Calls for UK investigation into Tesco 'horse burger' scandal

THE Food Standards Agency (FSA) has called a meeting of food industry representatives this afternoon to discuss the extent of the potential contamination of UK beef products with horse meat.

Calls have already been made for a full investigation into the UK meat supply chain, following the revelation that beef burgers sold by Tesco contained horse meat.

On Tuesday, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) revealed the presence of horse and pig DNA in a high proportion of products tested in a study examining the authenticity of beef and salami products available from retail outlets in Ireland.

Out of 27 beef burger products analysed, 10 tested positive for horse DNA. In nine of the 10 beef burger samples, horse DNA was found at very low levels. However, in one sample of ‘value’ burgers sold by Tesco in Ireland and the UK, the level of horse DNA indicated that horse meat accounted for approximately 29 per cent relative to the beef content.

Traces of equine DNA were also discovered in ‘beef’ products in Dunnes Stores, Lidl, Aldi and Iceland stores, in Ireland, while 85 per cent of samples tested contained pig DNA. All retailers say they are removing the products in question from their shelves.

The revelation has created a media storm and raised inevitable questions about how this happened, whether any of the contamination was deliberate, how long it has been going on for and whether other processors and retailers supplying the UK market may also be implicated.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon said the inclusion of so much meat in a burger ‘must have been deliberate’ and called for a wide-ranging investigation in the UK  

“Consumers will be astonished that burgers have been found to have contained huge quantities of horse meat in them,” he said

“There is no way that could have happened by accident. It must have been a deliberate action to substitute expensive beef meat with cheap horse meat.

“There must be a wide-ranging investigation to find out how widespread this practise is and ensure that those responsible are punished, as their action risks causing huge damage to the reputation of our beef industry.”

Shadow Defra Secretary Mary Creagh said there were ‘serious questions for the Government to answer about what happened and why it wasn’t detected by British food safety authorities’.

“Consumers will be rightly concerned by this news. People should be able to go into the supermarket and be confident that what that they are buying for their families is legal and safe.”

She backed the NFU urging shoppers wanting reassurance to look for the Red Tractor mark which she said ‘guarantees quality British standards’.

“This is a wake-up call for the Government and retailers that rolling back regulation that protects our food serves no-one and is against consumer interests. The retailers affected must now work to reassure all shoppers about where their meat comes from,” she said.

A Defra spokesperson said the Deparetment was working with the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to trace the meat uncovered in the investigation back to its source to find the cause of the contamination. “Any appropriate enforcement action will be taken,” he said.

“Consumers should have confidence that food is exactly what it says on the label and there are strict rules requiring products to be labelled accurately,” he said.

An FSA spokesperson said: “The FSA has been in contact overnight with the retailers and producers named in the FSAI survey and has called a meeting this afternoon with a wider range of food industry representatives to discover the extent of the potential problem and to investigate how this contamination might have occurred.”

The beef burger products which tested positive for horse DNA have been traced to two processing plants, Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods, in Ireland, and one plant, Dalepak Hambleton, in the UK.

Silvercrest Foods and Dalepak have said they had never bought or traded in horse product and have launched an investigation into two continental European third-party suppliers.

Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) warned that this ‘rare and unusual’ episode ‘undermines consumer confidence and trust in the meat industry, and causes reputational damage to it’.

“It is vital that urgent and thorough investigations are carried out along each of the meat supply chains associated with these consumer products to get to the bottom of what has occurred,” he said.  

He added that the ‘great bulk’ of meat and meat products are ‘safe, produced to good quality standards and correctly described and labelled by food manufacturers’. “UK consumers can trust the food they buy,” he said.

NFU communications director Fran Barnes reiterated that consumers should look for the Red Tractor to guarantee the food is British and fully traceable.

NFU Scotland communications director Bob Carruth described the scandal as a ‘spectacular own goal’ for parts of the food sector and stressed that it does not reflect the ‘fantastic job being done by Scottish beef farmers in providing the market with fresh, tasty, traceable, assured beef’.

“The undisclosed inclusion of horsemeat in some value beef burgers damages the reputation of our food industry and must prompt an immediate investigation of supply chains in place at home and abroad,” he said.

“While assurances on the safety of the product have been provided, consumers buying such beef burgers have been seriously misled on the quality and provenance of their food.

“Scottish farmers will continue to supply the food chain in the firm and justifiable belief that all meat that goes into a beef burger should be beef.  Consumers expect no less.”

Readers' comments (3)

  • 'Anyone,' as Larry Goodman's counsel told the beef tribunal, 'who thinks that the meat industry is conducted according to the same principle as the activities of Mother Teresa of Calcutta would be mistaken.'

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  • So at the end of all the administration UK farmers have to go through.

    All the fines, failures to meet cross compliance and enforcement of bio controls.

    We end up with horse meat in burgers.

    Obviously DEFRA is spending far too much time beating on UK farmers and far too little time ensuring food safety and standards of imported produce.

    WHat is the point in growing "Gold Plated" food only to import food with low environmental and poor production methods ?

    No, let's keep destroying UK industry so a few down London can make a killing.

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  • Sir, the FSA and Defra need sacking and replacing with a department who knows what they are doing, this lot are a waste of time.

    What happened to quality control checks, and what other contaminate has gone into burgers, this makes you think how these meat processors operate, is any one in charge.

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