Food maker Birds Eye is recalling three beef products in Britain and Ireland produced by one supplier after one of its chilli con carne products sold in Belgium was found to be 2 per cent horse meat.
Birds Eye in Britain stressed that testing on all Birds Eye Beef Burgers, Beef Pies and Traditional Beef Dinners did not contain horse DNA.
“Regrettably, one product sold in Belgium, Chilli Con Carne, produced by Frigilunch NV, has tested positive for horse DNA. In accordance with our high standards, we are immediately withdrawing this product from sale in Belgium,” the company said in a statement.
“As a precautionary measure in the UK and Ireland, we will withdraw all other beef products produced by the same supplier, namely Traditional Spaghetti Bolognese 340g, Shepherd’s Pie 400g and Beef Lasagne 400g.
“The withdrawn products will not be replaced on supermarket shelves until we have finished our investigations and have complete confidence in this supplier.”
Birds Eye said it had been DNA-testing all its beef products since the first discovery of horse meat in some beef products produced by several manufacturers.
It said while the discovery of 2 per cent of horse meat in the Belgium Chilli Con Carne produced by the Belgium firm was not a food safety issue, it was clearly unacceptable.
It stressed that no other Birds Eye products had returned positive tests for horse DNA.
“The quality of our food is of the utmost importance to us. We know that our consumers rely on us to be certain that they are eating only what is labelled on the packaging and that they can always rely on us to act responsibly,” the company said.
“We have introduced an on-going DNA testing programme and we have enhanced our normal quality assurance procedures. This will help us ensure that we continue to reach the standards that all our consumers expect from our products.”
In other news, Fitch Ratings has predicted that Europe’s horse-meat scandal is likely to result in higher costs for the continent’s smaller food producers and manufacturers, adding to the pressure on the sector’s margins and profits.
The credit-ratings agency said some of the affected companies may be already operating on relatively slim margins, partly due to pressure from major retailers to keep prices down.
Manufacturers, in turn, put pressure on their suppliers, which helped create the complex supply chains and lack of traceability which is at the heart of the current scandal.
“Ultimately, there is a problem of reputation and trust in certain meat-product categories and a few brands associated with this scandal which can take some time to rebuild,” Fitch directors Pablo Mazzini, Ching Mei Chia and Simon Kennedy said in a statement.
“The discovery of horse meat in a variety of beef products will probably lead to tighter health and safety standards and new requirements for labelling and tracing ingredients across the value chain, which will push up costs.
“Product recalls and lost sales will also hurt revenue in the near-term, though the long-term impact on sales is less clear.”
Smaller, less-diversified manufacturers or single-brand manufacturers of frozen food and ready-meals, such as Findus, may be harder hit than larger multiple-brand manufacturers, they suggested.
“This could be the case regardless of the small proportion of product lines directly affected due to the reputation damage done by the scandal to individual brands and frozen foods in general.
“The impact on bigger manufacturers such as Nestle will be much less because meat-products make up only a fraction of their brands.
“Similarly, major retailers like Tesco are unlikely to feel any significant impact although the crisis is likely to be long-running, given the complexity of the supply chain.
“So far, Morrisons has been left unscathed by this scandal, being vertically integrated in the UK where it owns its factories and manufacturing facilities. One thing the scandal may do, therefore, is test the strength of the major UK retailers’ market share.
“The overall effect on future sales is uncertain. Consumer research and media reports indicate that sales of some frozen meat products have dropped and that consumers say they are less likely to buy these products in the future. But it is unclear how long this might last, especially as the scandal revolves around the misrepresentation of horse meat, rather than a major health scare such as the BSE [mad cow disease] crisis.
Meanwhile, an anthropologist, Professor Sidney Mintz, from Johns Hopkins University, in Maryland, suggests the culinary taboos around the eating of horse meat has clouded the real issue: inadequate food inspection regulations.
“This story is really about inadequate inspection regulations, and short-changing the inspectors, both by governments and companies,” Mintz said.
“They eat horses in central Asia and even in Europe; but Americans and most Europeans are like the Britons, for whom horses are like family pets.
“As for Americans, even as we learn to eat emu and bison, we draw the line at horses. But it is really a distraction from the inspection issue.
“Our chances of getting sick from American corporate chicken are surely much greater than from horse meat,” Mintz said.
“Our horror about horse meat is a patterned cultural taboo, like our unwillingness to eat grasshoppers – nothing very special about it. Such avoidances are rather like the taboos on swine and shellfish observed by Jews, though of course those rest upon religious sanctions.”
Adam Sheingate, an associate professor of political science, also from Johns Hopkins University, said: “This is a story because we have a taboo against eating horse meat in the United States.
“More fundamentally, this is about the lack of knowledge we have about our food,” said Sheingate, who studies the politics of food.
“Many of us, frankly, don’t want to know what we eat. However, when the veil is lifted on industrial food production practices we are a bit disgusted and even worried.
“In this respect, the horse meat scandal is similar to other food-related scandals we’ve witnessed in recent years.
“Together, these incidents tend to diminish the trust we have in the food industry and the government regulators responsible for overseeing them.”