Co-operative joins Tesco in cancelling Silvercrest contract

Wed, Jan 30, 2013, 00:00

The Co-operative Group has joined Tesco in cancelling its contract for frozen beef burgers from the Silvercrest plant in Ballybay, Co Monaghan at the centre of the horse meat controversy.

Independent DNA tests carried out by the British supermarket chain on two lines of burgers produced for them by Silvercrest found traces of horse DNA in four out of 17 samples.

One sample contained 17.7 per cent horse DNA, while three other samples contained less than one per cent.

A Co-operative spokesman said it had become apparent that the burgers, which were withdrawn from sale in their supermarkets on January 16th, did not meet the specifications they had set with the producer. “We specify that all meat in our frozen burgers should be 100 per cent British, but we now strongly believe that some of the meat used to produce these burgers came from outside the UK and was not British in origin, and as a result we have taken the decision to delist Silvercrest as a supplier with immediate effect,” he said.

Tesco announced this morning it will no longer source its beef burgers from Silvercrest, which is owned by ABP Food Group, as a result of the controversy.

In a statement, Tesco said the evidence indicated Silvercrest used meat in products that did not come from the list of approved suppliers given to them by the retailer. Ingredients from a supplier in Poland have emerged as the most likely source of the meat found in a burger supplied by Silvercrest which contained 29 per cent horse DNA relative to beef content.

The group's technical director Tim Smith said the meat did not come from the UK or Ireland, "despite our instruction that only beef from the UK and Ireland should be used in our frozen beef burgers.”

Mr Smith said the breach of trust was simply too great. “Consequently we have decided not to take products from that supplier in future," he said. The retailer also announced it will introduce a comprehensive system of DNA testing across its meat products as a consequence of the controversy.

Tesco Ireland chief executive Tony Keohane said this morning that the company would look to source its frozen burgers from other Irish beef processors in the near future, and continue to purchase Irish beef worth €177 million a year, including meat from other companies owned by ABP. “The change in our buying relates only to frozen burgers from the Silvercrest plant which is valued at €15 million a year,” he said.

Today, ABP chief executive Paul Finnerty apologised for failures at the Silvercrest plant, saying its business had been based on trust but it had let down its customers. “We have learnt important lessons from this incident and we are determined to ensure that this never happens again,” he said.

ABP have put in place new procedures to audit third party suppliers and introduced DNA testing, Mr Finnerty said, adding that the company aimed to “become an industry leader in this area.” The Silvercrest plant in Ballybay remains closed and the management is being changed, Mr Finnerty confirmed.

Apology

The ABP Food Group removed 10 million burgers from shop shelves after a food safety study found the presence of horse DNA in burgers produced by Silvercrest Foods and its UK Dalepak Hambleton plant.

The withdrawn burgers may now be sold to pet food producers, following a change of mind by the ABP Food Group. A spokeswoman said the original decision to destroy the product had been put on hold following discussions with various experts. While no definitive decision had been taken, she said selling the burgers to pet food producers was a “possibility”.

President of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) John Bryan welcomed Tesco’s commitment to the Irish beef sector, but said “serious lessons” had to be learned from the incident. “Farmers are angry over the breach in standards outside the farm gate, and the failure to ensure that the specification set down by a customer was not complied with in full at the Silvercrest plant,” he said.

The IFA has sought meetings with the meat industry and the regulatory authorities, including the Food Safety Authority and the Department of Agriculture, to insist adequate controls are put in place and observed during processing, Mr Bryan added.

Meanwhile, Britain's Food Standards Agency (FSA) has said Irish authorities are sure that “filler product” found in contaminated burgers sold in supermarkets came from Poland and was a mixture of beef and horse offcuts. The contaminated meat was in the form of blocks of frozen product from a Polish supplier that had been used for a year, FSA chief executive Catherine Brown told the House of Commons Environment Committee in London today. Investigations are going on into how long contaminated meat might have been in use, Ms Brown told MPs.

Burger King

Burger King has confirmed its representatives are planning a trip to Ireland in the next week or so to meet the Department of Agriculture and Silvercrest Foods. A spokesman for the fast-food chain said it wished to discuss the measures being put in place at Silvercrest. He said Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney had held a 1½-hour conference call with Burger King on Saturday and the company was heartened by his responses on many of the issues.

Spanish consumer organisation OCU has said its research found horse DNA in two beef burger products sold in Spain. The products were sold by supermarket chains Eroski and AhorraMas, the OCU said. Only five out of the 20 products analysed offered meat with an acceptable level of quality.