The burger scandal in Britain and Ireland continues to widen, with news yesterday that samples from meat found in a cool store in Northern Ireland was found in testing to be up to 80 per cent horse DNA.
Britain’s Food Standards Agency, as part of its ongoing inquiry into mislabelled meat, had tested a quantity of frozen meat currently detained in a cold store on the premises of a company called Freeza Meats in Northern Ireland, which was potentially linked to the Silvercrest factory in the Irish Republic.
Silvercrest was the supplier of beef burgers that contained horse DNA, identified in a recent survey carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
Of the 12 samples from the suspect consignment that have been tested, two came back positive for horse meat, at around 80 per cent, the British agency said.
The investigation into the traceability of these raw materials and their source is under way. The meat, it said, had not entered the food chain.
Reports have suggested that Freeza Meats was storing the meat consignment, understood to be about 900 kilograms, on behalf of an Irish trader.
The discovery prompted British company Asda, which sourced frozen burgers from Freeza Meats, to withdraw four lines of beef burgers from its superstore shelves.
The company assured its customers that reports in newspapers suggesting that Asda burgers contained 80 per cent horse meat were incorrect.
“As a precaution we have withdrawn four frozen burger products produced by a company in Northern Ireland after a separate batch of meat in another part of their premises was found by the Food Standards Agency to contain horse DNA,” Asda said.
“We conducted our own DNA tests, along with environmental health officers, on the four burger products being produced by Freeza Meats for Asda and these have come back free of any trace of horse meat.
“Although all the science says there’s no trace of horse meat in the burgers produced for Asda, we can’t and won’t take any chances when it comes to the authenticity of ingredients in our products – so as a precaution we’ve taken all four frozen burger products off sale.
“We have instructed Freeza Meats to segregate and hold any frozen burgers currently in production or in their supply chain destined for Asda. These four products will remain withdrawn from sale until further notice.”
Authorities in Britain and Ireland are continuing inquiries into the growing scandal, with raw ingredients sourced from Poland having been implicated as the source.
Testing of samples by Polish authorities of beef product has found no horse-meat contamination to date.
Meanwhile, in a bid to maintain consumer confidence in the accuracy of food labelling, the Food Standards Agency has agreed with the food industry to publish the results of industry testing of meat products.
This, it said, would provide a clearer picture of standards in the food chain. The results will also be made publicly available.
The decision was taken at a meeting this week to address how testing could maintain consumer confidence in food labelling, attended by Food and Farming Minister David Heath, representatives of the FSA, and major food businesses and suppliers.
Agency chief executive Catherine Brown said: “I am pleased that we have been able to agree a way forward to maintain consumer confidence in the food that people eat. We need to move swiftly to get this work under way to reassure consumers.”
Food and Farming Minister David Heath said: “This is a shared problem, and it needs shared solutions. Food businesses’ agreement to give regular updates on meat testing is a significant move that will give consumers confidence in what they are buying.
“It’s now important that the industry starts sharing this information as soon as possible.”
The agency and the food industry will now agree a standardised sampling and testing system which will meet accredited standards and will test to an agreed level of DNA.