LONDON - Britain's food minister suggested on Monday that an "extensive" criminal conspiracy could be behind the horsemeat scandal in Europe.
Owen Paterson said he believed warnings had been sent out to 16 different countries which might be affected by the scandal.
The secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs was to update parliament later on the affair engulfing several European states.
Eating horse is considered taboo in Britain and tests have found some frozen ready meals produced in mainland Europe and labelled as processed beef actually contained up to 100 percent horsemeat.
"It looks as if this conspiracy, criminal conspiracy, criminal action, whatever you want to call it, may be extensive," Paterson told BBC television.
"I understand the plant in Luxembourg has had to issue warnings to customers in 16 different countries."
Asked how widespread he believed the scandal was, Paterson replied: "I honestly don't know.
"Reports today we have had from France look as though it might have been pinned down to two abattoirs in Romania.
"I very much hope that these legal processes do flush out the criminals because it is completely unacceptable that British consumers should be sold a product marked as one thing which actually contains something else."
Paterson ruled out Sunday imposing a ban on importing meat from European Union countries unless there was a threat to human health.
He dismissed the idea of slapping an immediate ban on such imports but warned he would not hesitate to do so if public health was at risk.