Horsemeat scandal reaches Norway

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UPDATED: NorgesGruppen, Norway’s largest grocery wholesaler and retailer, announced Friday that it had found horsemeat in frozen lasagne it imports to Norway under the “First Price” brand. Government ministers called an emergency meeting of food inspectors and industry players as a horsemeat scandal that’s spread around Europe hit home.

This is the type of lasagne that was for sale in Norway and found to contain horsemeat. PHOTO: NorgesGruppen

This is the type of lasagne that was for sale in Norway and found to contain horsemeat. PHOTO: NorgesGruppen

A top executive at NorgesGruppen, which owns the Kiwi, Spar, Meny and Joker grocery chains among others, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Friday afternoon that the company pulled the lasagne off the market a week ago, when reports started emerging in the UK and elsewhere that frozen lasagne labelled as containing beef actually contained horsemeat.

The suspect lasagne was sent for DNA testing, the first time NorgesGruppen claimed to have seen a need for such measures. Results returned Friday morning confirmed that 60 percent of the meat in the First Price lasagne came from horses, not beef, and thus can be dangerous for human consumption because of various drugs often injected into horses.

NorgesGruppen, reportedly furious for being misled by the lasagne’s producer, stressed that all of its tainted lasagne had been removed from Norwegian grocery stores, and officials urged consumers who may still have the product in their own freezers to deliver it back to the stores and obtain compensation.

Not otherwise subject to much testing
News broke earlier this week that surprisingly little testing of ready-made food products imported to Norway is conducted, especially when the food is coming from European nations. There are few if any requirements ordering wholesalers and retailers to do so, on the assumption that European regulators already have “done their job,” one industry player told NRK.

As European officials scrambled on Friday to tackle the horsemeat scandal and devise new procedures to address the issue, some suspects were already under arrest for allegedly mislabeling their food products and French officials suspended the operating license of one major producer. The BBC reported that food safety experts from all over Europe were meeting in Brussels to plan widespread testing of beef products to check if they contain horsemeat instead. The horsemeat discovered so far is believed to have originated in Romania.

Emergency meeting
Norwegian government officials were also making an effort to show they were taking the food scandal seriously. Health Minster Jonas Gahr Støre and Agriculture Minister Trygve Vedum Slagsvold called in officials from state food safety agency Mattilsynet, the consumer council Forbrukerrådet and the food industry to draft measures meant to protect consumers from tainted meat. Støre blasted what he called a “pure swindle” by whoever replaced beef with horsemeat, and said the Norwegian government suspect organized crime was involved.

The products still under suspicion include Fryst Coop lasagne (sold at Coop grocery stores), Frossen Lasagne bolognaise (sold by REMA 1000 stores), Frossen Deslish lasagne (sold at ICA stores) and Findus Lasagne Bolognese, sold at most stores.

Findus officials have repeatedly denied their lasagne contains horsemeat. Newspaper Dagbladet has reported that both the Findus and First Price lasagne, however, was delivered from the same French food producer and has been pulled off grocery stores shelves.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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