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Horse meat concerns date to February 2012

Horse meat concerns date to February 2012

Three European nations were notified about concerns over horse meat as early as a year ago, the United Kingdom's food safety agency said Sunday.

The alerts -- sent last year on February 1, February 15 and March 7 -- identified Denmark, Hungary and Italy as countries that should investigate concerns about horse meat. There were posted by the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed portal.

The UK Food Standards Agency said through a spokeswoman the alerts were just a few of many and the meat never entered the UK.

"These were three of several thousand such alerts circulated across Europe each year. These were followed up by the countries identified in the alert," Amy Cope said in an e-mail.
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She said the alerts involved horse meat substitution, but officials in one of the affected countries said at least one was for questions over one horse's "passport."

Danish authorities sent out one alert after there were "uncertainties" regarding a slaughtered horse's paperwork, an official for the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration told CNN.

The horse meat was sent from Denmark to Italy and officials sent out the alert to let Italian authorities know about their concerns about the paperwork, not the meat itself, Kim Sigsgaard said.

Danish officials had no information on what happened with the horse after the alert was sent.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK said the issues of possible falsified horse paperwork and the issue of horse meat substitution are unrelated.

February 2012 is six months before what had been thought to be the earliest possible time frame where horse meat had been discovered in products labeled as 100% beef.

Swedish frozen food giant Findus had said that one of its suppliers told it contamination may date back to August.

Consumers are concerned that as food producers try to keep costs low, the safety of what they eat could be compromised.

The managing director of Waitrose, a grocery story chain in the UK, said in an editorial published in The Telegraph that meat -- indeed, all food -- is no longer a cheap commodity.

"If something good comes of the current scandal, I hope it is the opening up of a debate around the true economics of food and a determination on the part of everybody in the food industry to apply renewed rigour to their processes and testing regimes to ensure that customers can relax and enjoy the food they buy," Mark Price wrote.

The scandal spread Friday, as UK authorities revealed the results of DNA testing on beef products and raided the premises of three more UK food firms.

Of 2,501 tests carried out on beef products across the industry by noon Friday, 2,472 found no horse meat content above 1%, the Food Standards Agency said.

The 29 positive tests involved seven products sold by five suppliers, according to the independent government agency.

Another 962 tests are still under way, the agency said at a news conference.

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