Rosa Silverman and Alice Philipson
15 Jan 2013
In Tesco Everyday Value Beef Burgers, horse meat accounted for approximately 29 per cent of the meat. The supermarket announced last night that it was removing all frozen burgers from sale immediately regardless if they had been found to contain horse meat.
Tim Smith, the group technical director of Tesco, said: “The presence of illegal meat in our products is extremely serious. Our customers have the right to expect that food they buy is produced to the highest standards.”
An investigation was carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. The Food Standards Agency, working with the Irish authorities, established that mainland Britain was part of the area affected.
More than a third (37 per cent) of the products tested in Ireland contained horse DNA, while the vast majority (85 per cent) also contained pig DNA.
Horse meat and pig DNA was found in 27 beef burger products. Another 31 foods, including cottage pies, beef curry pies and lasagnes, were analysed, with 21 testing positive for pig DNA.
Traces of horse DNA were also detected in batches of raw ingredients.
The findings raise concerns about “the traceability of meat ingredients and products entering the food chain”, investigators said. They are also likely to prove worrying to practising Jews and Muslims, who may have unwittingly eaten pig, which is forbidden in their culture.
The beef burgers containing horse DNA were produced by two processing plants in Ireland, Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods, and one plant in the UK, Dalepak Hambleton in North Yorkshire. They were on sale in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Lidl, Aldi and Iceland.
In nine of the 10 beef burger samples, the levels of horse DNA were very low, however.
Prof Alan Reilly, the chief executive of the FSAI, said: “While there is a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA in these products, due to the fact that meat from different animals is processed in the same plants, there is no clear explanation for the presence of horse DNA in products emanating from meat plants that do not use horse meat.”
An FSA spokesman said: “The FSA has been made aware of the survey results in which equine DNA was identified in some beef burgers and is working with the Food Safety Authority in the Republic of Ireland to investigate the issue. However, at this stage it is not believed to be a food safety risk.
“We are aware that investigations are ongoing to ascertain how or why horse meat was used in the products.”
A spokesman for Aldi Ireland said they were moving Oakhurst Beef Burgers from sale. Only its Irish branches were affected.
Iceland, whose own branded quarter-pounder burgers were found to contain traces of horse meat said they would be ‘working closely’ with suppliers to find out how it happened.
Liffey Meats said “minute traces of non-beef DNA” had been found in the company’s beef burgers. It blamed the contamination on “imported ingredients”.
A spokesman said: “We sincerely regret that any product produced by the Company would not conform to the highest specifications and sincerely apologise to our customers”.
Silvercrest, another company found to have supplied burgers containing horse meat said: “Although the products pose no risk to public health, Silvercrest has taken immediate action to isolate, withdraw and replace all suspect product.
“Silvercrest has never purchased or traded in equine product and has launched a full-scale investigation into two continental European third party suppliers who are the suspected source of the product in question.”