'Alarming breach of controls': experts blame deliberate swindle by foreign suppliers for horsemeat burgers scandal

 

A deliberate swindle by foreign suppliers seeking to save money is a likely cause of the contamination of supermarket beefburgers with horsemeat, experts said today.

Cheaper horse flesh – a popular meat in mainland Europe – may have been used by Continental companies to bulk up more expensive beef during the downturn, academics said.

They described the presence of traces of horsemeat and pork in burgers sold by five British and Irish supermarket chains as an alarming breach of controls introduced in the wake of the BSE crisis.

Tesco’s shares fell by 1 per cent, or £300m, yesterday after it removed all 21 lines of frozen own-brand burgers supplied by an Irish meat processor, Silvercrest, from its 3,000 British shops. Two other British chains, Asda and the Co-op, also removed burgers made by Silvercrest as a “precaution.”

The action followed the Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s announcement on Wednesday that it had detected horse and pig DNA in burgers supplied to Tesco and four budget chains, Aldi, Lidl, Iceland, and Ireland’s Dunne Stores.

The tests were first carried out in November but the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) had been waiting for further specialist analysis from Germany before alerting the public and stores this week.

Of 27 beefburgers tested, 10 – equating to 37 per cent - tested positive for horse DNA and 85 per cent positive for pig DNA. In one sample of Tesco Everyday Value Beef Burgers, horsemeat comprised 29 per cent of the stated beef content.

A further analysis of 31 beef products including cottage pie, beef curry pie and lasagne showed that 21, two-thirds, contained pig DNA.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) said that the food had been supplied to supermarkets by two Irish firms, Silvercrest Foods and Liffey Meats, and one British one, Dalepak Hambleton in North Yorkshire. All three said they were unaware of the presence of horsemeat and were urgently trying to trace its source. There is no suggestion of dishonesy on their part.

However there are more searching questions about meat Continental suppliers. Tests by the FSAI found horse DNA in raw ingredients imported from Spain and the Netherlands, and Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Minister, Simon Coveney, said the contaminated meat appeared to have originated from them.

The FSAI and the British Food Standards Agency, which launched its own investigation yesterday, said that eating horsemeat was normally safe, but the discovery raised concerns about the integrity of the food system – where traceability is viewed as essential as a result of the BSE crisis in the UK in the 1990s.

Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at City University London, one of the country’s foremost food experts, said: “So far as we know, there are no safety implications, but it does raise deep concerns. Firstly, is it fraud?  No label declared the horsemeat or traces of pig DNA. 

“Secondly, it appears to be adulteration, a cheaper meat being substituted for a more expensive one. Thirdly, and probably most importantly, this exposes failings in commercial food governance. 

“Big retailers are supposedly in control of the food system, yet their management and contracts and specifications have been found wanting. If I was on their boards of directors I’d want an overhaul of their commercial governance on meat products.”

Michael Walker, a consultant at international food analysts LGC, said human error could have been to blame for the adulteration given that horsemeat was a legitimate part of the supply chain on the Continent, where traditional recipes for salami and salami-type products sometimes included wild boar, horse and donkey.

He added: “However, given the financial climate, it is also possible that fraud – including cheaper meats to ‘bulk up’ the main constituent meat product - is involved.”

He went on: “If fraud was involved there is a risk that those checks were ignored, resulting in unknown possibilities of microbiological and chemical hazards such as food poisoning and veterinary drug residues.”

Fraud is estimated to account for as much as 10 per cent of food sales, with common examples including Vietnamese catfish being passed off as cod, ordinary olive oil as extra virgin and vegetable fat as mozzarella.

Three years ago The Independent revealed how suppliers in the Netherlands, Spain and Germany were bulking out chicken exported to Britain with protein from pig and beef gristle and bones.

Stephen Rossides, director of the British Meat Processors Association, said: “The great bulk of food products, including meat and meat products, are safe, produced to good quality standards and correctly described and labelled by food manufacturers. But this episode - rare and unusual though it is - undermines consumer confidence and trust in the meat industry, and causes reputational damage to it.

“We must get to the bottom of what went wrong and why, and how such an incident can be prevented in the future.”

Raw, fried or grilled, it’s just like beef

The Taste Test

The first time I ate horse meat it was raw. I was in a restaurant in the Tuscan town of Lucca. Cavallo tartare came with usual accomplishments – egg yolk, chopped onion, frites etc – and the finely diced flesh was delicious. Since then I’ve consumed it grilled, fried and in salami.

Though many people have issues with eating horse meat, as long as they’re not vegetarians, the problem isn’t likely to be its taste or texture.Essentially it’s just like beef.

If you have it as a steak, you might notice it’s leaner and less marbled with fat, and sweeter than beef. But you easily might not – and if you had it minced up in a burger –you probably wouldn’t.

The great trencherman Jonathan Meades had his first encounter with French food on holiday in Saint-Malo, aged eight.

He had horse steak and chips and never looked back. He says for the best chips they should be cooked in horse fat, as they are in Belgium.

One day I hope to find out about that, too.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue