Contaminated horsemeat could prove "injurious" to people's health, the environment secretary Owen Paterson said on Sunday as he served notice on the public to expect "further bad news" this week.
Amid fears in Downing Street that the ministerial team at the environment department is struggling to get a grip on the crisis, Paterson said "an international criminal conspiracy" may be behind the introduction of dangerous meat into processed food.
"We may find out, as the week progresses as the tests begin to come in, that there is a substance which is injurious to human health," Paterson told LBC 97.3 Radio. "We have no evidence of that at all at the moment. At the moment this is a labelling issue."
Paterson's remarks were the first government acknowledgment of a possible health threat after the discovery that food labelled as beef contained horsemeat.
Last week it emerged that Findus lasagne contained up to 100% horsemeat. The Food Standards Agency is conducting tests to discover whether the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, known as bute, is in some of the horsemeat. Meat with the drug is not allowed to enter the human food chain.
On BBC 1's Sunday Politics, Paterson warned of bad news this week when the tests are completed.
"We do not know how far this incompetence or worse, criminal conspiracy, extends," he said. If a health threat is detected, he may ban the import of processed meat: "If we find there's a product which could potentially be injurious to public health, then emphatically I would take necessary action," he said.Meanwhile, according to The Local.se, Findus is in big trouble with Sweden's food-safety agency.