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Food factory shut in horse meat row

Published 18/01/2013

Sarah Stack

A MAJOR food factory has suspended all production after horse DNA was found in frozen burgers in new tests just two days ago.

The ABP Food Group, one of Europe's biggest suppliers and processors, revealed it has stopped work at its Silvercrest Foods plant in Co Monaghan until further notice.

The firm said that, following new results from the Republic's Department of Agriculture, it believes the source of the contaminated material is one supplier.

"However, because equine 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 Co Monaghan with immediate effect," it said.

Ten million burgers suspected of containing some levels of horse meat were cleared from several supermarkets freezers across the Republic and the UK this week and are expected to be destroyed.

The Republic's agriculture minister Simon Coveney revealed that seven samples of raw ingredients were tested, including one sourced from another European country which tested positive.

All ingredients in the production of burgers sourced from Irish suppliers tested negative for equine DNA.

"Thirteen samples of finished burgers were tested for the presence of equine DNA," a statement said.

"Nine have tested positive for traces of equine DNA and another four have tested negative."

The minister and Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) have arranged to have the positive samples analysed further in Germany with a view to quantifying the percentage of equine DNA present.

"The minister and the FSAI have repeated their clear statement that there is no concern from a food safety perspective," the statement said.

Meanwhile, criminal prosecutions could follow an investigation into the horse meat contamination of burgers sold by some supermarkets, the British government has said.

But environment minister David Heath, below, said standards were generally very high in the British food industry and backed the Food Standards Agency (FSA) risk-based checking system.

Answering an urgent question from Labour's shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh in the Commons, Mr Heath acknowledged the seriousness of the discovery.

"It is very important neither you, nor anyone else in this House, talks down the British food industry at a time when the standards in that industry are of a very high level," he said.

"Because something has been discovered in Ireland, which is serious, which may lead to criminal proceedings, does not undermine the very serious efforts which are taken by retailers, by processors and by producers in this country to ensure traceability and ensure standards of food that are available to consumers."

Supermarket giant Tesco has placed full-page adverts in a number of national newspapers apologising to customers for selling beefburgers containing horse meat.

The apology came as a reported £300 million was wiped off Tesco's stock market value.

Aldi, Lidl and Iceland have also withdrawn frozen beefburgers from their shelves after they were found to be contaminated with horse meat.

Sainsbury's, Asda and the Co-op later withdrew some frozen products but stressed that the move was "purely precautionary" and they had not been found to be selling contaminated food.

Tesco promised refunds to customers who had bought the contaminated products, which it identified as Tesco Everyday Value 8 x Frozen Beef Burgers (397g), Tesco 4 x Frozen Beef Quarter Pounders (454g), and a branded product, Flamehouse Frozen Chargrilled Quarter Pounders.

■ FOOD: Left, Silvercrest Foods in Co Monaghan which stopped work yesterday and right, a copy of the apology statement issued by supermarket giant Tesco, which placed full-page adverts in a number of newspapers apologising to customers for selling beefburgers containing horse meat

PICTURE: Right, Philip Fitzpatrick and right, Nick Ansell/PA