London: The Queen and members of the Royal Family may have eaten horse meat passed off as beef.
In a major escalation of the food fraud scandal, it was revealed on Friday that Sodexo, Britain’s biggest catering company, had found horse meat in minced beef products.
The company supplies hundreds of schools, care homes, military bases, prisons, office canteens and sporting venues.
Significantly, it is in charge of catering for Royal Ascot, which is attended by the Queen and many other members of her family.
The firm, which is French-owned, also has a contract to produce meals for the military, and staff at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and the Tower of London.
All minced beef, which would have been used to make cottage pies, Italian dishes and other products, plus frozen burgers, is being withdrawn. Halal minced beef is also being recalled. Sodexo also supplies many other major venues and events, including the Churchill War Rooms and Chelsea Flower Show. Its beef products are served at the Open golf championship, Newcastle United football ground and Hampden Park, home of the Scottish national football team.
The details were revealed by the Food Standards Agency.
In a separate development, Birds Eye said it was withdrawing three beef products made at a factory in Belgium known to have made products contaminated with horse sold on the Continent.
Sodexo provides food to some 2,300 establishments across the country, but refused to give details on the number of schools involved in the recall. It also refused to say exactly which product had tested positive for horse meat beyond beef mince, or the percentage of contamination.
It admitted the discovery was ‘totally unacceptable’.
The company also provides meals to hundreds of hospitals through its Tillery Valley Foods subsidiary, but insisted these are not involved.
Buckingham Palace referred enquiries to the Ministry of Defence. It said: “All Sodexo products which may have been contaminated have been withdrawn. Sodexo does not supply food to personnel in Afghanistan. The MoD has received an assurance from our Purple Foodservice contractor that food supplied to the frontline or ships on operational deployments is free from any contamination.”
Sodexo claimed it had been let down by a supplier, which it refused to identify. A spokesman said: “Sodexo has had a pro-active programme in place to ensure that there is no horse meat in its supply chain.
“We demanded written assurances from across our supply chain, and additionally implemented an internal sampling programme.
“Despite repeated guarantees from our suppliers, our sampling has identified a frozen beef product which tested positive for equine DNA.
“We felt the only appropriate response was to withdraw all frozen beef products.” The company said it will only offer beef products in future based on evidence from DNA tests that they are clear of horse meat.
The revelation may mean the scandal that started six weeks ago with reports of contamination of burgers sold by Tesco and others has now spread throughout the British food chain from cheap value products to the home of the Queen.
Labour environment spokesman Mary Creagh MP said: “It is deeply worrying that it has taken Sodexo several weeks to test for and discover horse. Councils, schools and hospitals must have total confidence in their meat suppliers — and the Government’s advice that they should simply ask big catering companies for reassurance is totally ineffective.”
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said the vast majority of tests are showing negative for horse meat. He added: “There is more work to be done to find out exactly how this happened and how to make the system much stronger. I will continue to insist on concrete, co-ordinated action right across Europe.”
An Irish meat processor has been caught sending horse meat mislabelled as beef to a firm in the Czech Republic. Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said fraud detectives yesterday shut down B&F Meats in Carrick-on-Suir. Ireland had previously found no evidence to show any horses slaughtered in the country ended up in the food chain.