Expert warns over horse DNA
The British government cannot be sure there is no safety risk from supermarket beef products that have been found to contain horse DNA, the head of the UK's leading official food control laboratory has warned.
Responding to the growing scandal over the contamination of burgers with horse and pig meat, which saw the first of the factories at the heart of the row close its production lines on Friday, the former president of the association of public analysts, Dr Duncan Campbell, said: "All we know is it is not a beefburger. What is it? We don't know. Why was it picked up in Ireland and not the UK, and how long has it been going on? Until we know what the source is of the 'horse' or 'something derived from horse' that has been found in the beef products, we cannot be sure there is no food safety risk."
Dr Campbell is the chief public analyst for West Yorkshire and a leading expert on the quality of meat. He will carry out some of the testing as the official investigation into the horsemeat scandal develops.
He said that it was "a reflex" for the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) to say there was no food safety aspect to scandals of this sort, despite the fact that the law has clearly been broken, which may also mean that it has been broken in other ways.
Dr Campbell questioned whether raw materials could be coming from slaughterhouses that were not approved for processing meat for human consumption, or from unfit horses destined for the knacker's yard but which had instead ended up in the human food chain.
There could also be risks around residues of medicines used for sick animals but not considered safe for the human food chain, he added.
The official investigation into how large numbers of beef products on sale in the UK and Ireland came to contain horse and pig DNA is now focusing on imported ingredients added to cheap burgers.
Industry insiders have told the Guardian they believe that an ingredient called "drind", dehydrated rind or skin, may be at the heart of the scandal. It is commonly used to bulk up cheap meat products.
Additives made from boiled hide or off-cuts of carcasses are typically used to bind in added fat and water and increase the protein levels of economy beef products that have a low meat content. These may legally be identified simply as "seasoning" on the label.
How long the adulteration and contamination discovered by the Irish authorities and now being investigated across the UK this week has been going on is not known.
Trading standards officers in the UK only began testing samples this week. They have taken samples to test for horse or pig DNA from the Dalepak plant in North Yorkshire owned by ABP, the Irish meat processing giant that supplied Tesco with the affected burgers. Results are expected shortly.