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The international community has been in an uproar this week following the announcement by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland that traces of both horse and pig DNA were found in several beef burger products in the country.
According to the FSAI, of the 27 beef burger products that were tested, 10 of those tested positive for horse DNA and 23 tested positive for pig DNA. In addition, traces of horse DNA were detected in batches of raw ingredients, some of which had been imported from The Netherlands and Spain.
While it doesn’t appear that this incident will have a direct effect on retail beef suppliers here in the United States, it does raise some concerns about the actual “traceability” of the type of ingredients that go into making your favorite cheeseburger. Although horse meat is eaten in different parts of the world, it is certainly not a typical protein here in the US. Furthermore, the fact that the horse meat contained in the burgers was undeclared poses an even bigger ethical and religious issue.
“This raises concerns in relation to the traceability of meat ingredients and products entering the food chain,” says the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
The beef burger products that tested positive for horse DNA were produced by two processing plants, Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods in Ireland and Dalepak Hambleton in the UK. The affected products were on sale in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Lidl, Aldi, and Iceland. Nine of ten samples from the aforementioned retailers showed that horse DNA was found at very low levels. However, in one sample from a product at multinational grocer Tesco, it is estimated that horse meat accounted for approximately 29% of the burger.
The FSAI has stated that the products identified as containing either horse or pig DNA do not pose any food safety risks. However, some people are wondering if they don’t know how the horse meat got into the burgers, then how can they be sure the meat is fit for consumption? In the Frequently Asked Questions portion of their website, FSAI addressed this concern by saying that the burgers that did test positive for horse DNA were then tested for the presence of phenylbutazone and the results were negative.
“Whilst, 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,” says Prof. Alan Reilly, Chief Executive, FSAI. “In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger.”
Tesco, one of the grocers affected by this scandal, has issued a public apology on its website after the news broke earlier this week that three frozen beef products were found to have contained horse meat. The products include Tesco Everyday Value 8 x Frozen Beef Burgers (397g), Tesco 4 x Frozen Beef Quarter Pounders (454g), and Flamehouse Frozen Chargrilled Quarter Pounders.
The website statement confirms that Tesco has immediately withdrawn all products from the suspected supplier in all of their stores and online. If patrons have any of these products in their possession, they can be returned to any Tesco store and a full refund will be processed even if there is no receipt and only the packaging remains.
“We and our supplier have let you down and we apologize. If you have any concerns, you can find out how to contact us at the bottom of this page, or go to any of our Customer Service Desks in store, or ask to speak to your Store Manager. So here’s our promise. We will find out exactly what happened and, when we do, we’ll come back and tell you. And we will work harder than ever with all our suppliers to make sure this never happens again.”- Tesco
Click here to view a table of the results of the beef burger study.
Click here to view frequently asked questions from the FSAI.