A MAJOR food processor at the centre of the supermarket horsemeat scandal yesterday pledged to roll out strict DNA testing of its products in future.
The ABP Food Group, one of the largest suppliers and processors in Europe, vowed to “restore consumer confidence” as it faces an investigation by authorities over the presence of horsemeat in economy beefburgers.
Asda became the latest supermarket to pull frozen beefburgers from its shelves as a precautionary measure after tests revealed that certain products contained elements of horse and pig DNA. Retailers have withdrawn million of burgers since the news emerged on Tuesday.
The move came as Prime Minister David Cameron described the sale of such meat as “completely unacceptable,” and stressed that supermarkets had to take responsibility for the origin of products on their shelves.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) found low levels of horse in beef products sold in Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, Iceland and Dunnes stores. Burger products which tested positive for horse DNA were produced by Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods in Ireland and one UK plant, Dalepak Hambleton. The latter two firms are subsidiaries of ABP.
Suppliers in the Netherlands and Spain have been identified as the possible sources for incorrectly labelled ingredients.
A spokesman for ABP said: “We take this matter extremely seriously and apologise for the understandable concern this issue has caused.
“ABP Food Group companies have never knowingly bought, handled or supplied equine meat products and we acknowledge the understandable concern created as a result of the FSAI’s DNA frozen beef burger test results. We are shocked by the result of these tests.”
The company said it had sent auditors to two supplier sites in continental Europe for “unannounced spot checks”. Results from ABP’s own DNA tests are due in several days.
The spokesman said: “While extensive and thorough safety checks are conducted on all meat products, the industry does not routinely DNA test meat products. As a result of this incident, we are implementing a new testing regime which will include DNA analysis.”
Liffey Meats said it believed horse DNA was originally contained in raw ingredients marked “bovine only” and supplied by an EU-approved factory. It said the traces of horse in three of its products were minute.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Cameron said there needed to be a full investigation, adding that the Food Standards Agency was looking into the situation.
He told the House of Commons: “They [the Food Standards Agency] have made clear there is no risk to public safety because there is no food safety risk, but this is a completely unacceptable state of affairs.”
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s agriculture and food minister, said: “There’s no health issue here. But I’m not comfortable eating horse meat like lots of others … The issue is if someone has consumed a burger and something was in that burger that they did not know about.”
COMPANIONS, NOT INGREDIENTS
EATING horse meat has not always been taboo in Britain and it is still popular in many parts of the world.
The practice is not illegal in the UK, although for cultural reasons it fell out of fashion in the 1930s and most of the tiny amount of horse that is consumed in this country is brought in from the south of France.
Humans have eaten horse for millennia, with its proponents saying it is sweet, tender and low in fat. But in many parts of the West, an aversion to eating companion animals has seen a move away from eating horse.
Mankind’s relationship with horses, working alongside them as well as using them for recreation, has in large part led to them being seen as companions, rather than ingredients, with many as opposed to the consumption of horse meat as they would about eating dogs.
However, in other parts of the world it is a major part of the staple diet. In France, specialist butchers’ shops operated to solely sell horse meat, and it is now sold in supermarkets.
It is also popular in Central Asia, where horse meat has been part of nomadic people’s culture for thousands of years.