“If you go into a butcher’s shop and buy one burger for €1.50 and then go into Tesco and buy eight burgers for €1.50, you’ve got to ask yourself what’s going on.” That is the view of Prof Alan Reilly, the chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, who says people have to ask more questions about cheaper products.
This statement came this week after the discovery of horse meat in beef burgers, with Irish meat processor Silvercrest Foods supplying burgers to Tesco that contained 29 per cent horse meat relative to beef content.
This revelation has raised concerns about the traceability of meat ingredients and products entering the food chain. While there is no health risk to people in eating a burger that contains horse meat, there was nothing on the labelling of the Tesco Everyday Value burger to suggest it contained horse meat.
About 150 workers at the Silvercrest Foods plant in Ballybay now find themselves with no work to do, following a suspension of production until the issue is resolved. They will continue to be paid, but it is unclear what will happen after the source of the horse meat is pinpointed. How many orders will they have to fill?
Silvercrest Foods, owned by ABP Food Group, isn’t the only company affected. Burgers from another ABP company in Britain, Dalepak Hambleton, tested positive for low traces of horse meat. And in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, Liffey Meats also found itself in the headlines when some of its burgers were found to contain low traces of horse DNA. It quickly said the source of the contamination was imported ingredients.
Exports of frozen beef burgers and other uncooked processed beef were valued at €170 million in 2011, according to Bord Bia. The UK accounted for 80 per cent of these exports. Last year in Ireland, €23.7 million worth of fresh and frozen burgers were consumed here.
The long-term repercussions of this find may be a good thing – focusing on the ingredients in value burgers can be only a good thing. ABP Food Group have already said they will introduce their own DNA analysis and Prof Alan Reilly says the entire meat industry must introduce its own testing on bought-in ingredients.
“They may not know too much about the provenance of them. Some of these products are bought on the open market. They need to assure themselves that they are putting beef into beef burgers, pork into pork products and so on,” he says. “That type of testing needs to be the norm for the food industry in the future.”
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