Ilse Aigner said.
“Consumers have every right to the greatest-possible transparency,” she insisted.
Austria backs the German initiative; but others like Ireland say existing rules are sufficient although Europe-wide controls must be strengthened to address the problem of fraudulent labeling.
The scandal has created a split between nations like Britain who see further rules as a protectionist hindrance of free trade under the bloc’s single market, and those calling for tougher regulation.
Processed food products — a business segment with traditionally low margins that often leads producers to hunt for the cheapest suppliers — often contain ingredients from multiple suppliers in different countries, who themselves at time subcontract production to others, making it hard to monitor every link in the production chain.
Standardized DNA checks with meat suppliers and more stringent labeling rules will add costs that producers will most likely hand down to consumers, making food more expensive.
The scandal began in Ireland in mid-January when the country’s announced the results of its first-ever DNA tests on beef products. It tested frozen beef burgers taken from store shelves and found that more than a third of brands at five supermarkets contained at least a trace of horse.
The sample of one brand sold by British supermarket kingpin Tesco was more than a quarter horse.
Such discoveries have spread like wildfire across Europe as governments, supermarkets, meat traders and processors began their own DNA testing of products labeled beef and have been forced to withdraw tens of millions of products from store shelves.
More than a dozen nations have detected horse flesh in processed products such as factory-made burger patties, lasagnas, meat pies and meat-filled pastas. The investigations have been complicated by elaborate supply chains involving multiple cross-border middlemen.