“The causes of these two problems are therefore likely to be different…”

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland is conducting further tests at two Irish meat processing factories following the recent identification of pig and horse DNA in a range of beef-based products.  The UK’s Food Standards Agency is also investigating further.  And there’s been a statement from the Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister, Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill.

Commenting on the Food Safety Authority of Ireland findings of horse DNA which been found in a range of meat products, Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill said: “I support the efforts of the FSAI and the FSA to identify how equine DNA product has been incorporated in these products. However, I have no reason to believe that this is other than an isolated instance or that there are issues with beef processing in the north. I understand associated product has been withdrawn from supermarket shelves in the north.”

The Minister added: “We have an excellent beef processing industry, which meets the highest standards of hygiene, traceability and quality. It is founded on the long tradition in the north of grass fed beef from identified family owned farms.

“Our beef is second to none and consumers should have every confidence in the supply chain here. Much of our beef carried the Farm Quality Assured label giving further confidence. I would encourage local consumers to continue to support our industry and continue to buy and consume local produce.”

[Partitionist! – Ed]  And somewhat missing the point…  As Mark Hennessy noted in the Irish Times, inspectors for the UK’s Food Standards Agency “do not carry out the type of DNA checks that led the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to pinpoint the presence of horse meat in beef burgers.”  Nor pig. 

As the Guardian reported from the Commons today

[Labour’s environment spokeswoman, Mary Creagh] said there was “understandable” public anger about supermarkets selling food which was not properly labelled. “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 horsemeat but it is illegal not to label it correctly.

“Customers must have the confidence the food they buy is correctly labelled, legal and safe. The UK is part of a global food supply chain,” she said.

“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.”

She said ministers should consider introducing DNA testing of meat products – a move the Guardian understands is now being prepared by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) – and suggested the loss of 700 trading standards officers could have made what she called fraud “more widespread and less likely to be detected”.

[Food and environment minister David Heath] warned Creagh not to put the “very high” standards of the UK food industry at risk by making unguarded comments. “This is a European trade. The meat in question almost certainly did not come from the UK, it came from a third country to be processed in Ireland. It is not surprising, therefore, that UK authorities would not have picked that up.

“But we are investigating very fully and there may well be criminal prosecutions as a consequence.”

The contamination was “probably an example of criminality”, but “it is quite wrong to extrapolate from that and say this is common across the whole of the food industry”.

From the UK Food Standards Agency update on 16 January, after meeting “with representatives from the food industry (producers, processors and retailers) from all parts of the UK.”

The meeting explored the reasons that could have led to a number of beef products on sale in the UK and the Republic of Ireland containing traces of horse and pig DNA. Industry representatives confirmed the existing processes that they follow to ensure that the products that reach consumers are of the highest standards. These include quality controls in place at all stages of the food chain. They also set out the actions that they have already taken in response to this incident.

It was noted that there are two distinct types of case:

  • In all but one of the cases, the levels of horse and pig DNA were extremely low.
  • In the one exceptional case, the level of horse meat accounted for 29% of the meat content.

The causes of these two problems are therefore likely to be different and the focus of the investigations into the causes will be different. [added emphasis]

And the Irish Times’ Dick Ahlstrom has a suggestion

The [Food Safety Authority of Ireland] is examining the possibility [the DNA from pigs and/or horses] may have reached the beef as a food ingredient derived from pig and horse meat rather than as actual meat. This would not be true of one Tesco sample which contained 29 per cent horse meat.

Ingredients of this kind can do a range of things to alter taste, consistency or cooking characteristics, and have long been used by the food industry.

In 2003 chicken fillets processed in the Netherlands were found to contain pig and beef DNA, added to make the fillets retain extra water to bump up their weight when sold.

In many cases the added ingredients help a company’s profits while providing no benefit to the consumer.


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