Study finds horse DNA in Irish beef burger products

January 18, 2013

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has published the findings of a targeted study examining the authenticity of a number of beef burger, beef meal, and salami products available from retail outlets in Ireland. The study, which tested for the presence of horse and pig DNA, reveals the presence of horse DNA in some beef burger products. The FSAI states this raises concerns in relation to the traceability of meat ingredients and products entering the food chain.

A total of 27 beef burger products were analyzed with 10 of the 27 products (37%) testing positive for horse DNA and 23 (85%) testing positive for pig DNA. In addition, an analysis of 31 beef meal products (cottage pie, beef curry pie, lasagna, etc.) found that 21 were positive for pig DNA and all were negative for horse DNA. All 19 salami products analyzed tested negative for horse DNA. Traces of horse DNA were also detected in batches of raw ingredients, including some imported from The Netherlands and Spain.

The beef burger products that tested positive for horse DNA were produced by two processing plants (Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods) in Ireland and one plant (Dalepak Hambleton) in the United Kingdom. They were on sale in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Lidl, Aldi, and Iceland. In nine of the 10 beef burger samples from these retailers, horse DNA was found at very low levels. However, in one sample from Tesco, the level of horse DNA indicated that horsemeat accounted for approximately 29% relative to the beef content. The FSAI is working with the Dept. of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, and the processing plants and retailers involved. The retailers have stated that they are removing all implicated batches from sale. In addition, Silvercrest Foods has informed the FSAI that it is withdrawing all products from sale and replacing them with new products.

According to Alan Reilly, Chief Executive at FSAI, these findings pose no risk to public health but they do raise some concerns. “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,” said Reilly. “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 horsemeat in their production process. 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.”

Press release