Food authorities in Britain and Ireland are closing in on the source of horse meat that found its way into beef burgers sold in supermarkets.
Millions of burgers were pulled from freezers across Britain and Ireland this week, following testing by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland that revealed horse DNA in a significant percentage of beef-burger products tested.
A total of 27 beef burger products were analysed, with 37 per cent – 10 of the 27 products – testing positive for horse DNA and 23 (85 per cent) testing positive for pig DNA.
In nine of the 10 beef burger samples, horse DNA was found at very low levels.
However, in one sample from Tesco, the level of horse DNA indicated that horse meat accounted for about 29 per cent relative to the beef content.
The beef burger products which tested positive for horse DNA were produced by two processing plants in Ireland, Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods, and one plant in Britain, Dalepak Hambleton.
The plants have implicated meat product sourced from the European mainland from EU-accredited suppliers.
ABP Food Group, which runs the Silvercrest and Dalepak Hambleton plants, said investigations had centred around two third-party Continental suppliers.
“Following receipt of this evening’s Irish Department of Agriculture results, we believe that we have established the source of the contaminated material to one of these two suppliers,” it said in a statement.
The Silvercrest plant ceased operation on Friday after fresh testing revealed nine of 13 other burger products contained traces of equine DNA.
Britain’s Food Standards Agency said that the retailers and British processor named in the investigation by Irish authorities had provided additional information to the Food Standards Agency.
This has included detailed information on the suppliers of the products involved, which it said was allowing further investigations to take place.
The authorities in Ireland and in Britain were working closely together, the agency said. Supermarket chain Tesco, it said, was carrying out a complementary investigation.
The British agency stressed that the evidence suggested there was no food safety risk to consumers from the products.
“There is nothing about horse meat that makes it any less safe than other meat products,” it said.
“The meat products were supplied to the retailers by approved establishments. The burgers that contained horse DNA were tested by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland for the presence of phenylbutazone, a commonly used medicine in horses that is not allowed in the food chain. All of the results were negative.”
Retailers had removed all relevant products from their shelves. Other major retailers have removed products from sale from the suppliers named in the investigation. The agency said it was an appropriate action for retailers to take to maintain consumer confidence.
The agency has launched a sampling programme to investigate the authenticity – that is, the content compared with the label’s listed ingredients – of a range of meat products.
“We are working with a number of local authorities to take samples for analysis in Official Control laboratories. Samples have been taken from the Dalepak plant by North Yorkshire Trading Standards. These have been sent for testing to assess both the presence and level of any horse or pig DNA.”