The British government said Monday it was launching a wide-ranging review into the horsemeat scandal in a bid to restore consumer confidence.

Food Minister David Heath said the review would look for any weaknesses in the food chain that could be exploited by unscrupulous traders.

The move comes after revelations that beef products sold across Europe contained large quantities of horsemeat.

The scandal began in Ireland and Britain in January before spreading across the continent.

"Consumers have a right to expect that food is exactly what it says on the label," said Heath.

"We are establishing a wide-ranging review to help restore consumer confidence by looking at our whole food system, identifying weaknesses and looking at what food businesses, regulators and government are responsible for."

European governments have scrambled to figure out how and where the mislabelling happened in a sprawling chain of abattoirs and meat suppliers across the continent.

In Britain, the scandal began to unfold when it was found that frozen burgers supplied to several supermarkets including Tesco contained horse DNA.

Tests soon revealed other beef products sold by retailers including lasagne and spaghetti bolognese were contaminated while meals in schools and hospitals had to be withdrawn after it was found they contained horsemeat.

The Asda supermarket chain reported last week that one of its corned beef products had tested positive for very low levels of the horse drug phenylbutazone, or bute, which is banned from the human food chain.

The corned beef, which had previously been found to contain horse DNA, is the only product to test positive for bute in Britain since the scandal began.

Experts say very low levels of bute present a negligible risk to human health.

In the latest development in the scandal, the Netherlands last week asked hundreds of companies across Europe to check 50,000 tonnes of meat that was supplied by a Dutch wholesaler suspected of mixing beef and horsemeat.