Meat scandal is byproduct of stringent food control
Alternatively there may have been a deliberate substitution of equine meat for the more expensive beef in the manufacture of this powder or somewhere else along the supply chain.
This incident clearly demonstrates that a company’s brands and reputation are only as secure as the standards of their weakest supplier. Most business-to-business trade is based on an element of trust and assurance that the products are in full compliance with all relevant food legislation.
An in-depth examination is being undertaken by the companies and the regulatory agencies to get to the bottom of this. Substantial numbers of samples are being processed to get the definitive explanation.
Assurances that there are no risks to the public’s health are being given on the basis that the routine food safety test carried out by both food businesses and the regulators are all clear. The routine hazards that are monitored for in food safety management systems are foreign bodies, harmful bacteria, chemical residues and allergens.
It is not routine in any jurisdiction to undertake the type of DNA testing undertaken by the FSAI’s food fraud investigation team.
There will be no adverse human health effects associated with this incident. However, consumers are entitled to get what they believe they are purchasing and it has highlighted areas in the current food safety control systems that need to be tightened. If it is a result of accidental contamination, this can be easily rectified, but if it is a result of a criminal act of deliberate substitution that will be more challenging to address.
The food chain is as strong as its weakest link and rigid controls at many points in the chain count for nothing if one link is that of a shoddy operator or a criminal.
Some consumers in Ireland are angry that their beef burgers may have been contaminated with other DNA.
However, many are angry that one of our flagship indigenous industries has been severely damaged by carelessness or criminal activity.
The conventional and social media have covered this incident across the globe and the damage to the Irish companies and the image of Ireland has yet to be quantified. Our competitors are quick to use this incident to criticise our controls and standards, yet few if any of them use similar testing technologies in their own supply chains.
It is sad that consumer confidence in the food chain and in Ireland as a centre of excellence has been damaged.
Sadder, especially in the light of the seminar on World Hunger in UCD on Monday and Tuesday of this week (addressed by President Michael D Higgins, Mary Robinson and Tom Arnold of Concern), is that, because DNA at a level of 29 per cent was found in one burger, 10 million frozen burgers have been withdrawn from retail shelves in Ireland and the UK and are likely to be destroyed.
* Patrick Wall is professor of public health at UCD and a former chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland