PRAGUE/STOCKHOLM Sweden's IKEA stopped nearly all sales of meatballs at its furniture store cafeterias across Europe after tests in the Czech Republic on Monday showed some contained horsemeat.
The world's No. 1 furniture retailer, known also for the signature restaurants at its huge out-of-town stores, said it was pulling all meatballs produced by its main supplier in Sweden after the tests showed horsemeat in its beef and pork meatballs.
A European scandal erupted last month when tests in Ireland revealed some beef products contained horsemeat, triggering recalls of ready-made meals in several countries and damaging confidence in Europe's vast and complex food industry.
Meatballs, a famous Swedish dish often served with mashed potatoes, gravy and lingonberry jam, have become a trademark for IKEA, which sells them hot from the in-store cafeterias and packaged off the shelf.
The vast majority of IKEA's meatballs are made by Sweden's Familjen Dafgard, which said on its website that it was investigating the situation and would receive further test results in coming days.
The withdrawals did not affect meatballs in Norway, Russia, nor some in Switzerland or Poland, which were made by other suppliers, said IKEA spokeswoman Ylva Magnusson at the company's headquarters in Helsingborg, southern Sweden.
"We are now getting to the bottom of this and making extra tests, but we have decided to stop the meatball sales for a few days, so that no one needs to worry, until we have the results," Magnusson said.
IKEA stores in the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan were unaffected as they too have other suppliers.
Besides the Czech Republic, the batch containing horsemeat had also been on sale in Britain, Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium, Slovakia, Hungary, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Ireland.
Magnusson said the test results would determine the percentage of horsemeat in the specific batch of meatballs. There was no indication that any other batch had been affected.
Earlier this month, food manufacturer Findus was forced to recall thousands of packages of frozen beef lasagnes in Sweden after discovering they contained 60 to 100 percent horsemeat.
On the sidelines of a meeting in Brussels, Sweden's rural affairs minister Eskil Erlandsson called the test results awful.
"Consumers should know that what is labelled on the package should also be inside the package and nothing else," he told Reuters, adding that it may damage IKEA's reputation.
"All fraud has an impact on the reputation of a company, especially when you talk about meat or other foodstuffs."
However, he did not see a need for the European Union to enforce mandatory origin labels for processed meat.
In Italy, consumer rights group Codacons called for checks on all meat products sold by IKEA in the country.
"We are ready to launch legal action and seek compensation not only against the companies who are responsible but also those whose duty it was to protect citizens," Codacons President Carlo Rienzi said in a statement.
The Czech State Veterinary Administration had reported its findings to the EU's Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, it said in a statement.
The inspectors took samples for DNA tests in IKEA's unit in the city of Brno from a product labelled as "beef and pork meatballs", it said.
(Additional reporting by Mia Shanley in Stockholm, Maria Pia Quaglia in Milan and Charlie Dunmore in Brussels; Writing by Anna Ringstrom; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)