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Ireland moves to quell horsemeat fears, calls meeting

BRUSSELS/DUBLIN--Ireland said on Monday it would order Irish meat processors to carry out DNA tests to reassure consumers worried by the discovery of horsemeat in some beef products and called a meeting of European ministers to discuss a wider response.

The horsemeat scandal affecting a growing number of European countries began in Ireland after its food safety authority discovered horsemeat in frozen beef burgers.

The discovery led major food companies like Tesco and Burger King to drop their Irish producers and Irish investigators to point the finger at Poland as the country of origin for raw materials that contained as much as 75-percent horse DNA. Poland has disputed the findings.

The decision to ask Irish manufacturers of processed meat products to carry out DNA testing was “a necessary step in order to provide further reassurance to Irish consumers and consumers of Irish food abroad,” Ireland's agriculture department said.

Ireland, which holds the EU presidency, also called a meeting of ministers from European countries affected by the horsemeat scandal.

Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney wants Wednesday's meeting in Brussels to discuss “whatever steps may be necessary at EU level to comprehensively address this matter,” it said.

European Union Health Commissioner Tonio Borg and ministers from EU countries affected by the horsemeat scandal will attend. The issue will also be on the agenda of the next formal meeting of EU agriculture ministers on Feb. 25, Ireland said.

Concern grew last week when the British unit of frozen foods group Findus began recalling its beef lasagna on advice from its French supplier, Comigel, after tests showed concentrations of horsemeat in a range from 60 to 100 percent.

Comigel said the questionable meat came from Romania.

Tesco, Britain's biggest retailer, said on Monday it had found horse DNA exceeding 60 percent in some of its own-brand frozen spaghetti bolognese meals withdrawn from stores last week.

In Britain, where eating horsemeat is taboo, farm minister Owen Paterson has said he suspects an “international criminal conspiracy” lies behind the affair. The French and British governments have vowed to punish those found responsible.

The European Commission, the EU's executive body, has said it regards the horsemeat scandal as a labeling issue rather than a health concern.

Romania's prime minister said on Monday any fraud over horsemeat sold as beef had not happened in his country and he was angered by suggestions it might have been.

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