Horsemeat scandal spreads through CEE via Ikea meatballs

By bne IntelliNews February 26, 2013

Tim Gosling in Prague -

Czech health inspectors ordered 760 kilograms of Swedish meatballs from the shelves of the country's Ikea outlets on February 25, as the European horsemeat scandal caught up with those countries in the region that were yet to feel the impact.

The Czech State Veterinary Administration announced that it had found evidence of horse during DNA tests on products labelled as "beef and pork meatballs" bought from Ikea's Brno store. The consignment of meatballs had not been distributed to consumers, the regulator said. Meanwhile, Polish government officials the same day rejected media claims that the scandal is the result of money laundering by criminal gangs from the country.

While meat processors in France, Poland and Romania have been implicated during the ongoing blame game for the source of the potentially contaminated meat, the first Czech entry in the saga came from the consumer end. Products due for Ikea stores in Slovakia and Hungary have also been removed from outlets, the retailer announced some hours after the initial report.

Ikea reported that it has pulled meatballs, sold in 1kg bags, from its shelves in 14 European countries after the Czech tests. The company said that the batch of meatballs had been on sale in countries including Slovakia, Hungary, France, the UK, Portugal, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus and the Republic of Ireland.

Ikea insisted that it had not found any horsemeat during in-house tests on its own range of food products, carried out two weeks ago, but said new tests would now be carried out, reports the BBC. "We do not tolerate any other ingredients than the ones stipulated in our recipes or specifications, secured through set standards, certifications and product analysis by accredited laboratories," a statement said.

The Swedish furniture outlet said the meatballs were manufactured by a single Swedish supplier. However, the ongoing scandal has seen the blame passed around Europe like a hot burger, revealing the circular travels of European meat. The original scare, which showed up in burgers sold in the UK, quickly moved to Ireland and France and then on to processing plants and traders in countries Poland, Romania and the Netherlands. Ministers from across the EU are meeting in Brussels to discuss the crisis.

Reflecting those tangled trade routes and growing concern over food safety, the Czech regulator also announced that it had found horsemeat in burgers imported from Poland. If proven, it will be the third food scare between the Central European neighbours in the last year.

Prague banned Polish salt imports in March 2012, followed by a range of food products, after it emerged that a criminal ring had sold road salt to bakeries and meat-processing plants. The incident did little to promote relations across the garden fence, with the Poles jealously guarding their food producers, even insisting that road salt is not harmful for humans to consume.

Six months later the boot was on the other foot, as Czech alcohol was banned across the region due to dozens of deaths as a result of drinking fake spirits tainted with methanol. Although Prague halted exports to Poland and Slovakia itself, Warsaw and Bratislava maintained their own bans well after the Czechs implemented a new system to control quality, in a move analysts suggested could be motivated more by opportunist protectionism than public health concerns.

Meanwhile, Poland is being dragged closer to the centre of the scandal by media in the West. Despite Polish sanitary inspectors coming up empty handed when searching 15 different slaughterhouses for traces of horse meat, the UK's Sunday Telegraph claimed that "horses sold for meat at a night-time fair in Poland are being transported across Europe in a trade that has suspected links to organised crime... The suspicion is that the movement of horses creates a convenient paper trail for gangs to 'clean up' dirty money."

Polish Agriculture Minister Stanislaw Kalemba refuted the allegations strongly on February 25. "Poland is so far clean as a whistle," he insisted according to PAP news agency, referring to the clean bill of health offered by the inspections.

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