The discovery of horse meat in beefburgers sold by Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Iceland and Dunnes Stores in the UK and Ireland has sent shock waves through the industry. While the retailers have been quick to pull affected products and launch investigations into how the horse meat made its way into the supply chain, it seems likely that the issue has the potential to undermine public confidence in prepared meat products.

“The Food Standards Agency is investigating urgently how a number of beef products on sale in the UK and Republic of Ireland came to contain some traces of horse and pig DNA.” – Food Safety Agency, UK

“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.” – Food Safety Authority of Ireland CEO prof. Alan Reilly

“We immediately withdrew from sale all products from the supplier in question. We are working with the authorities in Ireland and the UK, and with the supplier concerned, to urgently understand how this has happened and how to ensure it does not happen again. We will not take any products from this site until the conclusion and satisfactory resolution of an investigation. The safety and quality of our food is of the highest importance to Tesco. We will not tolerate any compromise in the quality of the food we sell. The presence of illegal meat in our products is extremely serious. Our customers have the right to expect that food they buy is produced to the highest standards.” – Tim Smith, Tesco group technical Director

“Pending further investigation, Iceland has withdrawn from sale the two Iceland brand quarter pounder burger lines implicated in the study. Iceland will be working closely with its suppliers to investigate this issue and to ensure that all Iceland brand products meet the high standards of quality and integrity that we specify and which our customers are entitled to respect.” – Iceland spokesperson

“The relevant authorities have confirmed that this does not cause any health risk whatsoever, but this does not detract from the fact that this should not have happened. A full investigation is underway to ascertain how this incident occurred.” – Lidl spokesperson

“Following the withdrawal of our Oakhurst Beef Burgers (eight-pack) in the Republic of Ireland yesterday, Aldi has made the decision to withdraw three products from sale in the UK as a purely precautionary measure whilst we conduct further investigations.” – Aldi spokesperson

“This is an illustration of how food systems work on trust. 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. Retailers understandably are saying this is a matter of their suppliers. These were own-label products, we are told. If I was on their boards of directors I’d want an overhaul of their commercial governance on meat products.” – Tim Lang, rofessor of Food Policy, City University London

“What the adulteration may do is temporarily or otherwise, damage the reputation and so sell through rate of processed meats such as beef burgers. More optimistically, from a parochial perspective perhaps this problem could help the reputation and commercial standing of ‘home’ produced fresh meat and meat products, where rearing and welfare standards are amongst the highest in the world. If the industry and public officials ever needed a hook to pin their hats on this issue of national provenance then this could be one.” – Shore Capital analysts Clive Black and Darren Shirley