Supermarkets remove beef burgers, following horsemeat discovery

Retailers in the UK and Ireland have been scrambling to remove beef burgers from their shelves after testing revealed they contained horse and pig DNA.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) revealed yesterday (15 January) that beef burgers on sale in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Lidl, Aldi and Iceland had tested positive for horse DNA. It said “very low levels” of horse DNA were found in as many as nine out of 10 beef burger samples from these retailers, with Tesco’s Everday Value burgers containing 29% horsemeat.

The burgers were produced by Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods in Ireland and Dalepak Hambleton in the UK. The FSAI said it was working with the processing plants and retailers to investigate the situation, and that the retailers had stated that they were  “removing all implicated batches from sale”.

The FSAI also said that pig DNA had also been found in 85% of 27 beef burger products tested, as well as 21 of 31 beef products analysed. However, while Alan Reilly, chief executive of the FSAI said there was a “plausible explanation” for the pig DNA, due to the fact that meat from different animals is processed in the same plants, he said there was “no clear explanation at this time” for why horse DNA would be found in products produced by plants that do not process horsemeat.

“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. We are working with the meat processing plants and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Marine to find out how horse DNA could have found its way into these products,” he said.

Tesco was quick to pull the offending products from its shelves and issue an apology to customers. Tim Smith, group technical director for Tesco, pointed out that the products did not pose a risk to human health, but acknowledged the fact that customers would be concerned.

“We immediately withdrew from sale all products from the supplier in question. We are working with the authorities in Ireland and the UK, and with the supplier concerned, to urgently understand how this has happened and how to ensure it does not happen again. We will not take any products from this site until the conclusion and satisfactory resolution of an investigation,” he said.

“The safety and quality of our food is of the highest importance to Tesco. We will not tolerate any compromise in the quality of the food we sell. The presence of illegal meat in our products is extremely serious. Our customers have the right to expect that the food they buy is produced to the highest standards.

“We will not take any products from this site until the conclusion and satisfactory resolution of an investigation.”