While agreeing that the discovery of horse DNA in burgers could well lead to criminal prosecutions, he called for a calmer approach to the scandal, which has engulfed the meat processing and supermarket sectors.
Heath said: “Because something has been discovered in Ireland, which is serious and may lead to criminal proceedings, does not undermine the very serious efforts taken by retailers, processors and producers in this country to ensure traceability and the standards of foods that are available to consumers.”
Investigations are continuing into the discovery by the Food Standards Authority of Ireland that a number of burger products contained both equine and porcine DNA. In one case involving a burger in Tesco, supplied by a division of the ABP Group, 29% of horsemeat material was discovered.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency has been defending accusations that it had failed to pick up on the matter, arguing that it had focused its surveys onto issues that would effect human health, such as campylobacter. A spokesman said there was no evidence that the inclusion of equine DNA in the burgers posed any risk to human health and said the agency was only able to act on the discovery of such evidence.
It said it was now working with the UK processing sector in a bid to track down the source of the foreign DNA and investigate the causes. Call are growing for the European-based companies which supplied materials to the three plants implicated, Liffey Meats, Silvercrest Foods and Dalepack Hambleton, to be named.