Horse DNA found in third of burger products surveyed


The presence of horse DNA has been found in more than one third of beef burger products tested in a study by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. Pig DNA was found in 85 per cent of the beef burgers tested.

The Food Safety Authority (FSAI) said it conducted the study to examine the authenticity of a number of beef burger, beef meal and salami products available in retail outlets.

Of the 27 beef burger products analysed, ten, or 37 per cent, tested positive for horse DNA. The beef burger products which tested positive for horse DNA were produced by two Irish plants, Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods and by Dalepak Hambleton in the UK.

They were on sale in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Lidl, Aldi and Iceland.

The level of horse DNA in a Tesco Everyday Beef Burger indicated that horsemeat accounted for approximately 29 per cent relative to the beef content. In the other nine beef burger samples, horse DNA was found at very low levels.

The samples were taken from: Aldi’s Oakhurst Beef Burgers; St Bernard Beef Burgers and Flamehouse Chargrilled Quarter Pounders from Dunnes Stores; Lidl’s Moordale Beef Burgers, Moordale Ultimate Beef Burgers and Moordale Quarter Pounders; Tesco’s Beef Quarter Pounders; and Iceland Quarter Pounders.

Some 23 beef burger products, or 85 per cent, tested positive for pig DNA. Some 31 beef meal products such as cottage pie, beef curry pie and lasagne were also analysed and 21 were positive for pig DNA. No traces of horse DNA were found in these products.

All 19 salami products analysed tested negative for horse DNA. Traces of horse DNA were also detected in batches of raw ingredients, including some imported from the Netherlands and Spain.

A statement on behalf of one of the plants involved, Liffey Meats, said tonight that Liffey Meats had withdrawn from sale all products identified by the FSAI tests.

"The FSAI tests found minute traces of non-beef DNA in the company’s beef burgers. The company believes it has identified the source of the contamination. Liffey Meats is purely a beef processor and has absolute traceability on all of the beef used.

"The source of the contamination is imported ingredients, and these will be replaced from other sources before production is resumed and customers are supplied."

The company regretted any of its products "would not conform to the highest specifications, and sincerely apologise to our customers”.

FSAI chief executive Prof Alan Reilly said he was working with the meat processing plants and the Department of Agriculture to find out how horse DNA could have found its way into these products.

“The retailers have stated that they are removing all implicated batches from sale today. In addition, Silvercrest Foods has informed the FSAI that it is withdrawing all products from sale and replacing them with new products.”

He said the products identified as containing horse DNA and/or pig DNA did not pose any food safety risk and consumers should not be worried but it still raised concerns. He said there was a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA in these products because meat from different animals was processed in the same meat plants but “there is no clear explanation at this time for the presence of horse DNA in products emanating from meat plants that do not use horsemeat in their production process.

“In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger. Likewise, for some religious groups or people who abstain from eating pig meat, the presence of traces of pig DNA is unacceptable,” he said.

Minister for Food Simon Coveney has said a full investigation into the matter by his department is under way, following from “confirmation of the results of a FSAI snapshot survey to examine the authenticity of the ingredients declared in the labelling of some beef-based products retailing in Ireland”.

His statement noted the FSAI “has made clear that there is no food safety implication" to the finding, although it does raise concerns about the proper labelling and sourcing of food ingredients.

“The Minister confirmed that on receipt of this information from the FSAI, his department immediately commenced an investigation in the particular plant where the higher [unexpected DNA] findings were detected to determine the source of the equine products,” the statement said.

“That investigation is ongoing but is focusing on the individual ingredients used in the manufacture of the affected batch. A number of these individual ingredients were imported into the State. The Minister stated that to date there was no evidence from the investigation being conducted to show that the manufacturer knowingly brought in equine meat for use in the production of these burgers.”

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on food Éamon Ó Cuív called on Mr Coveney to ascertain exactly how traces of horse DNA was found in burgers from two meat processing plants.

He called on the Minister to reassure consumers this is not a widespread practice in the industry.

“There needs to be a requirement that all meat sold in this country and sourced abroad is 100 per cent traceable,” he said. “We need to know exactly what happened and measures must be put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

The FSAI operates an advice line on 1890 33 66 77 from 9am to 5pm.