Netherlands says 50,000 tonnes of beef may contain horse

The Netherlands' food watchdog on Wednesday asked hundreds of companies across Europe, supplied by a Dutch wholesaler suspected of mixing beef and horsemeat, to check 50,000 tonnes of suspect meat.

The organisation sent a letter to 130 Dutch companies who were supplied with possible horse-contaminated beef from the Selten company asking them to "take it off the market as a precautionary measure" and "verify all products".

The NVWA said that although the meat's origin could not be guaranteed, "there are no signs of a danger to public health."

Around 370 companies across Europe could also be affected, the organisation said.

"The companies have possibly already processed the meat and sold it," the government's NVWA food and consumer watchdog said in a statement.

"We estimate it's about 50,000 tonnes of meat," it added.

NVWA spokeswoman Esther Filon told AFP that the meat was supplied between January 2011 and February 2013 across Europe.

Dutch public television NOS reported that the suspect meat could be on supermarket shelves, notably in frozen food.

Because the meat was supplied in 2011, much of it has been eaten already, the NOS reported.

The NVWA has notified authorities in France, Germany and Spain through Europe's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed to inform around 370 buyers supplied by Selten of its decision.

The companies have two weeks to report back to the NVWA, who has also informed health authorities in France, Germany and Spain.

Dutch officials in February raided the Selten meat processing plant in the south of the Netherlands on suspicion that it was mixing horsemeat with beef and selling it as pure beef.

Since the problem was first discovered in Ireland in January, governments have scrambled to figure out how and where the mislabelling of meat happened in the sprawling chain of production spanning abattoirs and meat suppliers across Europe.

Selten consists of two companies: Wiljo Import and Export and Meat Wholesaler Willy Selten.

The website of Selten's wholesale meat company, based in southern city Oss, says it is "an internationally operating company, specialising in boning and cutting beef" that employs about 100 people.

It handles imports from various European countries and delivers to retailers, meat wholesalers, butchers, the meat processing industry and supermarkets throughout Europe.

The plant was probed as part of a criminal investigation by the prosecutor's office and the NVWA.

It is suspected of fraud and money laundering, the prosecutor's office said at the time.