British authorities have raided a slaughterhouse and a meat processing company suspected of selling horse meat labelled as beef, shutting them down temporarily and seizing all the meat found.
Tuesday’s raid by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) was the first time since the growing scandal broke across Europe that horse meat being marketed as beef has been traced to suppliers in Britain, officials said.
The FSA said it suspended production at the Peter Boddy slaughterhouse in Yorkshire, in the north of England, and a company it allegedly supplied horse carcasses to, Farmbox Meats, in west Wales.
The agency said it was investigating how "meat products, purporting to be beef for kebabs and burgers, were sold when they were in fact horse".
Millions of burgers and frozen meals have been recalled around the continent and while many accusations have been made, it is unclear how the horse meat was introduced into so many beef products.
French authorities have pointed to an elaborate supply chain that involved Romanian butchers and Dutch and Cypriot traders that resulted in horse meat disguised as beef being sold in meals like lasagna and moussaka to consumers around the continent.
Two Romanian abattoirs investigated by authorities for a potential link to horse meat defended their business on Tuesday.
The abattoirs were inspected by the authorities over the weekend, local media reported. No evidence of any malpractice was found either at Doly-Com or Carmolimp facility, officials said, according to media
Horse meat is largely taboo in Britain and Ireland, though in France it is sold in specialty butcher shops.
"It is shocking that we actually found this practice going on within the UK,"' Environment Secretary Owen Patterson said.
While no health effects have been reported, the scandal has unsettled consumers and made clear that unscrupulous dealers in the complicated network of meat wholesalers are benefiting from selling much cheaper horse meat as beef.
Peter Boddy, the owner of the slaughterhouse, said he would co-operate with police, while the BBC quoted a spokesman from Farmbox Meats as saying "there is nothing we have done here which is not totally permissible".
FSA director Andrew Rhodes said the companies appeared to be involved in "blatant misleading of customers".
He declined to speculate on how long such alleged fraud may have gone on, saying only that officials have seized documents, including customer lists, from the two venues and are investigating how much horse meat was sold as beef to how many people.