The environment secretary is to hold an emergency meeting with representatives of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and meat retailers to discuss the unfolding horsemeat scandal.

Owen Paterson said he was "absolutely determined" to establish how products sold as beef came to contain up to 100 percent horsemeat.

He told BBC News that he would convene the meeting today (9 February) with the FSA "and all the main retailers to sit down and go into detail about how the current system works".

He said he would find out "just how much testing goes on along the chain to establish how we could improve the current regime within the existing system".

Paterson said he believed the food was safe but said consumers ought to return products to retailers: "The French authorities are saying they are viewing the issue as a case of fraud rather than food safety. Anyone who has these products in their freezer should return them to retailers as a precaution."

On Friday 8 February, he ordered all processed beef products sold in the UK to be tested for contamination.

"I really want to get to the bottom of this because I'm very proud of our British farming industry, the traceability through the system, rigorous production systems in our own industry," he said.

"I do not want to have any slur cast on them because there may have been either incompetence or what I suspect may well be criminal activity elsewhere."

The FSA said that it was "highly likely" that criminal activity was responsible for the contamination.

"I've got a nasty feeling it's actually a criminal conspiracy," Paterson added.

As the scandal spread to other parts of Europe, the Metropolitan Police said that it was not launching an investigation into the issue yet, as their French counterparts have already announced that they are treating it as a potential criminal conspiracy.

Yesterday the FSA ordered food retailers to conduct tests on all their beef products by Friday 15 February.

Schools, hospitals, and baby food manufacturers have also been told to check their suppliers.

So far beef products from Tesco, Aldi and Findus have been found to contain horsemeat, and the retailers have suspended the sale of a range of products thought to be contaminated.

Supermarket chain Aldi said that tests showed its Today's Special Frozen Beef Lasagne and Today's Special Frozen Spaghetti Bolognese contained between 30 percent and 100 percent horsemeat.

French supplier Comigel this week confirmed that its meat had been contaminated.

Swedish frozen food giant Findus confirmed that some samples of its frozen lasagne tested contained 100 percent horsemeat.

The company has since withdrawn the product in the UK, and its shepherd's pie and moussaka has been removed from shelves in French supermarkets after tests showed similar levels of contamination.

Ironically, some butchers have seen a surge in sales of horsemeat.

Walter Murray of Kezie Foods told The Sun: "I guess people are just curious to see what horsemeat tastes like. Those that haven't tried it should give it a go."