Horsemeat burger source identified

Ireland’s agriculture ministry has announced that it has identified the source of the horse meat contamination that shut down Irish burger plant Silvercrest.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, announced on Saturday (26 January) that an joint investigation between his department and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) had made a “major breakthrough”, after raw materials from Poland used in burger production at Silvercrest were found to contain “significant levels” of equine DNA.

Further testing of the Polish ingredient showed up to 20% horse DNA relative to beef, leading the Minister to come to the “firm conclusion” that the raw material was the source of the equine DNA found in burgers manufactured at Silvercrest. He added that all samples taken from Irish ingredients were negative for horse DNA.

ABP Group welcomed the confirmation that the contamination originated from third-party continental suppliers. It added that the source of contamination was not linked to its plant in Poznan, Poland, which did not manufacture horse meat.

Paul Finnerty, group chief executive, ABP Food Group, said: “This has been a very difficult experience for all involved and has led to a significant interruption in business for Silvercrest and its customers. We are relieved that the source of the problem has been identified.

“While the company has never knowingly purchased or traded in equine products, I wish to take this opportunity to apologise for the impact this issue has caused.”

The company stated that after “extensive internal investigations” it would be carrying out a series of changes at the Silvercrest plant, including the appointment of a new management team and the the transfer of responsibility for Silvercrest Foods to ABP Ireland. Dalepak Foods, the UK plant implicated in the contamination scandal, will come under the immediate control of ABP UK.

Changes will also be implemented across the ABP Group, including independent auditing of all third-party suppliers and a new DNA testing regime, which will include testing for equine DNA.

Production at Silvercrest will resume following a deep cleansing of the plant. It will remain under “direct scrutiny” by Irish food safety inspectors for six months, with weekly sampling of production, after which time a review will be carried out.

Investigations were launched at Silvercrest after the FSAI revealed that testing on burgers supplied to supermarkets in the UK and Ireland by Silvercrest, Dalepak and Liffey Meats last year contained horse and pig DNA, with one burger sold in Tesco containing as much as 29% horse meat.

Further testing on burgers from Dalepak and Liffey Meats came back negative for horse DNA, but further testing on burgers produced at Silvercrest returned positive results, leading ABP to suspend operations at the plant.

Tesco, the Co-operative and Asda all removed products supplied by Silvercrest from their shelves following the scandal, with Burger King also dropping the plant as supplier of its UK and Ireland restaurants.

Waitrose and Sainsburys removed frozen burgers supplied by Dalepak from their stores despite further testing giving the plant the all clear.

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