Plant suspends production after burgers test positive


Traces of horse DNA have been found in a sample of imported ingredients taken at the Silvercrest Foods plant in Co Monaghan this week. The plant has been at the centre of the controversy over horse meat in beef burgers.

The company said tonight it was temporarily suspending production at the Ballybay plant until the matter was resolved. Silvercrest employs some 150 workers, but the ABP Food Group, which owns the plant, said all staff would continue to be paid during the suspension of production.

The horse DNA was found in beef burgers tested by Department of Agriculture staff on Tuesday after the Food Safety Authority published its study which found traces of horse meat in burgers in ten samples.

Silvercrest Foods said this week’s production has not been released from the plant.The products which tested positive for equine DNA were manufactured at the Silvercrest plant between January 3rd and January 14th.

Of seven samples of raw ingredients tested, one, from another EU country, tested positive for equine DNA. All ingredient sourced from Irish suppliers tested negative for equine DNA, the Department of Agriculture Statement said.

Nine of the 13 samples of finished burgers tested  were positive for the presence of equine DNA, it said.

The tests will be sent to Germany to quantify the percentage of horse DNA present.

"Because equine DNA has been found in finished products tested this week, we have decided that the responsible course of action is to suspend all production at the Silvercrest plant in Co Monaghan with immediate effect," the company, APB food group, said in a statement.

"During the suspension of production, all staff will continue to be paid, and we will be working with the relevant authorities, management and supervisory team to complete our investigation," it said.

The tests were ordered by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney after it emerged that a Tesco Everyday Value beef burger made at the plant contained 29.1 per cent horse DNA, relative to meat content.

The finding emerged after the Food Safety Authority of Ireland analysed 27 frozen beef burger products. It found 10, or 37 per cent, tested positive for horse DNA. With the exception of the Tesco burger, the other samples showed horse DNA at very low levels, of 0.1 to 0.3 per cent.

Speaking today, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said Irish foodstuffs had been valued at more then €9 billion per year and he hoped the issues surrounding horse meat in burgers would be resolved quickly and comprehensively. “Because we are food producing country we pride ourselves on our grass based beef which has gained a great reputation around the world and we want to maintain that”.

“We are not going to any situation where there is any iota of doubt about the quality of an Irish product”, he said.

Burgers may be destroyed

At least 10 million beef burgers are being withdrawn from shops, and may be destroyed, due to the contamination.

Mr Coveney said products from the Netherlands and Spain added to processed burgers “seem to be the source” of the horse meat.

The story has been making headlines in newspapers and news websites globally. Spanish daily newspaper El País reported that Ireland had attributed the horse meat to Spain. The country is still smarting after Spanish cucumbers were wrongly blamed for the fatal E.coli outbreak in France and Germany in 2011.

Addressing the issue at a press conference in Strasbourg yesterday, Mr Kenny repeated assurances that there was no risk to human health as a result of the discovery of horse DNA in the burgers and he pointed out that horse meat was “widely consumed” across the EU.

He welcomed the investigation and said it was very important for Ireland’s reputation as we prided ourselves on having world-class beef.

The burgers were bought in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl. The tests also found pig DNA in 85 per cent of burgers tested.

Owned by Larry Goodman

Department of Agriculture staff began an investigation at Silvercrest Foods, which is owned by Larry Goodman’s ABP Food Group.

A British plant, Dalepak Hambleton, also part of the ABP group, was found to have produced Iceland quarter pounders containing traces of horse DNA.

Liffey Meats in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, was also found to have produced burgers with traces of horse DNA.

British prime minister David Cameron told MPs that “people in our country will have been very concerned to read this morning that when they thought they were buying beef burgers they were buying something that had horse meat in it”. He said this was “a completely unacceptable state of affairs” and the British food standards agency would work with companies to investigate the supply chain.

The British government said criminal prosecutions could follow the investigation.

But environment minister David Heath said standards were generally very high in the British food industry and backed the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) risk-based checking system.

Answering an urgent question from Labour’s shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh in the House of Commons, Mr Heath acknowledged the seriousness of the discovery.

He said: “It is very important neither you, nor anyone else in this House, talks down the British food industry at a time when the standards in that industry are of a very high level.

“Because something has been discovered in Ireland, which is serious, which may lead to criminal proceedings, does not undermine the very serious efforts which

are taken by retailers, by processors and by producers in this country to ensure traceability and ensure standards of food that are available to consumers.”

Sinn Féin's agriculture spokesman Martin Ferris called on Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney to respond to Mr Heath's statement.

“[Mr] Heath’s statement adds a new dimension to this whole business. Is the implication of what he says that the horsemeat was both criminally and knowingly imported with the knowledge of Irish or British based processors? It is important that the Minister comment on this given the cloud that currently hangs over the Irish beef processing industry. All information pertaining to the case must be made public," he said.

Writing in today’s Irish Times, Dr Patrick Wall, UCD’s associate professor of public health, said it was sad that at least 10 million frozen burgers were likely to be destroyed because horse DNA at a level of 29 per cent was found in one burger. He also said Ireland’s competitors were quick to criticise our controls and standards “yet few if any of them use similar testing technologies in their own supply chains”.

Supermarket giant Tesco has placed full-page adverts in a number of national newspapers apologising to customers for selling beef burgers containing horse meat. It has also promised to refund customers who bought the contaminated products, and said sorry for the “unacceptable” situation.

Additional reporting: PA

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