Burger product supplied for nearly a year
The Polish product identified as the most likely source of the horse meat in beef burgers was supplied to Silvercrest Foods for nearly a year before the crisis broke, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said.
At the weekend it emerged that the Polish raw material was the likely source of horse meat found at a level of 29 per cent relative to beef content in a Tesco Everyday Value burger made by Silvercrest Foods.
Mr Coveney said the Polish material was a beef product made from low-value cuts and trimmings which was sourced from multiple slaughtering facilities. It was imported in frozen blocks.
The Polish authorities had been informed of the findings “and it will be up to them to investigate the plant concerned”.
Mr Coveney said he would now be looking at “whether it is appropriate to look at DNA testing on a more systematic basis across our food production systems”.
Department officials would be taking weekly samples of production at Silvercrest Foods for at least six months, once the plant reopens. “We will look at whether it is appropriate to extend those kind of consumer reassurance mechanisms and tests to other plants.”
The latest test results found up to 20 per cent horse DNA content relative to beef in the Polish raw material. Mr Coveney said three burgers produced since the start of January by Silvercrest Foods had tested positive for horse DNA, at levels of 7 per cent, 3.6 per cent and 1.2 per cent, relative to beef content.
The Polish raw material showed horse DNA of between 4.1 and 20 per cent. The raw ingredients that went into the burger with 29 per cent horse meat are no longer available as that burger was produced in November. “We are now in a position to be able to say with a degree of certainty that the horse meat in burgers is . . . more than likely to have come from a significant ingredient that has been supplied to the factory now for nearly a year,” Mr Coveney said. “It’s certainly the likely reason for the 29 per cent horse DNA content in the burger that actually kicked off this whole thing.”
He said there was no evidence the ABP Food Group, which owns Silvercrest Foods, had knowingly imported product containing horse meat.
Some 140 people are employed in the Ballybay facility where production has been suspended for more than a week.
“I’ve asked them, and they agree, that they, from now on, will source all product from Ireland and the UK only and no product from anywhere else,” Mr Coveney said. “Secondly, they have agreed to change the management at Silvercrest.”
Asked why the management team should be replaced if there was no evidence of wrong-doing, he said “a customer like Tesco or indeed Burger King will want to be reassured that this can never happen again and I think part of that reassurance will involve a new management team and a fresh start”.
An ABP Food Group spokesman said the company would not be giving any more information on the staff reorganisation as it was an internal matter.
It said the group would be independently auditing all third-party suppliers and had already started to implement a new DNA-testing regime. ABP will also remove all product from Silvercrest and undertake a deep cleansing of the plant.
Tesco welcomed the news and said the findings correlated with the results of its own investigations at the plant. “We will give detailed consideration to all the findings during next week,” a statement said.
Burger King, which last week replaced Silvercrest Foods as its supplier, welcomed the confirmation that no horse DNA was found in tests of its products and said it was dedicated to “determining where the breakdown occurred, what lessons can be learned and what additional measures should be taken to ensure that we always provide our guests the high-quality products they expect from us”.
Farmers let down
IFA president John Bryan said these results should bring a definitive conclusion to this issue. Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association president Gabriel Gilmartin said farmers had been let down by industry.
“There are now serious questions to be asked about why Polish ingredients were going into Irish beef burgers even though Ireland is the largest exporter of beef in the northern hemisphere,” he said. “The department must learn the lesson that there has been too much focus on farms and not enough on meat processors.”