Furniture giant Ikea has admitted that company-branded meatballs containing horse meat have been on sale in several European countries. The news comes as EU ministers met to discuss better food regulation.
Ikea on Monday halted sales of its company-branded meatballs in Sweden after Czech inspectors discovered they contained horsemeat.
The Czech State Veterinary Administration said that horse meat was found in one-kilogram (2.2 pound) packs of frozen meatballs made in Sweden and sold in Ikea stores in the Czech Republic.
Ikea spokeswoman Ylva Magnusson said meatballs from the same batch had gone to stores in Belgium, Britain, Cyprus, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Sweden.
The company's Swedish branch initially announced on its Facebook that it would stop selling meatballs at stores in Sweden alone because of "potential worries among our customers."
Ikea later announced that sales of the packs would be halted while it conducted checks.
"We take this very seriously and have withdrawn one-kilo bags of frozen meatballs," Magnusson told the AFP news agency.
Sweden's food authority has also weighed in, saying it wouldn't take action but was waiting to hear from authorities in the Czech Republic as to the quantity of horsemeat detected.
"If it's less than 1 percent it could mean that they handled horsemeat at the same facility. If it's more, we assess that it's been mixed into the product," said Karin Cerenius of Sweden's National Food Agency.
The news came as agriculture ministers from across the EU gathered in Brussels to discuss the fallout from the horse meat scandal. Several of the 27 nations that make up the bloc are calling for tougher rules that will restore consumer confidence.
German Agriculture minister Ilse Aigner said there should be proper disclosure of the origins of food, beginning with the better labeling of meat products. "Consumers have every right to the greatest-possible transparency," Aigner insisted.
However, some nations, like Britain, say further regulation would hinder free trade within the EU.
Processed food products often contain ingredients from multiple suppliers in several countries, often with subcontractors involved. Opponents of greater regulation argue that standardized DNA checks and stricter labeling rules would drive up costs.
The scandal began in Ireland in mid-January when results of the country's first-ever DNA tests on beef products were announced.
A series of similar discoveries were made in more than a dozen countries across Europe as wider testing began, with horse meat detected in burger patties, lasagnas, meat pies and meat-filled pastas.
In a related development, German authorities revealed on Monday that they were investigating some 200 poultry farms for allegedly selling eggs as organic and free-range products even though they came from battery hens.
rc/jr (AP, dpa, Reuters)