The Netherlands is recalling 50,000 tonnes of beef across Europe - including potentially the UK - because they might contain horsemeat.

Dutch food safety authority NVWA said it had advised 370 companies across Europe and 130 in the Netherlands to remove from the market beef bought through two companies run by Dutch meat trader Willy Selten.

An examination of records held by Selten had unveiled gaps in traceability, and the origin of the meat was not clear and it may have been mixed with horsemeat, the NVWA said. “Because of the unclear origin of consignments of meat, the food safety of the meat is not guaranteed,” it said, although it stressed there were no concrete indications at this stage there was a danger to public health.

NVWA said it expected the meat had probably already been processed and sold on by Selten’s customers, adding they were not obliged to inform their own customers of the recall.

The Food Standards Authority said a small number of UK businesses may potentially have received products from Selten. “The FSA is following up with these businesses as a matter of urgency to determine if they have received products from the Dutch company,” a spokeswoman added.

16 countries affected

A spokesman for the European Commission said Dutch authorities had unveiled a large-scale fraud chain, involving one Dutch company. “It appears according to the Dutch authorities that between 1 January 2011 and 15 February 2013, 50,000 tonnes of fraudulent meat have been traded to 132 plants in the Netherlands and 370 in 16 member states,” he said. “At this stage, the origin of the meat is unknown, but the Dutch authorities acknowledged that horsemeat had been mixed with beef. Thus far this is not a safety issue.”

“The Commission calls on member states to check whether or not processed meat products coming from plants in question are still on the market. Products in question should be withdrawn, pending further inquiries.”