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Horse meat inquiry: contamination was likely 'accidental'

The FSAI has said there is no evidence of widespread ill practice, where horsemeat is being substituted for beef.

Image: Hamburgers Cooking via Shutterstock

THE DIRECTOR OF Consumer Protection at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has said that the recently-uncovered horse DNA contamination of beef burgers was more than likely accidental.

“We know the companies do not buy or handle horsemeat,” Raymond Ellard told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

He said that inquiries are ongoing but that early indications show that there is no evidence of “widespread subterfuge or ill practice where somebody is trying to substitute horse meat for beef”.

The FSAI is confident it can trace the source of the horse DNA. Ellard said the processing plants in question – Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods in Ireland and Dalepak Hambleton in the UK – keep excellent records.

He also praised the firms for their reaction to the controversy. Speaking about Silvercrest Foods, which produced the Tesco Everyday Burgers in which 29 per cent horse DNA was discovered, he said they had been quick to respond in a responsible manner.

Production is continuing in the plants but all implicated batches have been withdrawn from shelves.

The beef products analysed in the targeted study were on sale in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Lidl, Aldi and Iceland.

Out of 27 beef burger products analysed, 10 tested positive for horse DNA, while 23 tested positive for pig DNA. In nine of the ten beef burger samples from these retailers, horse DNA was found at very low levels.

Ellard said there are no current plans for a more extensive check of products to include restaurants and fast-food chains.

“When we discover what the actual reason was for this contamination then we will sit down and decide whether it is necessary to go through a much more extensive check,” he added.

Asked whether there could be another European source for the horse DNA contamination, Ellard said there is a line of inquiry to check other products kept in inventory at the plants.

We don’t have definite information yet but we do know that other ingredients found in some of those plants did contain traces of equine DNA. And this is product that came from the Netherlands and from Spain, as well as one small sample from Ireland. These particular ingredients, as far as we’re aware, were not used in the production of the burgers in question. They just happen to be stock in inventory here. And again, it’s minute traces of equine DNA. It is a lead we will follow and again the ingredients will be double-checked.

The FSAI has emphasised that the findings of the investigation do not pose any food safety risk to consumers.

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney TD, has confirmed that his department is undertaking a full investigation into the matter.

Tesco Ireland has said it will not take any stock from the processing plants involved until the investigation is concluded with a satisfactory resolution.

“The presence of illegal meat in our products, as this investigation into one of our suppliers has found, is therefore extremely serious,” it said in a statement. “Our customers have the right to expect that food they buy is produced to highest safety and quality standards.”

Importantly, the FSAI has said that these findings pose no risk to public health. But we understand that many of our customers will be concerned by this news, and we apologise sincerely for any distress.

The news of the contamination has spread across the world, with articles appearing in the US, Australia and mainland Europe.

Updated: Horse and pig DNA found in supermarket beef burgers>

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