Taco Bell, Icelandic pies drawn into meat scandal

A sign for a Taco Bell restaurant is shown in Oakvile, Ontario, Aug.25, 2010. Taco Bell is an American restaurant chain based in Irvine, California. A subsidiary of Yum! Brands, Inc., it specializes in Mexican-style food and quick service.Taco Bell serves tacos, burritos, quesadillas, nachos, other specialty items, and a variety of "Value Menu" items. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Richard Buchan (Canadian Press via AP Images)

LONDON Taco Bell has become the latest restaurant chain to acknowledge that its beef has been adulterated with horse meat, yanking an unspecified number of products from its three British outlets and issuing a statement saying sorry to its patrons Friday. Meanwhile, in Iceland, a food official said his team had found a beef product which contained no meat at all.

Chief meat inspector Kjartan Hreinsson told The Associated Press a brand of locally produced beef pie found at a Reykjavik supermarket had "no mammalian DNA."

"That was the peculiar thing," Hreinsson said in a telephone interview. "It was labeled as beef pie, so it should be beef pie."

It should be, but across Europe meat labeled as beef has been found to be contaminated with horse.

From frozen food at supermarkets to fast food in restaurants and even school food in cafeterias, mystery meat appears to be everywhere. Authorities say the fraudulent labeling poses no health risk, but the scandal has drawn attention to complex and obscure supply chains for meat products.

Contamination is in fact relatively rare. The Food Standards Agency said Friday that of more than 5,400 products tested in Britain, more than 99 percent were clear of horse. Still, a steady drumbeat of brands found to have horse meat inside has kept the issue in the headlines. Taco Bell joins a long list of food providers - Nestle, Burger King, Tesco, Birds Eye, Findus, and even Ikea - that have had to remove products amid horse meat revelations.

In a statement, Taco Bell owner Yum Brands Inc. said: "We apologize to our customers and take this matter very seriously as food quality is our highest priority."

The company's presence in Britain is tiny compared to its profile in the United States, where it has more than 5,600 restaurants. Taco Bell stressed that its U.S. restaurants do not use meat from Europe and are not affected.

"We stand for quality and we use 100% premium beef. Like all beef in the United States, ours is USDA inspected and then passes our own 20 quality checkpoints," said Taco Bell spokesperson Rob Poetsch.

Yum Brands' statement gave no further detail as to the nature of the supplier, how long it had been providing food to Taco Bell, or how many customers were thought to have been affected. A message seeking further comment was not immediately returned.

As for the Icelandic non-meat pies, Hreinsson said they appeared to have been stuffed with some sort of vegetable matter. He said the municipal authorities are investigating.