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US to increase tests for horse meat in imports, feds say

In the wake of Europe’s horse meat scandal, the U.S. is increasing so-called “species testing” on imported meats to screen for any signs of fraudulent products, agriculture officials said.

Inspectors have been ordered to boosts species tests of meat products imported from Iceland, Ireland, Poland, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture directive issued this week.

In addition, inspectors will increase tests of all imported raw ground beef or veal, including products that already are being tested for certain Shiga toxin-producing E. coli bacteria that can cause serious illness.

“We are confident that the inspection system at ports of entry ensures the safety of products that come into our country every day,” said Catherine Cochran, a spokeswoman for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. “However, in response to recent events and consumer concerns, we are increasing species testing to enhance current safeguards and prevent fraudulently labeled products from entering the country.”

The U.S. action follows the scandal that erupted earlier this year after testing in Ireland revealed that some beef products contained traces of horse meat. More than a dozen European countries and several prominent international brands have been caught up in the controversy.

None of the European countries implicated in the scandal imports beef to the U.S., but USDA officials said the increased scrutiny recognizes that those countries are part of the global food supply chain.

The new directive, signed by Rachel Edelstein, an FSIS acting assistant administrator, doesn’t include a specific schedule for species testing. Previously, USDA officials acknowledged that species testing for meat imported into the U.S. has been performed typically only when there’s a reason to question a shipment.

Concerns about horse meat hidden in beef have been two-fold. First, meats taken from store shelves in Britain and Germany had traces of a powerful equine painkiller, phenylbutazone, or “bute,” which can cause serious problems in humans.

The larger issue, however, has been one of trust. While diners in some European countries routinely eat horse meat, the idea makes most U.S. consumers shudder.

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