Meat scandal is byproduct of stringent food control
Opinion:The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has always prided itself that it is in the vanguard among the food safety agencies of Europe. It assists in differentiating Ireland from other European Union member states as a country with high food safety standards, to support our quality food production industry.
The authority set up a food fraud task force last October to advise on how best to protect consumers’ interests by policing food authenticity.
Previous investigations by the FSAI uncovered smoked farmed salmon masquerading as smoked wild salmon, Chinese honey being passed off as Irish, imported chicken fillets inflated with over 50 per cent water, and cod on sale in chip shops being replaced by cheaper pollock.
The current incident with beef burgers came to light as a result of ongoing FSAI policing of food authenticity.
With increased surveillance and better monitoring, problems, if they exist, will be identified. The identification of problems is key to seeing that they are addressed and any deficiencies in the control systems are remedied. However the downside is the associated adverse publicity for “Ireland the food island”.
Other countries that do not aggressively look for problems may carry on in the belief that all is well along their food chain and be highly critical of our current predicament.
Communicating to the public and international customers that the identification of problems is a reflection of good controls, rather than bad ones, is a nigh-impossible task. Many consumers, both nationally and internationally, have been shocked by the current finding of traces of equine and pork DNA in frozen beef burgers on retail sale in Ireland. Of a total of 27 burgers tested, 22 had traces of pork or equine DNA, with one having more than a trace of equine.
Superior food policing
This test for DNA is not one that is routinely used in the food industry. It emanates from the field of forensic science where individuals are often linked to the scene of a crime by the DNA left behind in their fingerprints.
The test is so sensitive that it picks up molecules of DNA. If equine meat or pork was processed in a facility on adjacent production lines, or even on subsequent days, there would be sufficient carryover, or aerosol spread, of DNA to result in trace contamination of beef products. If beef meat was transported in a refrigerated vehicle that had horse or pork meat on a previous load then this could explain cross-contamination of traces of DNA.
Neither of the two Irish processing facilities implicated in this incident processes or handles horse meat so the million-dollar question is this: “If this is the case, where did the traces of equine DNA come from?”
Furthermore, an explanation is required for the higher level of contamination with equine DNA found in one burger. Initial investigations have revealed a common supplier of ground beef protein to the two processors. This product is used as a filler in the lower-quality burgers. One explanation being considered is that this supplier, located in the EU but outside Ireland and the UK, may also handle horse meat in its facility and contamination inadvertently occurred.