Horse meat has been discovered in school dinners for the first time since the food safety scandal began, it was revealed yesterday.
The news that cottage pie testing positive for horse DNA was sent to 47 Lancashire schools came as local education authorities across the West Country moved to reassure parents about the food being served in their school canteens.
A spokeswoman for Somerset County Council said it will liaise with all schools in the county to ensure food served to students is safe.
A spokeswoman said: "We are liaising with schools and catering contractors to make sure that the food chain to Somerset schools is safe."
In Bristol, beef dishes served in city schools were withdrawn from canteens as a precautionary measure. Elsewhere in the region, some councils said they had been given quality assurances over meat in their school meals and were confident of its authenticity. The moves followed yesterday’s announcements that horse meat had been found in schools, hospitals and one of the country’s largest pub-and-hotel chains.
But despite the assurances, one West Country school took Cornish pasties off the menu “as a precautionary measure”.
In Cornwall, Richard Lander School in Truro said pasties, beef pasta sauces and beef used in baguettes had all been withdrawn. The school said almost all of the food it offered was provided by Eden Foodservices and used British Red Tractor produce, which is fully traceable with guaranteed welfare standards. But the school was also buying in other food which did not fall under Red Tractor.
A spokesman for Devon County Council said: “Schools make their own catering arrangements, but those which have chosen to use Devon Norse, the council’s catering supplier, have been given assurances that its meat products have full traceability and are sourced locally.
“Norse’s beef burgers are either home-made using locally sourced West Country beef or made especially for them using the same high-quality ingredients.”
The council added its trading standards team is carrying out its own investigations into meat products supplied in Devon.
In Bristol, Eden Foodservices, which supplies meals to 126 secondary, primary and nursery schools in the city, withdrew four products as a precautionary measure. The firm has removed its pasta sauce with meat balls, pasta sauce with bolognese, sliced roast beef and traditional Cornish pasty.
The processed dishes were withdrawn a week ago and Eden’s supplier is conducting tests on the products to cheek for the presence of horse meat. The Cornish pasty dish, which is made with beef skirt, has already been tested and results have revealed no evidence of horse meat. All beef products supplied by Eden which are not processed are still being supplied to schools.
Lizzie Woolley, spokesman for the Surrey-based firm, said: “We are extremely confident that no contamination has occurred in any of our beef products as a result of robust due diligence processes we have in place with our suppliers.
However, as an added precaution we are removing a small number of beef products from sale until we have received the satisfactory guarantees from our suppliers.
“In the meantime, we will only be serving products made with fresh British Red Tractor beef from a single slaughterhouse and processing plant in Shrewsbury. This facility handles all aspects of the livestock slaughter, meat processing and packing onsite without any contact with imported meat or external foodstuff.
This means the quality of the meat is guaranteed and that all livestock entering the plant can be traced back to the farm of origin in the UK.”We are taking the current concerns very seriously, but we are completely satisfied that every step has been taken to ensure the integrity of our food chain.”
Eden Foodservices won a £40million deal in 2007 to provide school meals in Bristol for eight years.
The developments in schools came as came as the Food Standards Agency published results of widespread testing into meat products. The FSA said 2,501 tests have been carried out on beef products, with 29 results positive for undeclared horse meat at or above one per cent.
These 29 results related to seven different products, which have already been reported and withdrawn from sale. The products linked to the positive results were confirmed to be Aldi’s special frozen beef lasagne and special frozen spaghetti bolognese, the Co-op’s frozen quarter pounder burgers, Findus beef lasagne, Rangeland’s catering burger products, and Tesco value frozen burgers and value spaghetti bolognese.
Retailers, who have been criticised by Downing Street for adopting a low profile during the crisis, hailed the fact that 99 per cent of tests came back negative.
FSA director of communications Stephen Humphreys said he could “assure” the public that all seven products which had tested positive had now been taken off the shelves. But it would likely be “impossible” to ever know the full extent of horse meat mis-labelling, FSA director in Wales, Steve Wearne, said.
He said: “What we have in these set of results is a snapshot of what has been on the market and provided by wholesalers, by caterers, by retailers in the period between January, when this story broke, and now. We don’t have any reliable information on what might have gone on before January 15.”
FSA chief executive Catherine Brown added that the agency had only just been made aware of Whitbread’s announcement that some of their products had tested positive and this had not been included in their latest test figures.
Meanwhile, pub and hotel group Whitbread – which owns Premier Inn, Beefeater Grill and Brewers Fayre – admitted horse DNA had been found in its food, and took meat lasagnes and beefburgers off its menus.
The firm, which owns Premier Inn, Beefeater Grill and Brewers Fayre, said the products had been removed from their menus and will not be replaced until further testing has been carried out.
A Whitbread spokesman apologised to customers for any “concerns or inconvenience” and said the company was “shocked and disappointed at this failure of the processed meat supply chain.”
The firm said they had sent 30 products to be tested, receiving the results yesterday afternoon.
In the Commons on Thursday, West Country MP Neil Parish called for a debate on food labelling for processed meals.
He said: “The horse scandal has shown that the labels on processed food throw mystery on where that food comes from, rather than provide enlightenment. We have an opportunity to get something positive from this scandal, by making sure that people recognise where their food comes from.”
In another development as the scandal deepened, it was revealed that burgers containing horse meat have been supplied to hospitals in Northern Ireland. David Bingham from the health service’s Business Services Organisation, which provides meat for the health trusts, said a range from a company in the Republic of Ireland had been withdrawn.
“We have acted immediately; as soon as we got information there may be a confidence issue we withdrew the product,” he said.
Earlier yesterday, Lancashire County Council said that it has withdrawn pre-prepared cottage pies from 47 school kitchens. Lancashire County Councillor Susie Charles, cabinet member for children and schools, said they had sought extras assurance that its external suppliers were not providing any products containing horse DNA.
Testing had returned one positive result, she said.
“Relatively few schools in Lancashire use this particular product but our priority is to provide absolute assurance that meals contain what the label says – having discovered this one doesn’t, we have no hesitation in removing it from menus.”
Yesterday, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said it was ‘‘wholly unacceptable” if products marked beef turned out to be horse meat, which was why it was so important to undertake intensive testing activity to get the full picture.
He said: “My concern is for consumers. The news for them today is that the vast majority of products tested are completely clear of horse DNA.”
But shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said: “David Cameron has got to stop hiding behind the retailers and food industry and take decisive action to get a grip on this scandal now. He should order the FSA to speed up its testing.”