A routine survey conducted by Ireland’s food safety authority (FSAI) has found horse meat, horse DNA and pig DNA in burgers sold in stores in Ireland and the UK.
FSAI randomly inspected a total of 27 products, with 10 of them containing horse DNA and 23 containing pig DNA. Horse meat accounted for approximately 29 percent of the meat content in one sample from Tesco.
The findings seem to come as a surprise not only to the public, but also to the companies the mystery meat came from. Both Iceland and Tesco have pulled products from shelves and issued statements that they have launched investigations and will be working with authorities and suppliers to figure out how this could have happened and to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
The contaminated meat came from two processing plants in Ireland — Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods — and the Dalepak Hambleton plant in Yorkshire.
Pig DNA was also found in 85 percent of the burger products tested in Irish supermarkets, including Lidl, Aldi and Spar. Other stores, including Dunnes, also had traces of both animals.
“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,” Professor Alan Reilly, chief executive of the FSAI, told the BBC.
“In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horse meat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger,” he added.
Ireland’s Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney called the findings “totally unacceptable,” and told RTE that an additive may be to blame for the horse meat and that it was “either falsely labeled, or somebody made a mistake, or somebody was behaving recklessly. That allowed some horse meat product to come into the system that shouldn’t have been here.”
Raymond Ellard, Director of Consumer Protection told RTE that some ingredients that came from the Netherlands, Spain and Ireland did have horse DNA, but weren’t used in production, they were only in inventory and that the companies in question don’t handle horse meat, which has led them to believe the contamination was accidental. He also said the organization doesn’t believe that this is evidence of widespread subterfuge where someone is trying to substitute horse meat for beef.
Even without the debate on whether or not it is ethical to kill horses for food, or criticizing other cultures, there is still the issue of food safety. FSAI is stressing that the products do not pose a health risk and that consumers shouldn’t be worried, but some experts disagree.
“There is no information on how the horse meat came to be in the burgers and so there is no way of telling whether the meat is safe to eat. It could be from diseased or injured animals, for example,” John Sleith, the head of the Society of Chief Officers of Environmental Health in Scotland told the Telegraph.
There are also known health risks associated with eating horse meat. Simply put, horses are not raised for human consumption. They’re regularly given a host of drugs, medications and supplements that are clearly labeled that they are not to be used in animals intended for human consumption, which poses a serious threat to human health.
A study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology highlights the fact that at least one of the drugs regularly given to horses, Phenylbutazone (bute), is not only toxic to humans, but a carcinogen. “Dangerous and deadly side effects began to appear within three years including bone marrow suppression that was fatal in many cases and a hypersensitivity liver syndrome that could culminate in liver failure and death,” stated Ann M. Marini, Ph.D. M.D., the senior author of the study.
Those who find eating horses offensive, and those who adhere to halal diets, may also disagree with how much they should be concerned. Still others are worried that this could easily happen again and criticized the UK’s Food Standards Agency for not carrying out its own tests or catching this sooner.
Mary Creagh, the shadow environment secretary, raised concerns over the loss of 700 trading standards officers and a £12 million reduction in the budget for meat inspections.
“The adulteration scandal raises serious questions for the government to answer as to how we as a nation regulate our food,” she told the Telegraph, adding that the cost to retailers, farmers and consumers would be greater than the cost of effective testing and tracking in the long run.
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