DNA testing for all meat products

Mon, Feb 11, 2013, 00:00

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said this evening he would be asking Irish manufacturers of processed meat products to carry out DNA testing and to work with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in developing testing protocols for this purpose.

The Minister said the move was a “necessary step in order to provide further reassurance to Irish consumers and consumers of Irish food abroad”.

The announcement comes shortly after Tesco revealed that its frozen Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese contained horse DNA of more than 60 per cent in some samples.

The product was supposed to only contain Irish beef. Tesco withdrew it from sale as a precaution last week because it was made in the French Comigel factory which had produced Findus beef lasagne which was found to contain up to 100 per cent horsemeat.

Tesco group technical director Tim Smith said most of the test results found horse DNA at a trace level of less than one per cent “but three showed significant levels of horse DNA, exceeding 60 per cent”.

“The source of the horsemeat is still under investigation by the relevant authorities. The level of contamination suggests that Comigel was not following the appropriate production process for our Tesco product and we will not take food from their facility again,” Mr Smith said.

The samples did not show the presence of bute, a potentially harmful veterinary medicine.

Mr Smith said Tesco was “very sorry” that it had let customers down. “Our DNA testing programme is underway and will give us and our customers assurance that the product they buy is what it should be."

Mr Coveney and Britain’s environment secretary Owen Paterson have agreed that the FSAI and the UK Food Standards Agency will work together to protect the authenticity of meat ingredients used in the manufacture of meat based products.

The Minister will meet the EU commissioner for health and consumer policy Tonio Borg in Brussels on Wednesday to consider the implications of the recent horsemeat controversy, and what steps can be taken to address the matter at an EU level.

The Minister has also arranged to have the issue on the agenda for the next Council of Agriculture Ministers later this month.

A Polish veterinary delegation will visit Ireland this week to be briefed on the Irish investigation into the discovery of horsemeat in beef products, following a meeting between Mr Coveney and his Polish counterpart in Brussels last Thursday.

Romania 'angered'

Romania’s prime minister Victor Ponta has said any fraud over horse meat sold as beef had not happened in his country and he was angered by suggestions it might have been.

The British unit of frozen foods group Findus began recalling its beef lasagne last week on advice from its French supplier, Comigel, which said the horse meat came from Romania.

“From all the data we have at the moment, there is no breach of European rules committed by companies from Romania or on Romanian territory,” Mr Ponta told a news conference. “I am very angry, to be honest.”

An initial French investigation revealed that the horsemeat ended up in Comigel’s Luxembourg factory, supplied by a French firm, and that a Dutch and Cypriot trader had also been involved. However, the meat originally came from a Romanian abattoir.

“It is very clear that the French company did not have any direct contract with the Romanian company and ... it has to be established where the fraud was committed and who is responsible for this fraud,” Mr Ponta said.

Lasagne meals and burgers suspected of containing horse meat have been removed from supermarket shelves in Ireland, Britain, Sweden and France.

Aldi and Tesco have taken several products off their shelves in the Republic. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) warned consumers not to eat Findus beef lasagne, samples of which were found to have been contaminated with horse meat.

The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) is to publish results of a second round of tests it has ordered food producers to conduct on a wider range beef products this week.

Mr Paterson said more contaminated products could be discovered. He described the crisis as “an issue of fraud and a conspiracy against the public, I think probably by criminal elements, to substitute a cheap material for that which was marked on the label”.

Legal action

Findus said it is considering legal action after an internal investigation “strongly” suggested the contamination of its products was “not accidental”. The company said it was considering pursuing a case against its suppliers over what it said was their “failure to meet contractual obligations about product integrity”.

UCD associate professor of public health Dr Patrick Wall said the FSAI’s role in uncovering the presence of horse DNA in products labelled as beef should be acknowledged.

He said that while the authority had been criticised in some quarters in the early stages of the crisis it had “uncovered a huge, Europe-wide scam. If it had not been for the FSAI this could have gone unchecked for years and it has set the standard others across Europe will have to follow”.

Dr Wall said dealers stood to make vast profits if they swapped horse meat for beef. “Beef sells for around €4 a kilo while horse meat costs no more than 90 cent,” he said. “So what we are seeing here is fraud on an absolutely huge scale. And the people behind this fraud would have been making enormous sums of money.”

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