Ireland: Coveney vows to name firms involved in meat controversy


Any companies involved in the production of beef burgers containing horse meat will be named, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said this evening.

As the fallout from the controversy continued, Mr Coveney said the investigation into the production of contaminated beef burgers was focusing on imported ingredients.

“As far as I can see to date, there is no linkage between some of the companies that have sold product in…in terms of ownership of companies,” he said.

The Minister was replying in the Dáil this afternoon to Sinn Féin agriculture spokesman Martin Ferris, who asked if any of the companies involved were owned by beef baron Larry Goodman. Mr Ferris said it was very important that the companies from the Netherlands and Spain be named.

“Were any of those companies owned by Larry Goodman and were any of the companies that distributed here owned by Larry Goodman?”, he added.

A study by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) found the presence of horse DNA in more than a third of the beef burger products it tested.

Products from the Netherlands and Spain added to processed burgers “seem to be the source” of the horse meat contamination, Mr Coveney said today. The burger products were on sale in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Lidl, Aldi and Iceland. It found pig DNA in 85 per cent of burgers tested.

A view of the Silvercrest Foods factory in Ballybay, Co Monaghan. Photograph: Philip Fitzpatrick
A view of the Silvercrest Foods factory in Ballybay, Co Monaghan. Photograph: Philip Fitzpatrick

Of the 27 frozen beef burger products analysed, 10, or 37 per cent, tested positive for horse DNA. The products which tested positive for horse DNA were produced by two Irish plants, Liffey Meats in Cavan and the ABP-owned Silvercrest Foods, and by UK company Dalepak Hambleton, owned by ABP UK.

Speaking in Strasbourg this morning, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the discovery presented “no danger whatsoever to human health”. There was a full investigation going on into how the “imported additives” got into the system, he said. “This is very important for Ireland’s reputation,” he said. “We pride ourselves on having world class beef.”

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore told the Dail this morning there is no public health risk from the beef burgers containing horse meat. He said the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority were working closely to identify exactly how the contamination had occurred.

Mr Coveney said this morning that there was “no human food safety issue”. “This is about people eating product and not being aware of the ingredients of that product,” he told RTÉ Radio.

Mr Coveney said the supply contract that seemed to be the source of contamination “was no longer there” and burgers being produced at Silvercrest no longer have imported ingredient in them.

“There was no evidence to suggest that Silvercrest knowingly imported ingredient that had horse meat in it, but that may have been the case unknowingly to them,” he said. Silvercrest had recalled 10 million burgers, he said.

Plausible explanation

FSAI chief executive Prof Alan Reilly said the products identified as containing horse DNA or pig DNA did not pose any food safety risk but still raised concerns. There was a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA because meat from different animals was processed in the same meat plants but “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”, he said.

“In Ireland it is not in our culture to eat horse meat 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. 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.”

FSAI director of consumer protection Raymond Ellard said this morning the contamination was likely to have been accidental. He said the companies implicated do not buy or handle horse meat.

“This is product that came from the Netherlands and from Spain, as well as one small sample from Ireland,” Mr Ellard told RTE’s Morning Ireland. “These particular ingredients, as far as we’re aware, were not used in the production of the burgers in question. They just happen to be stock in inventory here.

“And again, it’s minute traces of equine DNA. It is a lead we will follow and again the ingredients will be double-checked.

Last night, Mr Coveney said it was “totally unacceptable” almost a third of the meat content of a burger could be horse meat. He said the Department of Agriculture had taken new samples from the Silvercrest plant and results would be available within 48 hours.The FSAI said retailers were removing all implicated batches from sale yesterday.

Absolute traceability

Liffey Meats in Cavan said it sincerely regretted that any product produced by the company would not conform to the highest specifications and it apologised to its customers.

The company said it has withdrawn from sale all products identified by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) tests. “The FSAI tests found minute traces of non-beef DNA in the company’s beef burgers.

“The company believes it has identified the source of the contamination. Liffey Meats is purely a beef processor and has absolute traceability on all of the beef used. The source of the contamination is imported ingredients and these will be replaced from other sources before production is resumed and customers are supplied.”

It added that in two of the three samples the levels as reported by the FSAI “are so low as to be at the Limit of Quantification and for the other sample the level detected is reported as less than 0.1 per cent”.

Monaghan-based Silvercrest Foods, a subsidiary of ABP Foods, said that although the products pose no risk to public health, it has taken immediate action to isolate, withdraw and replace all suspect product. “Silvercrest has never purchased or traded in equine product and has launched a full-scale investigation into two continental European third-party suppliers . . . suspected source of the product in question,” it said.

Tesco said it withdrew all affected products from sale and were working with the authorities in the Republic and the UK and with the supplier concerned “to urgently understand how this has happened and how to ensure it does not happen again. We will not take any stock from this site until the conclusion and satisfactory resolution of an investigation,” it said. It apologised for any distress.

Nine of the 10 samples contained low traces of horse DNA, less than 0.1 per cent in some cases. But the level of DNA in a Tesco Everyday Beef Burger indicated that horse meat accounted for 29.1 per cent of the meat content. The product from Silvercrest Foods contained 63 per cent beef.

The nine samples containing low levels of horse meat were taken from: Aldi’s Oakhurst Beef Burgers; Dunnes Stores’ St Bernard Beef Burgers and Flamehouse Chargrilled Quarter Pounders; Lidl’s Moordale Beef Burgers, Moordale Ultimate Beef Burgers and Moordale Quarter Pounders; Tesco’s Beef Quarter Pounders; and Iceland Quarter Pounders (twice).

‘Independent testing’

Aldi Stores (Ireland) said it takes the quality of all its products seriously and demands the highest standards from suppliers. “In addition, Aldi carries out regular independent testing of all meat products it sells,” it said.

It said it removed the affected product from sale and launched an investigation. “We have sought information from one supplier, Silvercrest, which is dealing directly with the FSAI on the issue that has been raised,” it added.

Iceland Foods said it noted with concern the FSAI statement and had withdrawn the two own-brand quarter pounder burger lines implicated in the study. “Iceland will be working closely with its suppliers to investigate this issue and . . . meet the high standards of quality and integrity that we specify and which our customers are entitled to expect,” it said.

Lidl Ireland said it was committed to maintaining the highest quality standards and had removed all implicated products from sale, pending a full investigation. Dunnes Stores did not respond to queries last evening.

The Irish Farmers’ Association, which is holding its AGM in Dublin, said it was very concerned at the findings. John Bryan, president of the organisation, demanded the Department of Agriculture urgently investigate the matter. “Nothing or no-one can be allowed compromise the high standards and reputation of Irish-produced food,” he added.

Producers have been called on to explain what proportion of burgers contain imported product. “Suspicions are growing among Ireland’s beef farmers that the Irish beef content of burgers is being reduced with a view to keeping prices down,” Gabriel Gilmartin president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association said.

“I am calling on the factories to be open with their explanation. How much of the burger is Irish?” he said in a statement.

Macra na Feirme president, Alan Jagoe said the findings must be “thoroughly investigated” and “every effort made” to highlight the standards of production and traceability which Irish farmers operate within.

“This pioneering technology for DNA testing of meat proves that Ireland is very serious about protecting its food reputation. Consumers should take comfort from this,” he said.

A representative of the Muslim community in Ireland has said the issue of pig DNA found in Irish beef is “not affecting them at all”.

Senior member of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, Dr Ali Saleem, said most of the Muslim community here eat lamb.

“We eat halal meat. Mainly the Muslim community in Ireland would eat lamb because it is more available to us,” he said.

He said of beef eaten, it had to be labelled halal and was bought from specialist butchers and not from supermarkets.

“But most of the Muslim community in Ireland, they consume lamb and they don’t eat beef, so it this not affecting them at all.”

Earlier this week, Food Safety Authority chief executive Prof Alan Reilly had said for some religious groups or people who abstain from eating pig meat, the presence of traces of pig DNA in Irish beef was “unacceptable”.