Coveney receives burger test results

Fri, Jan 25, 2013, 00:00

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said 24 preliminary results from beef burger samples were received by his department last night from a laboratory in Germany and were sent to an Irish laboratory for analysis.

They are not expected to be ready until tomorrow at the earliest.

The results will shed more light on the horse meat content of burgers produced by Silvercrest Foods, the plant at the centre of the burger controversy. Last week a Food Safety Authority of Ireland study found a burger produced by the ABP-owned facility in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, contained 29 per cent horse DNA, relative to meat content.

New samples were taken last week from burgers produced at the plant before that study was published. Preliminary results found horse DNA in one sample of raw ingredients out of seven samples tested.

Ingredients from that sample came from abroad. Of the 13 finished burgers tested, horse DNA was found in nine samples. The positive samples were sent to Germany to quantify the percentage of horse DNA present and those results returned last night.

The ABP Food Group is carrying out its own investigation into the incident and has not issued any findings yet.

Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív said Mr Coveney had left many questions unanswered and that his comments had not brought "sufficient clarity or certainty to the situation".

"If there is some good reason for the Minister to be withholding information then he should come out and say so," he said. "All this vagueness has caused huge disquiet in the farming community and is putting the industry in jeopardy. This investigation has been on-going for two months now and this needs to be brought to a speedy conclusion. We need answers as soon as possible."

Responding to criticism over the length of time the investigation is taking, Mr Coveney said Silvercrest was a very large processing facility producing 20,000 tonnes of burgers a year from a wide range of ingredients. "The investigation is being carried out in a systematic fashion and this requires the correlation of all the information necessary to draw credible conclusions," he said.

His veterinary staff was carrying out extensive examination of records held at the plant with a view to identifying the list of ingredients used in the particular batch of burgers tested. Mr Coveney said the ingredients used in burgers could vary by batch and this further complicated the process of drawing conclusions.

"I am not prepared to draw any conclusion until I'm fully satisfied that such conclusions are supported by facts," he said. "In any food incident the emphasis is always on dealing with the matter thoroughly, promptly and as transparently as possible to ensure that consumer confidence in the integrity of Irish food production is maintained."

British supermarket Waitrose today became the latest retailer to pull beefburgers from its shelves as a result of the ongoing controversy. The company said it had taken frozen burgers made by Dalepak, one of the firms at the centre of the contamination investigation, off the shelves “as a precaution” when it had its accreditation suspended.

In a statement, Waitrose said its burgers had since been tested and were found to be 100 per cent beef. “As a consequence we are 100 per cent confident in the integrity of our supply chain,” it said.

Yesterday, Mr Coveney said it was no surprise Burger King had decided to replace Silvercrest Foods as its supplier as the facility was temporarily closed while investigations were continuing.

On Wednesday the fast-food chain said it was sourcing other approved suppliers to replace burgers produced by Silvercrest. It did not say whether this was a temporary arrangement. Neither would it say how much the contract was worth, although some reports have suggested it could be close to €30 million.

Additional reporting PA

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