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Horse and Pork DNA in Meat Products

 Why did the FSAI conduct a survey on these foods?

The FSAI continually monitors foods on the Irish market to ensure that they are complying with the requirements of food law and are safe. As part of this routine activity a small survey was carried out to investigate the authenticity of meat products on the Irish market. This survey was conducted as part of the FSAI monitoring and surveillance programme on labelling of foods, specifically to check on the type of animal species in meat products.

What products did we look at?

The FSAI study examined the presence of DNA from cattle, pigs and horses in Salamis, Beef Meals (e.g. Lasagne) and Beef Burgers.

What did we find?

We sampled salami products (19), beef meal products (31) and beef burger products (27) from major retail outlets and tested these for animal species using DNA profiling.

Of the 19 salami products analysed, 10 tested positive for bovine (beef) DNA, all were positive for porcine (pig) DNA and equine (horse) DNA was not detected. There were no significant issues with the salami products that warranted further investigation.

Of the 31 beef meal products (cottage pie, beef curry pie, lasagne, etc), all were positive for bovine DNA, 21 (68%) were positive for porcine DNA and none were found to contain equine DNA. Only two of these beef meal products declared on the label that they contained pork which was found at very low levels and therefore its presence may be unintentional and due to the processing of different animal species in the same plant.

Of the 27 beef burger products analysed, all were positive for bovine DNA, 23 (85%) were positive for porcine DNA and 10 (37%) were positive for equine DNA. Most of the burgers positive for porcine DNA were not labelled as containing pork which was found at very low levels and therefore its presence may be unintentional and due to the processing of different animal species in the same plant. None of the samples positive for equine DNA were labelled as containing horse meat.

The beef burger products that tested positive for equine DNA are produced by two plants in Ireland (Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods) and one plant in the UK (Dalepak Hambleton). The products were on sale in Tesco, Dunnes Stores, Lidl, Aldi, and Iceland. 

 How much horsemeat was in the burgers?

Of the 10 burger products that tested positive for horse DNA all but one were at low levels. The quantification of the horse DNA in this one burger product gave an estimated amount of 29% horsemeat relative to the beef content of the burger product.

How did the horsemeat get into these products?

It is expected that the ongoing investigations by the FSAI, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and the businesses involved will identify the precise route of horsemeat into burgers on the Irish market. 

Is there a risk to consumer health from the horse DNA found in some burgers?

No, there is no risk to consumer health. When assessing risk, the FSAI bases all its decisions on sound science. In this case we have evaluated the potential risks, such as the presence of bacteria or medicinal residues. Firstly, if bacteria were present, they would be killed by cooking and as these burgers are cooked before they are eaten, there is no risk to consumer health. Secondly, the burgers that tested positive for horse DNA were then tested for the presence of phenylbutazone, a commonly used medicine in horses that is not allowed in the food chain, and all of the results were negative. 

How much unlabelled pork meat was in the burgers?

Pork DNA that was quantified for burger products was found to be present at very low (trace) levels. The presence of pig DNA in these products could be due to the fact that meat from different animal species is processed in the same meat plants.

How much unlabelled pork meat was in the beef meal dishes?

All pork DNA in beef meals was present at very low (trace) levels. The presence of pig DNA in these products could be due to the fact that meat from different animal species is processed in the same meat plants.

What tests did we do?

The test method involved DNA extraction from the food product and then the amplification of specific pieces of DNA through the enzymatic process known as PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). This allowed us to detect very low quantities of horse, pig and beef DNA

What is DNA?

DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid) is the very basis of biological life forms and is unique for every individual organism. Using the knowledge built up over several years, it is possible to demonstrate the difference between animal, plant or microbial species and even between members of the same species as is routinely carried out for forensic DNA profiling in criminal investigations.

What has happened since we got the results of the tests?

Meetings have been held with the Irish meat plants and retailers involved. Investigations are ongoing into how DNA from horses has found its way in to the burger products from two plants in Ireland and one in the UK.



What products are affected? 

See list of products 

Have we notified retailers?

Yes

What are the retailers doing about this?

Retailers are voluntarily withdrawing beef burger products manufactured in the two plants in Ireland where investigations are ongoing.

Why are products being withdrawn?

Retailers are withdrawing these products on a voluntary basis as they view this as a quality issue. There is no food safety risk associated with these products.

I purchased these brands for my family and we have eaten them – are we at risk?

The FSAI does not consider that the low level of horse or pig DNA present in beef products represents a food safety risk.

What should consumers do with product already purchased?

Consumers should contact the retailer where the product was purchased.

I have a burger which is not in the list of products tested - is it safe to eat?

The FSAI has only tested a small number of specific batches of certain products and the findings are only applicable to the batches tested. The FSAI does not consider that the low level of horse or pig DNA present in beef products represents a food safety risk.

Are more samples being taken?

At the moment the authorities will be focussing on finding the cause of the problem. After that, further sampling may be appropriate.

Have any fast food outlets used this product?

All of the products tested were obtained from retailers and were for the general consumer. The FSAI has not tested meat products supplied to food service outlets like fast food outlets. As the investigation progresses it may be necessary to sample products sold in these businesses at a later stage.

How did pigmeat get into these products?

The levels of pig DNA in any samples quantified were very low and the processing of different animal species at different times in some plants could be a factor.

Is it only ‘own-brand’ frozen burgers?

The survey was only a ‘snap-shot’ and was not an exhaustive study of all beef burger products on the market. The majority of products sampled were own-brand frozen burgers. See list of affected products

What could the meat processing plants have done differently?

Any requirements for improvement will have to wait until the investigations have reached a successful conclusion.

Are standards at our meat processing plants sufficiently high?

Irish meat plants are approved by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine or by the Local Authorities in accordance with European food law. Standards are in line with comparable meat plants across Europe.

Could this be happening elsewhere?

It is possible but the FSAI is not aware of any similar studies elsewhere in Europe at this time.

How can consumers be satisfied that this is limited only to these two facilities?

The Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine and the Local Authorities carry out regular checks to ensure that meat plants comply with the requirements of food law.

How do I know that other foods don’t contain ingredients that aren’t listed on the label?

The FSAI continually monitors foods on the Irish market to ensure that they are complying with the requirements of food law and are safe. It was as a result of this monitoring that this current issue came to light.

What procedures are being put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again?

Any requirements for improvement will have to wait until the investigations have reached a successful conclusion.

How long has this being going on?

The FSAI’s findings have triggered an investigation that is ongoing. There is no evidence to suggest that this is more than a one off issue. However, it is not possible to say how long this problem has existed.

If the origin of the meat can’t be accounted for, can you be sure it’s fit for consumption?

The presence of horse meat in itself does not represent a food safety risk and it is routinely consumed in the EU. The provenance of undeclared horse meat could be a concern, however, the burgers that tested positive for horse DNA were then tested for the presence of phenylbutazone, a commonly used medicine in horses that is not allowed in the food chain, and all of the results were negative.

Could or did any of the affected meat find its way into the export chain?

The ongoing investigations will determine where affected products are and if any action is required.





 

Last reviewed: 4/3/2013

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