A butcher in the Austrian region of Carinthia has admitted adding horsemeat to his beef and pork sausages without declaring it on the label, but claimed he did so to improve their quality and taste rather than for financial gain.

Josef Freitag initially denied all knowledge of how horsemeat ended up in two of his sausages, but later confessed he had been adding the meat to his products for more than a year.

His lawyer told Austrian media Freitag had inadvertently bought horsemeat from one of his suppliers a year and a half ago, and found it dramatically improved the taste and quality of his sausages. He therefore started sourcing horsemeat from Austria and Germany, and routinely added it to his sausage recipes.

“The quality of the sausages improved, and sales jumped,” Freitag’s lawyer was quoted as saying in the Austrian press. “Everyone was on their knees, begging him to produce and supply more.”

Consumption of horsemeat is not taboo in Austria, but Freitag nevertheless feared Austrian consumers and retailers would be put off by seeing horsemeat on the label and had therefore decided not to declare it, he added.

He stressed the horsemeat was high-quality meat, and Freitag did not gain any financial advantage by swapping beef and pork for horsemeat.

Horsemeat was first detected in Freitag’s sausages on 21 February. The butcher subsequently confessed to misleading consumers by not mentioning horsemeat on his sausage labels on 23 February, but denies fraud.

On Wednesday (27 February), Austrian authorities said tests on raw sausagemeat labelled “beef” found at Freitag’s premises showed the meat was, in fact, 100% horse. Investigations continue.