January 27, 2013 1:07 pm

Horse meat source identified in Poland

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Dublin has said ingredients imported from a Polish supplier were responsible for the horse meat in burgers scandal, which forced UK and Irish supermarkets to pull 10m beef burgers off their shelves.

DNA test results released by the Irish government on Saturday traced the contamination of burgers made at ABP Food Group’s Silvercrest plant in Ireland to a low-value beef cut and trimming product sourced from an EU-accredited Polish supplier.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s minister for agriculture, said there was a direct correlation between the imported raw material product and the burgers in which a high level of equine DNA was detected.

He said the Polish ingredient used by Silvercrest contained up to 20 per cent equine DNA and had been supplied to the plant for nearly a year.

“The current findings of the official investigation do not show any evidence that the company Silvercrest deliberately used horse meat in their production process,” he said in a statement.

Ireland’s food safety authorities announced earlier this month that some frozen beef burgers from ABP Food’s Silvercrest plant and another Irish supplier, Liffey Meats, were contaminated with horse meat. In most cases only small traces of horse meat were discovered but one Tesco Everyday burger produced by Silvercrest was found to contain 29 per cent horse meat.

Dublin hopes the discovery of the source of the contamination will bring an end to a scandal that has rocked confidence in Ireland’s €9bn agri-business export industry. It has also been costly for Europe’s biggest beef exporter ABP Food group, which is owned by the controversial Irish businessman Larry Goodman.

ABP Food group ordered the withdrawal of 10m frozen hamburgers from retailers following the discovery and has temporarily closed its Silvercrest plant. On Tuesday Burger King said it had dropped ABP Food as a beef supplier. On Friday supermarket chain Waitrose became the latest supermarket chain to withdraw beef burgers made by ABP Food group.

Paul Finnerty, ABP Food’s chief executive, said he was relieved the source of the contamination had been identified.

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

Last week Mr Goodman told the FT his company had never bought horse meat and he suspected the contamination came from hamburger filler products from elsewhere in Europe. “We have been let down,” he said.

The 75-year-old meat magnate is one of Ireland’s most controversial businessmen.

During the 1980s he became the biggest beef exporter to Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein. His company collapsed when UN sanctions were imposed following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait.

He later became embroiled in a government appointed tribunal inquiring into tax evasion and malpractice in the beef industry in the early 1990s.

The UK is the biggest market for Irish beef, accounting for almost half the country’s 510,000 tonnes of beef exports in 2011. It supplies beef for one in five McDonald’s hamburgers sold in Europe.

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