BRITISH schoolchildren have been given meals containing horse meat, DNA tests have confirmed for the first time.

Councils throughout Britain urgently withdrew processed beef dishes from menus after cottage pies containing horse meat were sent to 47 schools.

British hospital patients have also been given beef meals containing equine DNA, it emerged, as the scandal spread to pubs, restaurants and more supermarkets.

The school meals revelation prompted a crisis of confidence among parents, who said they would give their children packed lunches after the ''appalling and disgusting'' news.

Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, said: ''People will be shocked and dismayed that horse meat has now been found in schools and hospitals.''

The crisis could escalate after two major catering companies that supply schools and hospitals discovered horse meat in lasagnes and ready-to-eat meals.

The UK Department of Health has written to all National Health Service and social care providers warning them to carry out checks on the ''authenticity of food''.

On Friday the Food Standards Agency raided Flexi Foods, a Danish-owned company based in Hull in north-east England.

The company imported 60 tons of beef from Poland, which was later found to be contaminated with up to 80 per cent horse meat.

Another company in north London where the beef was stored before being taken to Hull was also raided.

The European Union has agreed to the immediate launch of tests for horse DNA in meat products, seeking to reassure consumers that their food is safe and to prevent the horse meat scandal spreading across Europe.

The test program will also look for the presence of phenylbutazone, an anti-inflammatory treatment for horses which is harmful to humans and by law is banned from being placed in the food chain.

In Lancashire, in the north-west of England, horse DNA was found in cottage pies sent to 47 schools.

The council's laboratory has been carrying out DNA tests on samples collected by trading standards officers. Preliminary results show the presence of horse DNA in the school meals, which have been withdrawn.

Pauline Knowles, whose five-year-old daughter attends the Great Wood Primary School in Morecambe, Lancashire, said: ''I think it is appalling really, that it has not been tested before it has even got to our schools. The fact that horse meat is being passed off as beef, I think is disgusting.''

Sheffield Council, in South Yorkshire, on Friday suspended the use of all processed meat in school meals with immediate effect as a precautionTELEGRAPH, with AFP