By Ian Dunt
The government's response to the horse meat scandal was in danger of turning into a laughing stock today, as new cases of contamination were found in Tesco's products as the secretary of state gave evidence to the Commons.
Tesco confirmed at least 60% horse meat was found in three batches of Everyday Spaghetti Bolognese this afternoon, as Owen Paterson countered claims that he was handling the scandal incompetently.
"I have sought to respect [the Food Standards Agency's] independence. They lead the operational response," he told MPs.
The environment secretary said food suppliers were under orders to provide meaningful results of food tests by the end of the week and to conduct more testing for horse meat along the food chain.
But shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh said Paterson was responsible for a chaotic response to events, not least when he told the public on Friday there was no problem eating the products only to change his mind on Sunday and say it could be "injurious to health".
"The secretary of state had to be called back from his long weekend in the countryside to address the crisis," Creagh said.
"Until the panic at he hadn’t actually met the food industry.
"The supermarkets have acted with speed and a degree of transparency on this which puts him to shame
She added: "It's very convenient to blame the Poles and Romanians but so far neither country found any problems in their abattoirs."
Paterson angrily responded: "You wouldn't think this was their system we've inherited. I admire the honourable lady, she's really got a nerve."
Downing Street was reportedly shocked to discover Paterson and his minister, David Heath, had returned to their constituencies on Friday, again raising concerns about how on top of the situation their department was.
Paterson subjected himself to a round of hostile media interviews yesterday in a bid to bring the row under control, but he was caught in the unenviable situation of trying to prevent a public health panic while not giving assurances about the safety of processed beef which could later be used against him.
There are two ways the discovery of horse meat could be a public health problem.
One is if the animal was treated with the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, known as bute, which is banned from entering the human food chain.
The other is if horse meat from Romania, where it could be contaiminated with equine anaemia, known as 'horse Aids', entered the food chain.
The attempt to get to the bottom of the scandal revealed the complex network of links used by the food industry in Europe.
British authorities contacted French police to investigate matters at Comigel, the French plant which produced the Findus ready-made lasagne.
By Sunday, the focus was on Romania, after meat suppliers Spanghero sued Romanian meat suppliers for fraud.
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By Ian Dunt