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European ingredient suppliers investigated after horse meat incident

By Joe Whitworth , 17-Jan-2013
Last updated the 17-Jan-2013 at 15:35 GMT

ABP Food Group has vowed to step up DNA testing after UK and Irish beef burger meat from subsidiaries Dalepak Hambleton and Silvercrest Foods was found to contain horse meat.

ABP said it would introduce a risk-based approach for DNA testing, including weekly where appropriate. While it currently conducts DNA testing to confirm breeds such as Aberdeen Angus, the industry does not DNA test raw as a rule, ABP said.

The firm added it was “shocked” at the results and “at a loss to explain” why one test showed 29% equine DNA.

The group is conducting its own DNA tests with results expected in the next few days.

Powdered beef protein additives

The investigation into the incident, which also involved product from Liffey Meats, has turned to powdered beef protein additives imported from Spain and the Netherlands as the possible source.

All parties have said they believed third-party suppliers in Spain and The Netherlands are the source of the equine DNA.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) survey, published on Tuesday, found horse DNA in some frozen beef burger products, with one item from Tesco containing 29%.

10 million burgers recalled

Silvercrest Foods issued a recall of 10 million burgers yesterday amid fears that they could be contaminated with horse meat.

The UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) said in all but one case the levels of horse and pig DNA were extremely low, so the case of horse meat accounting for 29% content led to them concluding the problems were different and conducting separate investigations.

The retailers and the UK processor named in the survey have been asked to provide information on the findings by the end of this Friday, said the FSA.

The agency also said legal action could be appropriate following the investigation.

Consumer confidence key - Defra

The UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said beef burgers must contain 62% minimum meat, while so-called economy versions of beef burgers must contain 47% meat. 

Defra confirmed that a labelled burger would have to state all the types of meat in, however low the amount.

A Defra spokesperson told FoodQualityNews.com: “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.

“Defra is working with the Food Standards Agency to urgently investigate how a number of beef products on sale in the UK and Republic of Ireland were found to contain horse and pig meat.

“The investigation will trace the meat back to its source to find the cause of the contamination and any appropriate enforcement action will be taken.”

FSAI study

The FSAI found that 37% of UK and Irish supermarket products sampled contained horse DNA, while 85% contained pig DNA.

The test method involved DNA extraction from the food product and then the amplification of specific pieces of DNA through the enzymatic process known as PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction).

One burger out of the 27 tested contained 29% horsemeat with Tesco selling the ‘Everyday Value’ burger in question.

Overall, 10 contained horse DNA and 23 had traces of pig DNA with Lidl and Aldi, Iceland and Dunnes Stores affected.

Sainsbury’s and Asda have also recalled products despite not being named in the investigation.

Important to prevent a repeat

Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), said the issue was not food safety-related but it was important to get to the bottom of what went wrong and why to prevent such an incident in the future.

“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.

“But this episode - rare and unusual though it is - undermines consumer confidence and trust in the meat industry, and causes reputational damage to it.”

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