No guarantees NZ free of horsemeat scandal

22:45, Feb 14 2013

Government officials cannot say if meat products contaminated in a European horsemeat scandal have slipped through to Kiwi supermarket shelves, but are confident domestically processed beef is safe.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says systems are in place to prevent horse or any other meat being illegally substituted for beef at meatworks.

But the MPI cannot absolutely confirm if horsemeat has arrived in imported beef products as it does not have a database for individual products.

Imported foods are monitored regularly and there are strong systems to protect against meat being illegally substituted by other meat.

"It would be illegal to falsely identify horsemeat as beef," said MPI spokesman Sid Pickering.

Without a database of all individual brands of product it was unable to verify if Findus beef lasagne - among products recalled by big companies in Europe - was imported to New Zealand, but the chance seemed slim.

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Officials collect about 300 meat samples from randomly allocated cold stores around New Zealand each year to check there is no meat contamination by other species, including horsemeat.

Tougher tests based on DNA sampling are being proposed for Europe after horsemeat was found to be sold as beef.

European shoppers were shocked to find routine tests by Ireland's Food Safety Authority last month had revealed that frozen beef burgers were made from horsemeat and sold in supermarket chains, including major British retailer Tesco.

Last week, major frozen foods group Findus recalled packets of beef lasagne after tests showed the meat was horse and abattoirs and operators in as many as eight European countries are believed to be involved in wrongful labelling.

Meat eaters are now concerned harmful equine medicine residues could have entered the food chain.

Horsemeat is eaten in some European countries such as France but the false packaging has rattled beef shoppers.

New Zealand appears unlikely to be implicated in the European scandal.

Gore company Clover Exporters Ltd is understood to be the only licensed meatworks for processing horsemeat for human consumption overseas.

The manager had returned to Australia yesterday and a staff member said he would be unwilling to comment.

The staff member understood all the horsemeat was exported and it was not a "New Zealand thing".

Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said the horsemeat scandal and the damage to the brands of major European retailers was a good reminder for New Zealand's food industry to maintain its integrity, transparency and high safety record.

He said the European killing, processing and packing systems were far more fractured than New Zealand meat companies which did all of this on site.

"From a New Zealand perspective we are in a good place to continue to uphold the very high food safety reputation we have."

BusinessDay.co.nz