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The contamination of Tesco beef burgers with horse meat could date as far back as May 2012, MPs have heard.
The supermarket's managing director Tim Smith was grilled today by MPs on the Commons Environment Committee, along with Iceland technical manager Trish Twohig.
Mr Smith said he had been "appalled" to discover the contamination and apologised "unreservedly".
"This is completely unacceptable to Tesco, and we take full responsibility for any product that’s got out brand on it and continue to investigate on the basis that this is our responsibility, not that of our supplier," he said.
Quizzed by MPs on when the contamination problem had started, Mr Smith said Irish officials believe it dates back as far as May last year.
"I have had the benefit of having conversations both with the Minister of Agriculture in Ireland and the FSAI [Food Safety Authority of Ireland], and both of them have said, in a conversational way rather than an evidential way, that they believe this started in May 2012."
Defra Minister David Heath said to the committee that it is up to the retailers to take action.
"The primary responsibility always lies with the retailer and the processor, they have the leg duty to make sure that this doesn’t happen. I know that the big retailers involved here are taking action…to investigate very swiftly what had occurred and to take appropriate action in the case of their suppliers.
"In terms of litigation that’s a matter between the civil parties, the contracting parties, which would include the retailer and the processor and may include [those] further back along the supply chain. In terms of prosecution as an offence in this country, there are general provisions in the Food Standards Act 1990, general food regulations 2004 and Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, all of which make it an offence to label or present food in a false or misleading way. And that is what retailers need to be aware of."
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