IT IS highly unlikely that there is any health risk arising out the contamination of beef burgers with horse and pig meat, according to a leading expert on public health.
Professor Ivan Perry, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health in UCC, said: "I would not think there is anything inherently unhealthy in the burgers but the public is entitled to know what they are buying."
While it remains unclear exactly how the equine DNA came to be found in the burgers, horse meat is generally safe for human consumption provided it is subject to strict food safety rules.
More than one billion people eat around a million tonnes of horse meat every year and it is particularly popular in China.
Belgians like it lean, but the French prefer it more fatty. Horse meat is high in protein, low in fat and is rich in iron and Omega 3.
But a risk for humans eating horse meat is that racehorses, who are often a source of horse meat, may have been given anti-inflammatory drugs which leave residues in meat that can cause anaemia in humans.
Phenylbutazone is a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory commonly used to treat lameness in horses. It belongs to the class of drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
The Food Safety Authority said there is no risk to human health from the contaminated beef burgers, but it did not elaborate on the origin of the horse meat.
Most horses are not raised directly for human consumption, which raises the risk of chemical residues left in the meat after the animal is killed.
Pig meat was also found in the majority of burgers tested – where there is the added concern for Muslims who do not eat pork products as part of their religion, citing it as an order from Allah and prohibited in the Koran.
Prof Perry pointed out that the findings raised a red flag about quality control in the factories concerned.
He told the Irish Independent: "There are questions to be answered about quality control in the factories concerned if there is any contamination in the production of food."
He warned: "If quality control is lax in one area, there is a risk that it is not up to standard in other areas.
"In the production of something like beef burgers, you would expect food that is literally traceable from farm to fork."
If there are traces of horse and pig DNA then it is "failing that test of traceability and it would raise some concerns about the production process."