Silvercrest says sorry after loss of contracts with two supermarket chains


Silvercrest Foods apologised yesterday and acknowledged that it had breached the trust of one of its major customers, the Tesco supermarket chain.

“The ABP Food Group [parent of Silvercrest] has developed a very strong business – based on trust. We have let our customers down in this incident and we apologise for this,” the company said in a statement.

Silvercrest, which is based in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, was responding to the loss yesterday of two frozen burger contracts, with Tesco and the Co-operative Group, who said they would no longer source product from the plant.

The Co-operative Group said its independent tests had found 17.7 per cent horse DNA in one sample of a burger supplied by Silvercrest Foods. Traces of less than 1 per cent DNA were found in three other samples.

A spokeswoman for Co-operative said the supermarket chain was taking the matter very seriously.

She said the supermarket group had specified that all meat in its frozen burgers should be 100 per cent British “but we now strongly believe that some of the meat used to produce these burgers came from outside the UK and was not British in origin, and as a result we have taken the decision to delist Silvercrest as a supplier with immediate effect”.

Tesco group technical director Tim Smith said its investigations had found that Silvercrest had used meat in Tesco products that did not come from its list of approved suppliers.

Expression of regret

“Consequently we have decided not to take products from Silvercrest in future. We took that decision with regret but the breach of trust is simply too great.”

Mr Smith also said Tesco was introducing a comprehensive system of DNA testing across its meat products to ensure this could not happen again.

Department of Agriculture investigations have concluded that Polish beef product was the source of the horse meat in the Silvercrest burgers.

Labour’s Seanad spokeswoman on agriculture Susan O’Keeffe said many questions remained unanswered.

“I want to know the name of the Polish company which supplied this product,” she said.

“I want to know why horse meat was put into boxes which were apparently labelled ‘beef trim’, and specifically I want to know how much Silvercrest paid for these boxes of ‘beef trim’ and if they paid below market price for the meat.”

Ms O’Keeffe is a former journalist who worked on the ITV World in Action programme which investigated practices in the Irish meat industry. She had been threatened with prison for refusing to reveal her sources.

Committed to Ireland

Tesco Ireland chief executive Tony Keohane said Tesco remained committed to the Irish food and drink industry and would continue to be the largest buyer of Irish food in the world. “Our buying of Irish beef amounts to €177 million a year and will continue,” he said and pointed out that Tesco would continue to buy fresh Irish beef worth more than €100 million a year from other ABP companies.

However, ICMSA president John Comer accused Tesco of being “more than a little hypocritical and disingenuous” in its response to the burger crisis.

He said the ultimate fault for this scandal and most of the preceding ones lay squarely at the door of the “cheaper and cheaper food” policy that had been adopted by Europe’s biggest supermarket chains.

Mr Comer said Tesco and other retail multiples seemed to be content to shrug final responsibility for food safety on to the people behind them in the supply chain. He said these suppliers were operating under margins that Tesco effectively dictated and which were often below the costs of production.

ABP said it understood Tesco’s decision to stop sourcing from Silvercrest Foods but welcomed the decision to continue sourcing fresh beef from other ABP companies.

Vital lessons

Its chief executive, Paul Finnerty, said: “We have learnt important lessons from this incident and we are determined to ensure that this never happens again.”