Horse-wary Britons spurn all meat

London - A poll out on Sunday found that almost a third of adults in Britain have stopped eating ready meals as a result of the horsemeat scandal, while 7% have stopped eating meat altogether.

The ComRes survey, for the Sunday Mirror and The Independent on Sunday newspapers, found that 31% have given up eating ready-meals as the discovery of equine flesh in products labelled beef spreads across Europe.

The poll also found a 53% to 33% majority in favour of banning the import of all meat products "until we can be sure of their origin".

Some 44% agreed that the British government had responded well to the crisis, while 30% disagreed.

ComRes interviewed 2 002 adults online on Wednesday and Thursday.

Twenty-nine beef products out of 2 501 tested in Britain have been found to contain more than 1% horsemeat, its Food Standards Agency (FSA) said on Friday.

The scandal has left governments scrambling to figure out how and where the mislabelling happened in the sprawling chain of production spanning a maze of abattoirs and meat suppliers across Europe.

"We need to restore consumer confidence," said Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

"That is why we are working flat-out now with the European authorities, with other European countries and, of course, introducing things that we should now do on a more systematic debate like random testing."

Opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband said the governing coalition had been too slow to grasp the situation.

"The government needed to do three things," he told Sky News television.

"Offer clear guidance, including to schools and hospitals, about what they should be doing;

"Get the testing under way as quickly as possible and make sure the official testing is done, not as it is still planned to do by April, but much quicker;

"And thirdly, get the police involved and make sure there is a proper police investigation."

Mark Price, the chief executive of Waitrose, one of Britain's major supermarket chains, warned that in return for knowing that food is safe and genuine, it can no longer be seen as a "cheap commodity".

"If the question is, 'who can sell the cheapest stuff?', I'm afraid it is inevitable that there will be a slackening of product specifications," he wrote in The Sunday Telegraph newspaper.

"If something good comes of the current scandal I hope it is the opening up of a debate around the true economics of food and a determination on the part of everybody in the food industry to apply renewed rigour to their processes and testing regimes to ensure that customers can relax and enjoy the food they buy," he said.

Meanwhile FSA chief executive Catherine Brown conceded that the numbers of people who have unwittingly eaten horse will never be known.

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