Most Swiss supermarkets on Wednesday withdrew horsemeat products from their shelves, not due to the spiralling fake labelling scandal but over allegations of cruel conditions on farms where horses are bred for meat.
German discount chain Lidl told AFP it had removed all horsemeat products from its shelves in Switzerland, while the country's second largest supermarket chain, Coop, said it had withdrawn around 20 horsemeat sausage products.
The move came amid outcry over an investigative consumer show that aired Tuesday evening on Swiss public television, featuring images taken by animal protection activists showing starving and visibly sick and suffering horses on farms in a number of countries that provide meat to Swiss stores.
The Zurich-based Animal Protection Association had sent investigators to large horsemeat producing countries Canada, the United States, Mexico and Argentina to probe how the animals were kept, transported and slaughtered.
"Our investigators found that the horses were bred in conditions that did not meet any of the norms in place in Switzerland and the European Union," project leader Sabrina Gurtner told AFP.
"In Mexico, our investigators saw horses transported in full sun without any protection, in trailers that were too small," she said. The horses were incapable of getting up when they fell down, she added.
The organisation demanded that all imports of horsemeat from the countries in question be halted.
Responding to the outcry among a public already up in arms about the spiralling scandal in Europe and beyond of horsemeat found in prepared meals labelled as containing pure beef, Lidl and Coop yanked a wide range of horsemeat products from their shelves.
Coop however said it would continue to sell fresh horsemeat, pointing out that it receives 70 percent of that meat from France and the remaining 30 percent from Poland.
Switzerland's largest supermarket chain, Migros, meanwhile said it would not withdraw any horsemeat products, saying it trusted its Canadian supplier.
Dried horsemeat products are widely consumed in Switzerland.
According to the Zurich-based animal protection group the country imports some 5,000 tonnes of horsemeat each year.