The UK Food Standards Agency has called an emergency meeting of experts and industry over findings that some beef burgers contain traces of horse meat, as Tesco, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland initiate recalls.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) said today (16 January) that it is “investigating urgently” findings from its counterpart body in Ireland that some beef burger products on sale in the two countries contained traces of horse meat DNA. One sample, from Tesco, showed horse meat made up 29% of declared ‘beef’ content.

FSA officials have convened a meeting of industry representatives for this afternoon that will aim “to discover the extent of the potential problem and to investigate how this contamination might have occurred”. A spokesperson said the agency has no further comment to make until after the meeting.

Affected retailers, including Tesco, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland, have spent the past few hours recalling product lines and attempting to reassure the public.

While the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) tests found evidence of horse meat DNA in ten of 27 beef burger products sampled, the body has reiterated that it does not consider the results a public health risk.

In addition to the beef burgers, FSAI said 21 out of a possible 31 beef meal products, including cottage pie, lasagne and beef curry, were found to contain pig DNA.

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By GlobalData

An FSAI spokesperson told just-food that the tests were part of “routine surveillance” of Ireland’s food supply. There are currently no plans for further tests, but the body is investigating suppliers concerned.

FSAI named the offending suppliers as Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods in Ireland, and Dalepak Hambleton in the UK. Silvercrest said that it is replacing all affected products with new products.

The potential damage to public trust and image is clear. “There is no clear explanation at this time for the presence of horse DNA in products emanating from meat plants that do not use horse meat in their production process,” said FSAI’s CEO, professor Alan Reilly.

Tesco saw its share price dip by 1% on the London Stock Exchange in early trading today. It said last night that it has recalled two affected lines of frozen burgers and will take no more products from the affected suppliers until the matter is resolved.

“The presence of illegal meat in our products is extremely serious,” said Tesco’s group technical director, Tim Smith. “Our customers have the right to expect that food they buy is produced to the highest standards.”

A spokesperson for Iceland said: “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.”

Lidl has also removed implicated products from sale. A spokesperson said: “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.”

At rival chain Aldi, a spokesperson said: “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.”

It named the products as Frozen Oakhurst 100% Beef Quarter Pounders, Frozen Specially Selected Aberdeen Angus Quarter Pounders and Frozen Oakhurst Burgers 16 pack. “No other Aldi products are affected by this issue,” the retailer said.

All retailers affected have offered refunds to consumers who wish to return affected products.