A NUMBER OF beef burger products, on sale at various supermarkets across the country, have tested positive for horse DNA.
The revelation comes after a targeted study by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
Out of 27 beef burger products analysed, 10 tested positive for horse DNA, while 23 tested positive for pig DNA.
The products were produced by three processing plants, Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods in Ireland and Dalepak Hambleton in the UK, and were on sale in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Lidl, Aldi and Iceland.
In nine of the ten beef burger samples from these retailers, horse DNA was found at very low levels. However, in one sample from Tesco, the level of DNA indicated that horsemeat accounted for approximately 29 per cent relative to the beef content.
The FSAI said it is working with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as well as the processing plants and retailers involved to find out how the horse DNA made its way into these products.
The supermarkets have removed all the implicated batches from their shelves. Silvercrest Foods has also withdrawn all products from sale and replacing them with new products.
The FSAI’s chief executive Professor Alan Reilly said that although the findings of the probe raise concerns, they do not pose any risk to the public health.
“The products we have identified as containing horse DNA and/or pig DNA do not pose any food safety risk and consumers should not be worried.
“Consumers who have purchased any of the implicated products can return them to their retailer.”
He said there was no clear explanation at this time for the presence of horse DNA in products, given that the come from meat plants that do not use horsemeat in their production process.
“In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger. Likewise, for some religious groups or people who abstain from eating pig meat, the presence of traces of pig DNA is unacceptable.”
Food groups respond
In a statement issued this evening, Meat Industry Ireland – the meat processing sector organisation – said that they wished to highlight the assurances from the FSAI that there is no risk to public health and consumers should not be worried.
Director of Meat Industry Ireland, Cormac Healy, said:
The sample results suggest that this was a case of non-deliberate cross-contamination from raw material supplied for processing. The companies concerned are cooperating fully with the authorities to identify the source of the problem and address the issue.
President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, Gabriel Gilmartin, has said that he is “very concerned at the FSAI statement”.
It is too early to say how this has come about. It has to be stressed that there is no safety issue but it is clearly unacceptable if there is any doubt about the provenance or the content of a beef burger. There is some suggestion from the FSAI that DNA traces emanate from raw materials imported from other EU countries.
It would be totally outrageous if meat factories have tried to cut corners rather than using 100% Irish beef in their products. Farmers will feel that the Department of Agriculture needs to spend more time inspecting and monitoring processors and less time on farms. ICSA urges Minister Coveney to instigate a full investigation immediately.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD, has confirmed that his department is undertaking a full investigation into the matter.
This evening, the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Food, Éamon Ó Cuív, called on minister Coveney to reassure consumers this is not a widespread practice in the industry.
“There needs to be a requirement that all meat sold in this country and sourced abroad is 100% traceable,” Ó Cuív said. “We need to know exactly what happened and measures must be put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
The FSAI and its official agencies carry out a number of surveys and studies each year as part of its proactive monitoring activities. The legal responsibility for placing safe food on the market lies with the food industry and the FSAI routinely monitors and samples for compliance.
This particular study has raised concerns over the traceability of meat ingredients and products entering the food chain.
As well as beef burger products, 31 beef meal products, including cottage pies and lasagnes, were examined. Out of the 31, 21 tested positive for pig DNA. All were negative for horse DNA.
A sample of 19 salami products tested negative for horse DNA.
Table of Results of Beef Burgers Study
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(Image: Ben Birchall/PA Wire)