No DNA tests performed on burgers in Britain


British food safety inspectors do not carry out the type of DNA checks that led the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to pinpoint the presence of horse meat in beef burgers.

The UK Food Standards Agency yesterday met the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and industry representatives amid fears that the scandal could badly hit meat sales in coming weeks.

“In all but one the levels of horse and pig DNA were extremely low. In the one exceptional case, the level of horse meat accounted for 29 per cent of the meat content.

“The causes of these two problems are therefore likely to be different,” said the authority.

Budget cuts

However, the British Labour Party and one of the UK’s largest trade unions blamed budget cuts in trading standards and meat hygiene services for the British food agency’s failure to spot that beef burgers partly made with horse meat had been on sale in Tesco, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland.

Inspections of meat plants are down by a quarter in the UK, Unison claimed, while prosecutions for breaches of trading standards have fallen by nearly a third. “The public deserve to have confidence in the products they buy,” said union official Karen Jennings.

The Dalepak Foods plant in Yorkshire, owned by ABP, could face charges under sections 14 and 15 of the Food Safety Act 1990 for selling food “which is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the consumer”.

“Consumers do not expect horse meat in beef burgers and for those who wish to avoid pig meat the description and labelling of the food must be accurate and honest to allow them to do so,” said former British government scientist Michael Walker.

No public safety threat

However, scientists repeatedly emphasised that no public safety threat existed.

“There is nothing inherently unhealthy about eating horse meat and it is commonly eaten in other parts of Europe and around the world,” said University of Liverpool’s Dr Paul Wigley.

Dr Emma Roe of the University of Southampton said cheap burgers are always produced from “frozen pieces of less- desired animal body parts from potentially various parts of the world” and then turned “into burgers, sausages, nuggets”.

Dr David Jukes, a food law expert at the University of Reading, said the food industry tried “to ensure 100 per cent compliance but it is not possible to guarantee this at all times – the costs through testing would be prohibitive”.