Italy finds 3.9% of beef samples contain horse meat

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Tests on beef products in Italy have found that one in 25 contain more than 1 percent horse meat, the Italian Health Ministry said on Monday.

Italy launched an inspection of the sector in response to the scandal of horse meat in products labelled as beef that has spread across Europe since January, prompting product withdrawals and worrying consumers.

Italian police inspected 361 samples of products advertised as beef without any mention of horse meat, and found that 14 tested positive for horse meat traces above 1 percent, which should have been declared, the ministry said.

The products it tested were of both national and foreign origin, the ministry said.

Italy said it had sent the findings to the European Commission, which is due to publish EU-wide data on Tuesday.

Farmers lobby Coldiretti said the results had unveiled a "global scam" and "a scandal without precedent".

It said the inspection highlighted "the widespread movement of meat that goes from one end of Europe to the next through opaque exchanges that spawns fraud and deception to the detriment of businesses and consumers".

The tests found no traces of the horse pain-killing drug phenylbutazone, which has been found during inspections elsewhere in Europe. The drug can be harmful to humans in very high concentrations and is banned from entering the human food chain.