Poland to investigate horse DNA source

Sun, Jan 27, 2013, 00:00

Authorities in Poland are to begin an investigation into how traces of horse DNA found its way into burgers made by Silvercrest Foods, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said today.

It was revealed last night that Polish ingredients were the likely source of horse meat found at 29 per cent in a Tesco burger made at the Silvercrest plant, which is owned by the ABP Food Group.

Three burgers produced since the start of January by Silvercrest Foods had tested positive for horse DNA, at levels of seven per cent, 3.6 per cent and 1.2 per cent, relative to beef content.

Mr Coveney said the burger which had seven per cent horse DNA contained a significant amount of Polish ingredients and when that raw material was tested, it contained 4.1 per cent horse DNA.

The other burgers also contained the Polish material which he described as a beef product made from low value cuts and trimmings. The raw ingredients that went into the burger with 29 per cent horse meat are no longer available as that burger was produced in November.

Speaking on RTÉ radio this afternoon, the Minister said he had been speaking with his counterparts in Poland, who confirmed an investigation would be undertaken.

“We have tested about 150 samples of ingredients and burgers, and all of the ingredients that came from Irish sources and British sources have tested absolutely clean of any equine DNA,” Mr Coveney said.

“The fact that this problem was effectively imported from another member state, in this case Poland, is in some ways I think a vindication of the Irish food industry, and also sends a very strong signal as to the strength of regulatory regime, in terms of testing and inspection.”

Mr Coveney said he had spoken “at length” with senior representatives from Tesco and Burger King, which said last week it was replacing Silvercrest Foods as its supplier.

“I am working with ABP to try to reassure those customers because they are very big customers for the Irish beef industry,” he said.

“We have a commitment from ABP that in the future they will source all product for the Silvercrest plant from Ireland and the UK. They will change management at that plant, that they will remove all existing product from that plant and either destroy it or put it in cold storage somewhere else, so we will have a clean plant that has been sanitised.

“Most importantly, there is agreement that we will have permanent supervision in that plant indefinitely into the future until we can give the kind of consumer reassurance that is necessary over time to rebuild faith and trust in that plant.”

A statement from ABP last night confirmed that a new management team would be appointed to the facility and said ABP had undertaken a group reorganisation.

“With immediate effect responsibility for the Silvercrest business will transfer to ABP Ireland - the Irish chilled beef division. The sister business in the UK, Dalepak Foods, will come under the immediate control of ABP UK - the UK chilled beef business.”

A statement from Tesco welcomed the news and said the findings correlated with the results of its own investigations at the plant. “We will give detailed consideration to all the findings during next week,” the statement said.

Burger King also welcomed the confirmation that no horse DNA was found in tests of its products.

“We want to apologise to our guests who may have been concerned by the news of a breach at one of our suppliers and we will dedicate ourselves to determining where the breakdown occurred, what lessons can be learned and what additional measures should be taken to ensure that we always provide our guests the high quality products they expect from us,” the statement said.

IFA president John Bryan said these results should “provide the necessary reassurance to consumers and buyers about the integrity and reputation of Irish-produced food”.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association president Gabriel Gilmartin said farmers had been let down by industry.

“There are now serious questions to be asked about why Polish ingredients were going into Irish beef burgers even though Ireland is the largest exporter of beef in the Northern hemisphere," he said.

“ICSA welcomes the new stringent terms that will apply but Irish farmers will feel very let down by what has happened. The Department must learn the lesson that there has been too much focus on farms and not enough on meat processors.”

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