Tesco withdrew certain frozen beef burger products from its shelves after The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) found they contained levels of horse DNA. The supermarket published one-page apologies to its customers in the UK press yesterday (January 17).
One Tesco product was found to contain 29% horse meat.
The incident and bad publicity pushed the supermarket’s FTSI shares down by 3.6p to 346p.
The FSAI also found low levels of horse DNA in beef products sold in Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, Iceland and Dunnes stores.
The products were produced by Silvercrest Foods and Liffey Meats in Ireland, and Dalepak Hambleton in the UK.
‘Suspend all production’
Silvercrest Foods said the contaminated product came from one of its third-party EU suppliers and suspended all production.
A statement on the company’s website last night (January 17) said: “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 suppliers.”
The statement did not name the supplier of the contaminated meat.
It said: “However, because trace DNA has been found in finished products tested this week, we have decided that the responsible course of action is to suspend all production at the Silvercrest plant in County Monaghan with immediate effect.”
This week’s production has not been released from the plant.
It said: “This issue only affects frozen beef burgers supplied by Silvercrest Foods and Dalepak Hambleton and, while there is no food safety issue, a full withdrawal was implemented.”
The firm says it will introduce a new testing regime for all meat products, including DNA testing.
‘Diseased or injured animals’
However, there is some disagreement over whether the presence of horse meat in the burgers is not a food safety issue.
The Society of Chief Officers of Environmental Health in Scotland (SOCOEHS) yesterday (January 17) warned that there was “no certainty that burgers containing horse meat were without risk to public health”, as the meat hadn’t come through the official inspection system.
SOCOEHS chairman John Sleith said: “We note that statements are being made that it is not a health issue, but our concern is that there is no information on how the horse meat came to be in the burgers and so there is no way of telling whether the meat is safe to eat – it could be from diseased or injured animals, for example.”
Prime Minster David Cameron condemned the discovery of horse meat in the beef burgers as “extremely disturbing” and called for an urgent investigation by the Food Standards Agency.
The Royal Society for the Protection of cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) said that the slaughter of horses for meat was an emotive subject as people saw them as companions, rather than as a food source.
A spokeswoman for the animal welfare charity told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Transportation and slaughter of horses for meat are issues of particular concern for the RSPCA. Many horses are transported live to the continent where their ultimate fate is unknown, but many may well be slaughtered. Once there, it’s difficult to monitor whether EU transportation legislation is met and if the animals are slaughtered humanely.”
The majority of horses slaughtered for meat are cobs (sturdy, shorter-legged horses) and other heavy horses. Ponies and racehorse tend not to carry enough meat to be attractive to meat buyers. Meat from older animals may be considered tough and could end up as pet food or meat for zoo animals.
RSPCA horse facts
- Between 7,000 and 8,000 horses are killed at licensed slaughterhouses in the UK.
- Half of these are slaughtered for meat.
- The majority of horses slaughtered for meat are cobs (sturdy shorter-legged horses).
- Meat from older animals could end up as pet food or food for zoo animals.
- Most horses are put down due to illness, age or infirmity.