Connect to share and comment
Britain's food minister ruled out Sunday imposing a ban on importing meat from EU countries due to the horsemeat scandal unless there was a threat to human health.
Owen Paterson dismissed the idea of slapping an immediate ban on such imports but warned he would not hesitate to do so if public health was at risk.
Eating horse is considered taboo in Britain and tests have found some frozen ready meals produced in mainland Europe and labelled as processed beef actually contained up to 100 percent horsemeat, triggering a Europe-wide scandal.
Asked by Sky News television about imposing a ban, he said: "Arbitrary measures like that are not actually going to help. Firstly we are bound by the rules of the European market.
"Should this move from an issue of labelling and fraud and there is evidence of material which represents a serious threat to human health, I won't hesitate to take action.
"But at the moment we do not have evidence that these materials are a threat to human health; they are a case of mislabelling.
"That is not the basis for a panic measure stopping all imports which would be in breach of the rules of the market."
Paterson said he feared there could be a "criminal conspiracy" afoot to hoodwink consumers by passing off horsemeat as beef.
The head of the British parliament's food affairs scrutiny panel earlier called for a ban on EU meat imports.
Anne McIntosh, chair of the lower House of Commons' Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, urged consumers to buy British beef to reassure themselves that it is not contaminated with equine flesh.
"I believe there should be a moratorium on the movement of all meat until such time as we can trace the source of the contamination and until we can establish whether there has been fraud either of the meat or of the labelling," she said.
"None of our meat, none of our slaughter houses, are implicated and we should be buying as local as possible and we should be buying fresh meat from the butcher, farm shop and supermarket," she said.
Meanwhile Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was "very confident" that hospitals were making sure they were not providing horsemeat dressed up as beef to patients.
"All hospitals have a responsibility to make sure that the food they're serving is safe," he told BBC television.
"We don't believe at the moment that there are public safety issues," he said.