Supermarkets, wholesalers and manufacturers have hit back at accusations by number 10 that they have remained silent over the worsening horsemeat scandal.

David Cameron slammed retailers over horsemeat yesterday, saying that senior executives from the major multiples should have given media interviews to explain how horsemeat had entered the food chain - and what checks it was carrying out with suppliers.

“It is not acceptable for retailers to remain silent while their customers have been misled,” a senior No 10 source said. “The supermarkets need to justify their action and reassure the public.”

However, in an open letter seen by The Grocer, retailers argued they were “working around the clock” to restore public confidence.

The letter is signed by the CEOs of the UK’s biggest supermarkets, wholesalers and suppliers including Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, The Co-op, Booker, Compass, Brakes, Musgrave, Greencore and Bakkavor.

“Food shoppers expect that the products they buy from retailers and manufacturers contain the ingredients on the label.  They are right to be concerned that in a small number of products this is not the case. We understand and share their anger and outrage,” reads the letter.

“The food industry is determined to restore consumer confidence in the food we sell as quickly as possible. We can’t accept a situation where the trust customers place in us is being compromised by fraudulent activity or even as alleged, an international criminal conspiracy.

“That is why we are acting together with the government and the Food Standards Agency, not only to get to the bottom of how this has happened but to take whatever steps are necessary to reassure customers that they can trust the food they buy.

“We are working around the clock to complete the most comprehensive testing of processed beef products ever undertaken, anywhere in the world.  We are openly sharing the results of these tests and acting immediately to withdraw any product where there is any doubt as to its authenticity.

“British retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers already have some of the most rigorous testing and auditing systems in the world but we will  be re-strengthening these to ensure that every part of the supply chain is in no doubt of the obligations we all share to the consumer.

“Nothing is more important to us than our consumers’ trust. We will do whatever it takes to restore public confidence in the food they buy and eat.”

The BRC declined to respond to the comments from number 10, but The Grocer understands it feels the key focus now should be on the results of the 1,000 checks of processed beef ready meals which have been carried out over the past week. The results will be released this afternoon.