LONDON -- The scandal over beef products adulterated with horse meat escalated across the Continent on Tuesday after Nestlé, one of the world's best-known food companies, said it was removing pasta meals from store shelves in Italy and Spain.
Nestlé said late Monday that it would remove two chilled pasta products, Buitoni Beef Ravioli and Beef Tortellini, from Italian and Spanish supermarket shelves immediately. Meanwhile, Lasagnes à la Bolognaise Gourmandes, a frozen product made for the catering trade in France, will also be withdrawn and replaced with a product containing meat made from 100 percent beef.
The company added that it had increased testing after the discovery of horse meat in British foods and "traces" of horse DNA in two products made with beef supplied by a German company, H. J. Schypke.The levels exceeded the threshold used by the British Food Standards Agency in testing to indicate that a substance had been adulterated, so the products would be withdrawn from the market, Nestlé said.
''There is no food safety issue, but the mislabeling of products means they fail to meet the very high standards consumers expect from us,'' Nestlé added.
The involvement of Nestlé, based in Switzerland, is another significant act in a fast-moving drama that is prompting Europeans to question the contents of their meals.
Nestlé knows only too well the importance of image, having once been the object of a boycott after being embroiled in a controversy over the marketing of baby milk in developing countries.
In a statement, the company said that it did not use any meat from Europe for its food sold in the United States. "We have also requested and received confirmation from all our meat suppliers that they do not provide Nestlé USA with any meat from the affected countries and companies," the company said.
Although the horse meat crisis has been seen mainly as an issue of fraud and mislabeling, it emerged last week that a powerful equine painkiller, phenylbutazone, or bute, may have entered the food chain. Eight horses slaughtered for food in Britain tested positive for the drug. Six of those carcasses had already been exported to France for use in human food.
In Britain, food manufacturers have embarked on a widespread program of tests to try to stem a crisis of confidence in products originating in a long and bewilderingly complex supply chain.
Last Friday, the British Food Standards Agency released the results of 2,501 tests conducted on beef products by the British food industry, of which 29 contained more than 1 percent horse meat, its threshold for adulteration.But, just as that information was released, it emerged that food intended for school meals had also contained horse meat, and a blame game erupted over who was responsible.
On Tuesday, the British Food Standards Agency announced a big expansion of its own testing program, conducted by local authority food inspectors, so that a total of 514 products would be sampled. These will now include some canned products and items like gelatine, beef dripping and stock cubes, the agency said in a statement.
The European Union has also announced an increase in food testing, and there have been growing calls for more regulation from Brussels.
Though tough traceability rules for fresh beef products were introduced after the crisis over mad cow disease more than a decade ago, a similar regime is not in place for processed food.
''What has been discovered in recent days is large-scale fraud,'' said Richard Seeber, the coordinator for the center-right group in the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee of the European Parliament. ''This is a clear breach of current European food labeling rules. This is why the first thing we need is more controls and better enforcement of the existing rules.''
Glenis Willmott, the leader of the British Labour Party's delegation to the European Parliament, said the response of the bloc's executive, the European Commission, had been inadequate.''The horse meat scandal should result in a Europe-wide comprehensive legislation on 'origin labeling' for all meat in processed foods, and a better E.U. enforcement procedure,'' Ms. Willmott said.
Katie Thomas contributed reporting from New York.world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.