Nestlé has removed beef pasta meals sold under its Buitoni brand from sale in Italy and Spain after finding traces of horsemeat, becoming the latest company embroiled in a food scandal spreading across Europe.
The world's biggest food company, which last week said its products had not been affected by the scandal, stressed its decision to withdraw the products came after tests over the weekend showed traces of horse DNA in batches of meat used to prepare the meals.
The Swiss company has so far failed to supply test results for its UK products in the first round of industry checks ordered by the Food Standards Agency, the daily Guardian reported on Tuesday (19 February).
The FSA said: "Nestlé UK is involved in the industry testing, as requested by the FSA. The results will be provided to the FSA in due course and incorporated into our published results as and when they are available."
Nestlé UK said no supplier implicated in the withdrawals was involved in its British products. "We are obtaining compliance statements from all our beef suppliers and conducting independent authenticity tests of all our beef products, in line with FSA requirements, and we are expecting to be able to submit results in this week's reporting cycle. We are monitoring the situation very closely and will comply with any actions required by the authorities.”
'Likely adulteration or gross negligence'
Nestlé withdrew two chilled pasta products, Buitoni Beef Ravioli and Beef Tortellini, in Italy and Spain. Lasagnes à la Bolognaise Gourmandes, a frozen product for catering businesses produced in France, will also be pulled, it said in a statement.
The group said tests had found more than 1% horse DNA in the products.
“The levels found are above the one percent threshold the UK's Food Safety Agency uses to indicate likely adulteration or gross negligence”, the statement said.
Nestlé spokesman Chris Hogg said on Tuesday the withdrawals would have no serious financial consequences: “These are chilled pasta products that do not have a long shelf life so there are very low levels of inventory.”
Hogg said Nestlé was not attempting to estimate the level of impact the recall would have on the reputation of its brand.
In the statement, Nestlé named the company which supplied the horsemeat. “We are now suspending deliveries of all our finished products produced using beef supplied by a German firm, H.J. Schypke, a subcontractor of one of our suppliers, JBS Toledo N.V.”.
It did not say clearly whether the tests had been carried out by Nestlé or by a third party.
"We have informed the authorities accordingly," the statement said.
The scandal of horsemeat in products labelled as beef has spread across Europe since early January, prompting product withdrawals, consumer concerns and government investigations into the continent's complex food-processing chains.
A fifth of adults said they had been buying less meat as a result of the discovery, according to a poll conducted by research company Consumer Intelligence published on 18 February.
The scandal broke when Swedish frozen-food company Findus withdrew all its beef lasagna ready meals from supermarkets after tests revealed they contained up to 100% horsemeat.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA), a British government body, gave food companies a week to test all their beef products upon discovery of the mislabeled products. The UK agency instructed consumers to return the Findus lasagnas and Tesco burgers as a precaution, but said there was no evidence to suggest that horsemeat itself was a food safety risk.