The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is now advising consumers to return certain beef products from Asda and the Co-op. The mistake happened at a Dunbia Northern Ireland plant on 25 October when officials from the Department of Rural Development (DARD) processed a 54-month-old animal at the Dungannon abattoir. When the mistake was discovered Dumbia initiated a recall of products including Asda ox liver, Co-op mince and steak and Co-op in-store butchery lines.
A spokesperson for Dunbia said: "This error by DARD officials could have come at a worse time and we have asked DARD to initiate an enquiry into this incident and to take urgent steps to take to ensure that this human error cannot happen again."
FSA director of enforcement David Statham said the risk to health was extremely low: "The controls in place, including the removal of spinal cord, mean that over 99% of any infectivity that would be present if the cow had BSE is removed. Restrictions on the material that cattle are fed have meant that cases of BSE in the UK have been in steep decline over recent years.
"However, the regulations were breached and we are working closely with the company involved and our colleagues in FSA Northern Ireland and Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to find out the exact circumstances of the breach and to prevent it occurring again."
A spokesperson for DARD said: "Whilst this was an unfortunate incident, which occurred because of human error, consumers will be reassured by the Food Standards Agency confirmation that any risk to public health is extremely low.
"It is essential that all those with an interest in the trade work together to maintain confidence. The department has therefore called an early meeting of all stakeholders to discuss the matter."