Iceland boss apologises for comment about 'the Irish'
Packets of Buitoni meat ravioli on a supermarket shelf in Madrid. Nestlé said its own tests found traces of horse DNA in its Buitoni beef ravioli and beef tortellini chilled pastas. Photograph: Reuters In this section
The chief executive of frozen foods supermarket chain Iceland has apologised for comments he made about “the Irish” in a current affairs programme on the horse meat scandal.
Malcolm Walker said he was deeply sorry if he caused offence with remarks he made to the BBC’s Panorama. He had suggested that DNA testing for horse meat on behalf of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) had been carried out in unaccredited labs.
“Iceland and our chief executive, Malcolm Walker, are deeply sorry for any offence caused by his TV interview last night,” a company spokesman said. “His comments were not intended to be disrespectful to the Irish people, including our many Irish customers, colleagues and suppliers, or to the Irish food safety authorities. We hold all of these in the very highest regard.”
Mr Walker had been asked to explain why Iceland burgers passed British tests for equine DNA but failed the Irish tests.
He replied: “Well, that’s the Irish, isn’t it?”
The FSAI rejected Mr Walker's comments and warned that any attempt to cast doubt on the veracity and robustness of DNA testing carried on its behalf is disingenuous, dishonest and untruthful.
“It is unprofessional that a vested interest would seek to undermine our position with misinformation and speculation," said chief executive Professor Alan Reilly said. “Science underpins all policies and actions undertaken by the FSAI.”
Two internationally recognised laboratories - Identigen in Dublin and Eurofins Laboratories in Germany - have been used by the FSAI to test for equine DNA.
Identigen’s test method is not an accredited method but the FSAI said the same results from the same set of samples were received from the accredited German lab.
The UK Food Standards Agency uses the Eurofins lab. Iceland, which was found to have burgers in stock which contained 0.1 per cent equine DNA, said it was grateful to the FSAI for initially publicising the horse meat scandal.
The supermarket said that since the contaminated quarter-pounders were taken off the shelves on January 15th there have been 84 tests on finished Iceland burgers and 54 tests on raw material samples, all of which have proved negative for equine DNA.
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said today the FSAI's DNA testing and “vigilance” exposed the horse meat issue and the State would “continue to show the way” on the matter.
Speaking to reporters today, Mr Coveney said work of the authority with his department had established the problem.
“I’d like to think that it was because of Ireland’s testing system and vigilance that this issue was exposed”, he said. Ireland would now “lead the way” to permanently incorporate DNA testing into food safety checks as well as looking at the horse passport issuing system, he said.
Mr Coveney said he suspected the problem had been going on a “bit longer” than when first discovered.
“Shipments of cheap beef trimmings have been coming into Ireland for a year or maybe more. But you can’t say with certainty unless you have the test to back that up,” he said.
Iceland said it accepted the authority “obtained valid test results from an accredited laboratory using a methodology that is commonly used in the burger industry elsewhere in the world”.
However, it pointed out that the head of the British Food Standards Authority told a House of Commons committee it was “not an accredited test” in the UK. The frozen food retailer also said it accepted “that equine contamination of 0.1 per cent is not acceptable, either to us or our customers”.
Earlier the Irish authority had hit back at criticisms of its DNA testing methods which Mr Walker had made to British trade publication the Grocer.
In a statement, it said a small segment of the retail sector was seeking to undermine the results “in an attempt to distance themselves from the scientifically sound results which have implications for their product”.
The authority said the DNA tests were conducted by two internationally recognised laboratories – Identigen in Dublin and Eurofins laboratories in Germany.
The authority noted that the recently proposed EU testing regime used a 1 per cent limit as a cut-off point but said the finding of 0.1 per cent in Iceland’s case was “still relevant and should of itself trigger investigation”.
Food Safety Authority of Ireland chief executive Prof Alan Reilly said it was “unprofessional that a vested interest would seek to undermine our position with misinformation and speculation”. He also said some UK media reports were claiming that the authority did the survey after receiving a tip-off. “The FSAI again states that there is no truth in this whatsoever; the survey was undertaken as part of our routine monitoring.”
Meanwhile, Greencore resumed production at its Bristol plant yesterday, after horse DNA was discovered in a sauce produced at the facility.