Horse Meat in Beef Burgers

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I welcome the fact that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland  has moved quickly to clarify that the results of the survey on beef burgers does not pose a public health risk and this is not a food safety issue. 

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine and the FSAI are working closely to identify exactly how this situation occurred. On receipt of the laboratory results from the FSAI the Department commenced a full scale investigation. The priority is to ensure the source of this problem is uncovered and appropriate action is taken to ensure that there is no question mark about the quality of beef products from Ireland. 

The investigation is focussing on the individual ingredients used in the manufacture of the affected batch. A number of these individual ingredients were imported into the State. There is no evidence from the investigation being conducted to show that the manufacturer knowingly brought in equine meat for use in the production of these burgers.  
Ireland is one of the safest food sources in the world. Because we export 80% of our produce our reputation for safety and quality is important. This is why we have farm to shelf traceability of our foodstuffs and the inputs that go into producing that food. We also test constantly and we are one of the few countries in the world that use DNA profiling to identify contamination of food samples.

Samples of pork and horsemeat have been found in beef burgers in Aldi, Lidl, Tesco, Dunnes Stores and Iceland. The companies that supplied them with the burgers claim that it was caused by imported filling agents used in burgers.

Cheap burgers are made with mechanically recovered meat from parts of the cow that has few other uses. Bread crumbs and salt are added before it is pumped with water to create more bulk. Chemicals are added to increase the volume of water as well as filling agents and rusk. The recent tests suggest that cheaper meats have also been used such as pork and horsemeat.

Although burgers can be labeled as 100 per cent Irish (or British) beef the only thing 100 per cent may be the origin of the beef. The product itself may contain as little as 60 per cent actual beef. Fat is considered beef as well (providing it is bovine fat) and this can be included at up to 50 per cent in the cheaper burgers.

The burgers tested were in large multiple supermarkets. Who knows what the smaller stores are using. Also worth testing will be those restaurants, fast food outlets and mobile food vans who may be tempted to cut corners with very cheap product. If it is sourced from Irish factories we can assume it will be subject to intense scrutiny. However, the same cannot be said for burgers imported from other countries. The real lesson from the horseburger affair is that the best burger is the one you make yourself.

Further Information:

  • The FSAI sampled 19 salami products, 31 beef meal products and 27 frozen burger products in a targeted survey on the authenticity of such products available from retail outlets in Ireland. 
  • The findings of the Laboratory tests, provided by the FSAI to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) on 14 January, revealed the presence of equine DNA in some beef burger products as well as trace or minute amounts of porcine DNA. 
  • The survey results showed the presence of equine DNA at a high level (29% of the meat content) in one particular sample of frozen burger. Detailed results below*. 
  • On receipt of the laboratory results, DAFM immediately initiated an investigation in the particular plant, which produced the burger showing the higher finding, to determine the source of the equine DNA. 
  • The investigation is focusing on the individual ingredients used in the manufacture of the affected batch. A number of these ingredients were imported into the State. To date there is no evidence to suggest that the manufacturer knowingly brought in equine meat for use in the production of the burgers but the investigation is ongoing. 
  • The FSAI published the findings of the survey on 15 January emphasising that there is no food safety risk. The FSAI also stated that the retailers (Tesco, Dunnes, Lidl, Aldi and Iceland), selling the products, were removing all the implicated batches from sale.

Detailed Results 

  • 31 beef meal products tested, 21showed trace/very low levels porcine DNA. All negative for equine DNA.
  • 19 salami products tested, all negative for equine DNA.
  • 27 beef burger products with 1 exception mentioned above, 10 trace /very low levels equine DNA, with 23 trace/very low levels porcine DNA.

o FSAI took first samples in mid November and were tested in Identigen (lab)
o FSAI at the end of November took re-samples
o Samples were sent to Germany to a laboratory in December
o DAFM, at the request of the FSAI on 21 December, assisted FSAI in taking samples of ingredients at some processing plants
o Results were received by the FSAI last Friday 11th January
o The Department was informed by the FSAI on Monday 14th January.
o FSAI provided DAFM with details of the sampling results at a meeting on 14 January (lunchtime) at which the implications were evaluated and discussed.
o Once FSAI had advised DAFM of the details of these sampling results, DAFM immediately commenced a full-scale investigation.

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