Irish food safety officials investigating how horse and pig DNA ended up in frozen beef burgers on sale in the UK and Ireland have pinpointed a European ingredients supplier as one possible source of the problem.

This story has been updated following a statement from the Netherlands food safety and consumer protection body. To view the update, click here.

New tests by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) point to at least protein ingredients supplier in one member state of the European Union.

Officials are refusing to name the supplier until the investigation is complete, but have previously named both the Netherlands and Spain as potential sources of the problem.

One ingredient sample tested positive for horse DNA in the latest FSAI tests and its producer is believed to have provided cheap burger filler ingredients to the Liffey Meats, Silvercrest Foods and Dalepak Hambleton processing plants at the centre of the probe.

In an RTE radio interview this morning (18 January), Ireland’s agriculture minister, Simon Coveney, warned against jumping to conclusions, but said his department has “contacted the country concerned to ask them to investigate”.

Yesterday (17 January), Spain’s food safety agency said it was “in permanent contact with the FSAI” over the issue. It was keen to reiterate that levels of both horse and pig DNA detected in beef products posed no public health risk.

Food safety officials in the Netherlands could not be immediately contacted for comment.

There could still be more than one European supplier involved. The UK’s Food Standards Agency is pursuing two investigations and is treating the discovery of low levels of horse DNA separately from the Tesco beef burger sample that showed horse made up 29% of the meat.

Meanwhile, the issue continues to disrupt the food supply chain, following initial recalls by Tesco, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland this week, as well as “precautionary” recalls by Sainsbury’s and Asda.

ABP Foods announced last night it would suspend processing at its affected Silvercrest processing plant in Ireland. Products processed by the plant this week have not been released for distribution.   
ABP’s move came after further FSAI tests found horse DNA in a further nine out of 13 frozen burger samples.

“Because trace DNA has been found in finished products tested this week, we have decided that the responsible course of action is to suspend all production at the Silvercrest plant in County Monaghan with immediate effect,” said ABP in a statement.

It said it will continue to pay staff during the suspension period and added that it is tightening traceability procedures to include routine DNA testing on meat.

Suppliers, processors and retailers involved in the case could face legal action, according to FSAI and FSA. In the UK, the FSA has given retailers and processors until the end of today to “provide comprehensive information” on their own internal investigations.
Based on previous breaches of food safety and labelling rules, some food sector experts believe the chances of widespread prosecutions are low.