Horse meat could have been used in beefburgers for years and was detected in chorizo a decade ago
- The Food Standards Agency does not test products for horse meat because it does not pose a risk to public health
- But the FSA found equine DNA in three out of 24 chorizo and pastrami products sold in 2003
- Scientists demand regular tests for meat products in supermarkets
- Sainsbury’s, Asda and Co-op have removed burgers as a precaution
- Fast food chain Burger King also drawn into the row
- Tesco has paid for full page apology in national newspapers today
- Government tells Commons there could be prosecutions over issue
- Food charity angry that 10million contaminated burgers will be binned, saying they should be handed for free instead
PUBLISHED: 05:23 EST, 17 January 2013 | UPDATED: 11:27 EST, 17 January 2013
Horse meat could have been in beefburgers for many years because of gaping holes in British food regulations, it emerged today.
The Food Standards Agency is under fire after it admitted testing is not routinely carried out because products laced with horse do not pose a risk to public health.
This is despite FSA scientists finding equine DNA in products sold in three out of 24 chorizo and pastrami products imported from Belgium and Italy and sold in Safeway in 2003.
There are now demands for products to be routinely analysed to ensure UK consumers know exactly what they are eating.
Tim Lang, a professor of food policy at City University in London said: ‘It could have been going on for years but we wouldn’t know about it because we have never conducted tests.
‘For too long we have had light-touch regulation. The Food Standards Agency has to be institutionalized into.’
Government Food Minister David Heath said today he backed the FSA’s regime.
‘The FSA carries out its duties in a responsible and professional way. They do take a risk-based approach to testing based on intelligence and I think they are right to do so because that is the way they get the most effective response,’ he told the Commons.
Two studies carried out in 2003 found evidence of imported processed meat containing traces of horse meat.
The first by local authorities in Hull, Durham, Northumberland, North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire found three out of 24 salamis contained horse meat. These gourmet products were imported from France and Belgium. Two products were found on sale at a branch of Safeway in Durham, and the other at a Leeds wholesaler.
A second larger research project by the Food Standards Agency found imported chorizo contained traces of horse meat.
Ten million beefburgers are being recalled in the scandal over horse meat contamination as more supermarkets and fast food chain Burger King were drawn into the row.
ABP, which is awaiting results of secondary testing ordered by the Department of Agriculture in Ireland due this evening, said it wants the food binned.
‘We have recommended that the withdrawn product is destroyed,’ the company said.
‘We do not have monetary figures for the product we have recommended be withdrawn, but can confirm it would total around 10 million burgers.’
The FSA has admitted that it is considering taking legal action against companies at the centre of the scandal.
The firms acted because the products were made by an Irish food giant which is known to have been supplying burgers contaminated with horse meat, with some at Tesco containing up to 29 per cent equine DNA.
Tesco has today placed full-page adverts in a number of national newspapers apologising to customers for selling beef burgers containing horse meat.
The supermarket giant has lost £300million off its market value in the last day.
It has also promised to refund customers who bought the contaminated products, identified as Tesco Everyday Value 8 x Frozen Beef Burgers (397g), Tesco 4 x Frozen Beef Quarter Pounders (454g), and a branded product, Flamehouse Frozen Chargrilled Quarter Pounders.
HORSE MEAT BURGER FIND COULD SPARK PROSECUTIONS
Criminal prosecutions could be brought following the discovery of horse meat in some supermarket beefburgers, the Government said today.
Environment minister David Heath (above right) said standards were generally very high in the British food industry and backed the Food Standards Agency’s risk-based checking system.
Answering an urgent question from Labour’s shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh in the Commons, Mr Heath acknowledged the seriousness of the discovery.
He said: ‘It is very important neither you, nor anyone else in this House, talks down the British food industry at a time when the standards in that industry are of a very high level.
‘Because something has been discovered in Ireland, which is serious, which may lead to criminal proceedings, does not undermine the very serious efforts which are taken by retailers, by processors and by producers in this country to ensure traceability and ensure standards of food that are available to consumers.’
Raising her urgent question, Ms Creagh said: ‘Consumers who avoid pork for religious reasons will be upset they may have unwittingly eaten it and eating horse is strongly culturally taboo in the United Kingdom.
‘It’s not illegal to sell horse meat but it is illegal not to label it correctly.
‘The food industry lobbies vigorously for a light-touch regulation system from Government. Testing, tracking and tracing ingredients is expensive but not testing will cost retailers, processors, British farmers and consumers much more.’
In the advertisement, entitled ‘We apologise’, Tesco says: ‘While the FSAI (Food Safety Authority of Ireland) has said that the products pose no risk to public health, we appreciate that, like us, our customers will find this absolutely unacceptable.’
It continues: ‘We have immediately withdrawn from sale all products from the supplier in question, from all our stores and online… We and our supplier have let you down and we apologise.’
The advert concludes: ‘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.’
The FSA said it would consult relevant local authorities and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) over whether to take action against any organisations embroiled in the controversy.
It also said it would try to further understand how the lower levels of horse and pig meat contamination took place and help to carry out a UK-wide study of food authenticity in meat products.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s Department of Agriculture is awaiting the results of further tests on meat products from the Silvercrest processing plant later today.
Officials expect the results to be made public this evening.
Irish politicians are also planning to grill representatives from the FSAI and Department of Agriculture at a parliamentary committee meeting next week.
Separately, Burger King confirmed it gets burgers from the same company. However, it said there has been an ‘absolute assurance’ that these are not contaminated.
Food watchdogs in the UK and Ireland are racing to establish whether products made for other retailers, take-aways and restaurants are contaminated.
The revelations have been met with anger and disgust, while the companies involved face prosecutions for misleading shoppers.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Question Time, David Cameron, said: ‘People in our country will have been very concerned to read this morning that when they thought they were buying beefburgers they were buying something with horse meat in it. This is a completely unacceptable state of affairs.’
He warned the stores involved, saying: ‘Ultimately retailers have to be responsible for what it is they sell and where it comes from.’
The alert was first raised by Irish food watchdogs earlier this week after horse DNA was found in burgers sold through Tesco, Iceland, Aldi, Lidl and Dunnes in Ireland.
DESTRUCTION OF 10M BURGERS IS WRONG – FOOD CHARITY
The destruction of up to 10 million burgers suspected of containing some levels of horse DNA is morally and ethically wrong, a charity has said.
The UK’s Food Ethics Council said any meat fit for human consumption could be offered to consumers for free.
Dan Crossley, chief executive of the charity, said: ‘It’s wrong to assume straight away that food that is apparently fit for human consumption should go to landfill – if it can be shown to be safe to eat.
‘From a moral and ethical perspective, the amount of food we throw away is nothing short of scandalous, particularly in a world where a billion people are going hungry.
‘We must learn to value the food we eat.’
One of Europe’s biggest suppliers and processors, the ABP Food Group, is among two firms being investigated by health and agriculture authorities in the UK and Ireland over the controversy.
The company said it has recommended destroying up to 10 million frozen burgers which have been withdrawn from shops.
‘Some people will have reservations about eating that meat as there’s the potential to have horse meat in it,’ Mr Crossley said.
‘If the decision was made that it could not be sold through normal channels, they could look at other options like giving it free to people if they wanted it.’
It subsequently emerged that burgers from the same batches were sold in the British outlets of both Tesco and Iceland. The beef content in one Everyday Value burger sold by Tesco was actually 29 per cent horse meat.
The tests were carried out in November but the results were not released until they had been checked by experts in Germany. It is likely that many thousands of the burgers contaminated with horse meat have been eaten by families.
Investigations are focusing on the role of Irish food company, ABP, which is run by controversial entrepreneur Larry Goodman.
ABP owns Silvercrest Foods, which supplied burgers containing horse meat to Tesco and Aldi. It also makes cheap burgers for Asda, Co-op and Burger King.
ABP also owns Dalepak, which is based in North Yorkshire and made suspect burgers for Iceland. It also produces 13 lines for Sainsbury’s.
Yesterday, ABP pointed the finger at a mystery ingredient used in the burgers – thought to be a protein powder – supplied by two foreign firms, one in the Netherlands and another in Spain.
The powder – used to bulk up cheap burgers – is supposed to be created from rendered down carcasses of beef animals.
The episode lifts the lid on some of the more distasteful elements and ingredients used to produce cheap food for families on a budget.
Professor Chris Elliott, director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University, Belfast said: ‘What goes into a burger is all the low quality cuts of meat that can’t be sold in any other form. They are at the bottom of the chain.’
The FSA will look at launching legal action with breaches of food labelling rules bringing fines up to £20,000 and a prison term of up to two years.
The Irish research also identified that a number of other beef products, such as ready meal cottage pies, contained pig meat that was not declared on the label. This has serious implications for the Muslim and Jewish communities who are forbidden from eating pork.
Tesco had no idea about the contamination and has apologised. Its group technical director, Tim Smith, said: ‘Our customers have the right to expect that food they buy is produced to the highest standards.’
Asda, Sainsbury’s and the Co-op all insisted there was no evidence their burgers contain horse meat. However, they decided to withdraw them because they come from firms which are known to have had this problem.
Sainsbury’s said: ‘Although our products have not been implicated, as our customers would expect we treat matters like this extremely seriously.’ Asda said: ‘As soon as we were made aware of the issue we launched a full traceability audit with our supplier.’
Co-op said it was removing two lines of frozen own-brand burgers while tests are carried out ‘to ensure they have been produced to our strict specifications’.
Burger King said it has been given ‘absolute assurance’ by ABP and Silvercrest that none of its burgers were affected. It said its burgers are produced with clean ingredients on a separate production line.