Horsemeat discovery leads Tesco, Iceland, Aldi and Lidl to withdraw beef products as investigations continue
The British and Irish governments, along with the two countries’ food safety watchdogs, are investigating whether suppliers in the Netherlands or Spain have played a part in the horsemeat scandal that has led to supermarkets clearing their shelves of some burger lines.
But David Cameron has warned British retailers that ultimately they are responsible for the safety and standards of their food supply chain.
Both equine and porcine DNA was found in Irish checks on meat samples at three processing plants – two in Ireland and one in Britain. The British meat industry has admitted the incidents could undermine confidence in its products while stressing assurances from Irish authorities that human health was not at risk.
But ministers are also acutely aware that the presence of traces of porcine DNA could also prove extremely upsetting given the dietary requirements of some of their populations.
Cameron told MPs on Wednesday: “This is a completely unacceptable state of affairs.” The Food Standards Agency would be working with companies with to investigate the supply chain.
“But it is worth making the point that ultimately retailers have to be responsible for what they sell and where it has come from.”
Tesco removed all frozen burger products from its shelves in Britain and Ireland as a precaution while Iceland, Lidl and Aldi made some withdrawals.
Two burger lines sold by Tesco in the UK were implicated, the Everyday Value and Beef Quarter Pounders products. In the first, the level of DNA indicated horsemeat accounted for 29% relative to the beef content. Porcine DNA was also found, and low levels of horse DNA were found in its second product. Both were supplied by an Irish processor, Silvercrest Foods, in County Monaghan.
Iceland, Lidl, and Aldi also withdrew burgers sold in the UK after horse DNA was found in 10 samples of frozen burgers sold in the UK and Ireland. The Aldi line that was found to contain both horse and pig DNA in the checks was sold only in Ireland but the company withdrew three UK lines as a precaution.
Lidl has also recalled batches of burgers. Only one of four products implicated in the checks was currently on sale on the British mainland, it said, although a second was still on sale in Northern Ireland. The other two were seasonal and had last been delivered to UK shops in June last year.
Asda, although not implicated in the tests, withdrew nine burger lines while it carried out checks on suppliers.
Ireland’s agriculture minister, Simon Coveney, said the traces of horsemeat probably originated in the Netherlands and Spain. The UK Food Standards Agency began its own investigations.
Tim Smith, Tesco’s group technical director, said it had withdrawn from sale all products from Silvercrest. He said: “We are working with the authorities in Ireland and the UK, and with the supplier concerned, to urgently understand how this has happened and how to ensure it does not happen again. We will not take any products from this site until the conclusion and satisfactory resolution of an investigation.
“The safety and quality of our food is of the highest importance to Tesco. We will not tolerate any compromise in the quality of the food we sell. The presence of illegal meat in our products is extremely serious. Our customers have the right to expect that food they buy is produced to the highest standards.”
A spokeswoman for the company said that all own-brand frozen burgers had been taken off the shelves.
Iceland said it had withdrawn the two quarter-pounder burger lines implicated in the study, processed at Dalepak Hambleton near Northallerton, north Yorkshire, pending further investigations. “Iceland will be working closely with its suppliers to investigate this issue and to ensure that all Iceland brand products meet the high standards of quality and integrity that we specify and which our customers are entitled to expect,” it said.
Aldi said it was withdrawing three products from sale in the UK as a “purely precautionary measure” while it conducted further investigations. These were Frozen Oakhurst 100% Beef Quarter Pounders, Frozen Specially Selected Aberdeen Angus Quarter Pounders and Frozen Oakhurst Burgers 16 pack. The product tested in Ireland – Oakhurst Beef Burgers (8 Pack) – was not on sale in Aldi UK stores.
“Any customers who wish to return the products in question will receive an immediate refund,” it said. “No other Aldi products are affected by this issue.”
Lidl said: “We understand the implications of porcine DNA being found in products where this is not specified and would like to apologise for any distress this may have caused our customers. We would like to assure our customers that we are taking this matter extremely seriously and are conducting thorough investigations into this matter.”
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), which made the discovery, said the burgers were produced by Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods in Ireland and Dalepak Hambleton in the UK.
The British Meat Processing Association said it was “very concerned” at the test results.
Its director, Stephen Rossides, said: “The great bulk of food products, including meat and meat products, are safe, produced to good quality standards and correctly described and labelled by food manufacturers. UK consumers can trust the food they buy.
“But this episode – rare and unusual though it is – undermines consumer confidence and trust in the meat industry, and causes reputational damage to it.
“We must get to the bottom of what went wrong and why, and how such an incident can be prevented in the future.”
Coveney said it was “totally unacceptable” almost a third of the meat content of a burger could be horsemeat, But there was no evidence from the investigation to date to show that a manufacturer had knowingly brought in horsemeat for use in the burgers.
“We pride ourselves in Ireland in having one of the best traceability systems in the world, in terms of where our meat comes from, and with having the best safety system in food in terms of inspections in these factories in the world,” he said.
The department of agriculture in Dublin had taken new samples from the Silvercrest plant and results would be available within 48 hours, he said.
Liffey Meats, in Cavan, said it sincerely regretted that any product produced by the company would fail to conform to the highest specifications, and it apologised to its customers. Silvercrest, a subsidiary of ABP Foods, said it was pulling products from sale and replacing them with new lines. It suspected European suppliers of being the source of the horse DNA. “Following tests carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, we have been alerted to frozen beefburgers which contain porcine and equine DNA,” said a spokesman.
“Although the products pose no risk to public health, Silvercrest has taken immediate action to isolate, withdraw and replace all suspect product. Silvercrest has never purchased or traded in equine product and has launched a full-scale investigation into two continental European third-party suppliers who are the suspected source of the product in question.”
Horse DNA was at very low levels in nine of the 10 products where it was found. Products sold in Ireland only by Aldi and by Dunnes were also implicated.
The FSAI said the retailers agreed to remove all implicated batches from sale. Professor Alan Reilly, its chief executive, said while the findings posed no risk to health they did raise concerns. “The products we have identified as containing horse DNA and/or pig DNA do not pose any food safety risk and consumers should not be worried,” he asaid. “Consumers who have purchased any of the implicated products can return them to their retailer.
“While there is a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA in these products, due to the fact that meat from different animals is processed in the same meat plants, there is no clear explanation at this time for the presence of horse DNA in products emanating from meat plants that do not use horsemeat in their production process.”
He said it was not part of Irish culture to eat horsemeat. He said: “We do not expect to find it in a burger; likewise, for some religious groups or people who abstain from eating pig meat, the presence of traces of pig DNA is unacceptable.”
In all, FSAI analysed 27 beef burger products with best-before dates from last June to March 2014, with 10 of the 27 products – 37% – testing positive for horse DNA and 85% testing positive for pig DNA.
A total of 31 beef meal products such as cottage pie, beef curry pie and lasagne were tested, with 21 found to be positive for pig DNA. All were negative for horsemeat.
Another 19 salami products were tested but showed no signs of horse DNA. The FSAI analysis also found traces of horse DNA in batches of raw ingredients, including some imported from the Netherlands and Spain.
Tesco – Everyday Value Beef Burgers (equine and porcine DNA), Beef Quarter Pounders (equine DNA).
Lidl – Moordale Beef Burgers, Moordale Quarter Pounders, Moordale Ultimate Beef Burgers (equine and porcine). Moordale Fresh Beef Quarter Pounders (porcine).
Iceland – Iceland Quarter Pounders (two batches, both equine and porcine DNA).