Friday 6 December 2019

Product from Polish plant to blame for horsemeat contamination

A general view of Silvercrest Foods at Ballybay, County Monaghan
A general view of Silvercrest Foods at Ballybay, County Monaghan

JEROME REILLY

The source of the horsemeat contamination of Irish hamburgers was finally pinpointed last night, with raw ingredients from Poland identified as the culprit.

Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has ordered close scrutiny of the Silvercrest plant in Monaghan, where equine DNA was found in burgers, for six months.

Further tests carried out on burgers from the Larry Goodman-owned ABP plant, Silvercrest in Ballybay, Co Cavan, found further disturbing levels of equine DNA.

There were three more positive tests found in readings of 7 per cent, 3.6 per cent and 1.2 per cent in three individual burger samples taken this month.

All thee burgers contained products sourced from a company in Poland which has been supplying raw materials to Silvercrest in the past year.

The Department of Agriculture then carried out further tests on the actual raw material, which showed significant levels of equine DNA – 4.1 per cent. Late last night, the results of further tests came through. All were positive for equine DNA – with even higher results than the 4.1 per cent, the greatest being over 20 per cent.

Mr Coveney said last night that it was more than likely that this same Polish food component was responsible for the 29.5 per cent reading of equine DNA contained in one Tesco burger tested last December.

Mr Coveney has demanded – and ABP has agreed to introduce – swingeing changes in the way the meat plant is run.

The company has agreed to source all products from Ireland and the UK only, to change the management at Silvercrest and to remove all products from the plant immediately, either to be destroyed or put in cold storage.

"While early results had showed trace levels of equine DNA in imported raw materials, the latest result showed significant levels of equine DNA (4.1 per cent) in raw material which was used in the manufacture of burgers, which the department found to contain significant amounts of DNA" Mr Coveney said.

"The investigation has therefore established a direct correlation between burgers in which a high level of equine DNA was detected and this raw-material product from Poland."

The company at the centre of the storm, Silvercrest, "will commence a deep cleansing of the plant under new management and will submit to a six-month period of direct scrutiny by department inspectors", said the minister.

He added: "I also want a permanent presence from my department at the plant from now on and I want DNA testing carried out on a weekly, if not daily, basis."

Last night, Tesco welcomed the clarification. It said the findings announced by Mr Coveney correlated with the results of its own investigations at the plant and that it would give detailed consideration to all the findings during next week.

ABP said last night it had undertaken a group reorganisation. With immediate effect, responsibility for the Silvercrest business will transfer to ABP Ireland (the Irish chilled-beef division). The sister business in the UK, Dalepak Foods, will come under the immediate control of ABP UK (the UK chilled-beef business).

"ABP has already started to implement a new DNA testing regime over and above any legal requirements. This DNA testing (including equine) will be in addition to our current comprehensive testing regime," it said.

Meanwhile, Burger King has said: "While this is not a food-safety issue, as a precaution, last weekend we voluntarily replaced all Silvercrest products in the UK, Ireland and Denmark with products from alternate approved Burger King suppliers.

"We remain committed to identifying suppliers that can produce 100 per cent pure Irish and British beef products for us that meet our high-quality standards."

Sunday Independent

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