The UK’s Food Standards Agency has said it will consider taking legal action over the discovery of horse DNA in some beef burgers on sale in several retailers in the UK and Ireland.

The UK’s food safety watchdog is urgently investigating how traces of horse meat could have found their way into burger products.

Officials have given those retailers and suppliers involved until the end of this week to “provide comprehensive information” on what happened. The agency added that it will consider legal action against those it deems guilty of wrongdoing.

Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Iceland and Ireland’s Dunnes Foods have all recalled burgers after they were named in a Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) study, which found traces of horse DNA in ten out of 27 beef burger samples. The agency also found pig DNA in several ranges of beef ready meals.

One burger sample, from Tesco, showed horse meat made up 29% of declared ‘beef’ content. Today (17 January), Tesco issued fresh apologies to shoppers via adverts in most of the UK’s national newspapers.

Although not implicated, rival retailers Sainsbury’s and Asda have also recalled beef burger products from the same suppliers, as a precaution.

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By GlobalData

On the question of legal and regulatory implications, professor Tim Lang, of City University London’s Food Policy Centre, told just-food yesterday: “Firstly, is it fraud? No label declared the horse meat 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.”

In response to a question in Parliament yesterday from Laura Sandys MP, UK prime minister David Cameron called the situation “extremely disturbing”.

“[The FSA] has made it clear that there is no risk to public safety, because there is no food safety risk, but this is a completely unacceptable state of affairs,” he said.

The FSAI has traced the meat to three suppliers: Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods in Ireland, and Dalepak Hambleton in the UK. It is thought the meat may emanate from continental Europe.