The horse-meat scandal in Britain and Ireland is escalating, with revelations further tests on beef burgers from one of the plants at the centre of the controversy tested positive for horse DNA.
It followed revelations from Ireland’s food watchdog earlier this week that testing had revealed horse DNA in a significant percentage of beef burger products tested by Irish authorities.
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.
All retailers have removed potentially affected products from their shelves, including in Britain. It is understood more than 10 million burgers have been withdrawn from sale.
Ireland’s agriculture minister, Simon Coveney, announced on Friday evening that preliminary laboratory results had indicated the presence of equine DNA in samples of burgers taken by the department on January 15 from product manufactured at Silvercrest Foods between January 3 and 14.
These products were already withdrawn by the company from the market, Coveney said.
Seven samples of raw ingredients were tested, one of which, sourced from another EU state, tested positive.
All ingredients in the production of burgers sourced from Irish suppliers tested negative for equine DNA. Thirteen samples of finished burgers were tested for the presence of equine DNA. Nine have tested positive for traces of equine DNA and another four have tested negative.
The department told Silvercrest of the test results last night and the company indicated its intention to temporarily suspend all production at the plant immediately until it completed its investigation.
It confirmed that this week’s production had not been released from the plant.
Coveney welcomed the decision.
Arrangements have been made to have the positive samples further analysed in Germany with a view to quantifying the percentage of horse DNA present.
The department was continuing its examination of all raw ingredients used in the production of the affected products and this, together with the further laboratory tests being conducted in Germany, should give greater clarity as to the source of the original problem.
The minister and Food Safety Authority of Ireland reiterated that there was no concern from a food safety perspective.
Coveney said the inquiry would continue to conclusively establish the source of the equine DNA, saying the focus was now to establish a common ingredient used in the manufacture of burgers in all three plants and its source.
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.
“However, because equine DNA has been found in certain finished products tested this week, we have decided that the responsible course of action is to temporarily suspend all production at the Silvercrest plant in County Monaghan with immediate effect. This week’s production has not been released from the plant.
“We anticipate that the facility will be closed for several days to complete the sanitation process. During this time, all staff will continue to be paid, and we will be working with the relevant authorities, management and supervisory team to complete our investigation. We will continue to communicate with our customers and suppliers over the coming days.”