Horsemeat in burgers

Horsemeat in burger scandal grabs massive UK media attention

An unlikely headline hogger, but news that horse DNA has been found in burgers sold by four major supermarket chains operating in Britain – Aldi, Iceland, Lidl and Tesco – and sold in the UK and Ireland, has drawn massive media coverage.

A similar recent exposé in SA by consumer columnist Wendy Knowler, based on a study by Dr Donna Cawthorn, a food scientist with the University of Stellenbosch and presented at a SAAFoST meeting in Cape Town in mid-December 2012, registered hardly a media blip.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), which made the discovery, said the burgers were produced by two meat processing plants in Ireland, Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods, and by the Dalepak Hambleton plant in the UK.

In nine of the 10 burger samples from the four retailers, and from the Irish chain Dunnes Stores, horse DNA was found at very low levels. However, in one sample, Tesco Everyday Value Beef Burgers, the level of positive DNA indicated horsemeat accounted for 29% relative to the beef content. Many of them were also found to contain pig DNA.

The FSAI said the retailers have agreed to remove all implicated batches from sale.

Prof Alan Reilly, chief executive of the FSAI, said that 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 added.

“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.”

The 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.

The FSAI and the British Food Standards Agency, which launched its own investigation yesterday, have both said that eating horsemeat was normally safe, but the discovery raised concerns about the integrity of the food system – where traceability is viewed as essential as a result of the BSE crisis in the UK in the 1990s.

Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London, one of the country’s foremost food experts, said: “So far as we know, there are no safety implications, but it does raise deep concerns. Firstly, is it fraud?  No label declared the horsemeat or traces of pig DNA.

“Secondly, it appears to be adulteration, a cheaper meat being substituted for a more expensive one. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, this exposes failings in commercial food governance.

“Big retailers are supposedly in control of the food system, yet their management and contracts and specifications have been found wanting. If I was on their boards of directors I’d want an overhaul of their commercial governance on meat products.”

Michael Walker, a consultant at international food analysts LGC, said human error could have been to blame for the adulteration given that horsemeat was a legitimate part of the supply chain on the Continent, where traditional recipes for salami and salami-type products sometimes included wild boar, horse and donkey.

He added: “However, given the financial climate, it is also possible that fraud – including cheaper meats to ‘bulk up’ the main constituent meat product – is involved.”

He went on: “If fraud was involved there is a risk that those checks were ignored, resulting in unknown possibilities of microbiological and chemical hazards such as food poisoning and veterinary drug residues.”….

The Guardian: Read more

The Independent: Read more

Just some of the articles on the topic from The Guardian alone:

Food blog: Would you eat horsemeat?

Horsemeat-in-burgers scandal prompts food hygiene fears

Horses and burgers bring bad memories for Tories

Tesco and the horsemeat scandal: answers needed quickly

Video Tesco boss responds to discovery of horsemeat in burgers – video

Tesco takes burgers off shelves after horse DNA found

Horse meat scandal wipes £300m off Tesco’s market value

Horse DNA in beefburgers: what has happened, where and how

Would you eat horsemeat?

Debate of the day: is it wrong to eat horsemeat?

Horsemeat burgers: the best and worst jokes

Editorial: In praise of … the horse