(Illustration photo) An employee conducts a verification of the origin of the meat in a supermarket in France, on March 1, 2013.

Story highlights

NEW: Taco Bell says its domestic restaurants have not been affected

It pulls all beef products from its three UK restaurants

Beef from a European supplier tested positive for traces of horse meat, a spokesman says

Europe's meat industry has been in turmoil over the discovery of rogue horse DNA

Fast food giant Taco Bell said Friday it has taken beef off the menu in its three UK outlets after tests on ground beef from a European supplier revealed traces of horse meat.

The discovery of rogue horse meat in a wide range of beef products has thrown the European meat industry into disarray in recent weeks.

A Taco Bell spokesman said the company had voluntarily ordered testing of its beef products in light of the scandal affecting other European retailers and food manufacturers.

Opinion: Horse meat scandal shines spotlight on murky horse trade

“Based on that testing, we learned ingredients supplied to us from one supplier in Europe tested positive for horse meat,” he said.

Beef was immediately taken off the menu and will not be served again until the company is satisfied that suppliers meet its standards, he said.

“We apologize to our customers and take this matter very seriously as food quality is our highest priority,” he said.

Taco Bell UK has informed the UK Food Standards Agency, which has been leading the investigation into unauthorized horse meat in Britain, he said.

What’s behind the horse meat contamination scandal?

Two of the three UK Taco Bell outlets are in Essex, northeast of London, and the third is in Manchester, in northern England. There is no link in terms of products to Taco Bell in the United States or other outlets operated by Yum Brands, the spokesman added. Yum also owns Pizza Hut and KFC.

“Our domestic restaurants have not been, and will not be, impacted because we do not use any meat from Europe,” Taco Bell said in a prepared statement. “Like all beef in the United States, ours is USDA inspected and then passes our own 20 quality checkpoints.”

The horse meat scandal has extended across Europe, with questions raised over slaughterhouses and food suppliers in a number of countries.

The Food Standards Agency released the results Friday of the latest round of testing ordered on products labeled beef across the UK food industry.

So far, more than 99% of tests continue to show no horse DNA at or above the level of 1%, it said.

Horse meat is not harmful in itself but authorities are concerned by its unauthorized presence in case it is tainted with a veterinary drug used to treat horses. Phenylbutazone, also known as bute, is not allowed to enter the food chain because it can pose a risk to humans.

The European Union said last month it intends to begin testing meat across all 27 member states.