Beef burgers sold by Tesco PLC and other supermarkets in the UK and Ireland have been found to be contaminated with horse meat. Tests on beef burger products from four chains showed that a third were contaminated with horse meat.
According to The Telegraph, the investigation was carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland working with the Irish Department of Agriculture and Food/
DNA tests were used to identify the types of meat in the samples.
Reuters reports that while most samples tested revealed only small traces of contamination, one sample from Tesco was found to be 29 percent horse meat.
About 37 percent of the products tested in Ireland contained horse DNA, while about 85 percent also contained pig DNA. Both horse meat and pig DNA were found in 27 beef burger products, and of 31 other products, including cottage pies, beef curry pies and lasagnes, 21 tested positive for pig DNA.
According to Reuters, beef burgers containing horse meat were reportedly produced by two processing plants in Ireland and one in the UK. The Telegraph identified the plants in Ireland as Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods, and the one in the UK as Dalepak Hambleton in North Yorkshire.
Contaminated beef burgers were on sale in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Lidl, Aldi and Iceland, The Telegraph reports.
Prof Alan Reilly, the chief executive of the FSAI, said: "While there is a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA in these products, due to the fact that meat from different animals is processed in the same plants, there is no clear explanation for the presence of horse DNA in products emanating from meat plants that do not use horse meat."
AP reports that Ireland's Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, said the finds were "totally unacceptable." He said the contamination may have come from an imported additive used to make the burger.
According to AP, Coveney said the additive was "either falsely labeled, or somebody made a mistake, or somebody was behaving recklessly. That allowed some horsemeat product to come into the system that shouldn't have been here... A mistake has been made here, it has been flagged by our systems as it should have been, and we will take the appropriate action to ensure it doesn't happen again."
The Daily Mail reports that Tesco PLC has issued an apology and said the burgers have been withdrawn.
The Huffiington Post reports that the company said in a statement: "The presence of illegal meat in our products is extremely serious. Our customers have the right to expect that food they buy is produced to the highest standards... We understand that many of our customers will be concerned by this news, and we apologize sincerely for any distress."
It is believed, however, that thousands have unknowingly bought and consumed the contaminated products.
According to the Daily Mail, other products that tested positive for horse DNA included Aldi's Oakhurst Beef Burgers and Lidl's Moordale Beef Burgers.
While it is not illegal to sell horse meat in the UK, it is illegal not to declare ingredients on food labels, the Daily Mail reports.
Barry Gardiner, a Labor MP, has called for an inquiry. The MP alleged there has been "fraud, misrepresentation and incompetence." He said: "Big companies like Iceland and Tesco are responsible for their supply chain and for verifying whether their suppliers are giving them what they should be delivered. It is abhorrent that the suppliers appear to have adulterated the burgers in this way, but these big companies' buyers are responsible to the public."
Professor Alan Reilly, chief executive of the FSAI, said it was difficult to understand how horse meat was included in beef burgers. He said: "Whilst there is a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA in these products due to the fact that meat from different animals is processed in the same meat plants, there is no clear explanation at this time for the presence of horse DNA in products emanating from meat plants that do not use horse meat in their production process... We are working with the meat processing plants the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Marine to find out how horse DNA could have found its way into these products."
But he said that the "products we have identified as containing horse DNA and/or pig DNA do not pose any food safety risk and consumers should not be worried. Consumers who have purchased any of the implicated products can return them."
However, he acknowledged the cultural concerns the discoveries raise. He noted that cases in which pig meat contamination was found would be abhorrent to religious groups such as Muslims and Jews whose religions prohibit consumption of pig flesh.
The Huffington Post reports he said: "In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger. Likewise, for some religious groups or people who abstain from eating pig meat, the presence of traces of pig DNA is unacceptable."