The processed meats industry in the UK and Ireland is likely to see sales fall after the Food Standards Authority of Ireland (FSAI) found many supermarket beef burgers were contaminated with pig and horse meat, according to Shore Capital market analyst.
FSAI found that 37% of products sampled from major UK and Irish retailers contained horse DNA, while 85% contained pig DNA. The products were generally discounted, cheaper private label lines from supermarkets including Aldi, Dunnes Stores, Iceland, Lidl and Tesco.
Shore Capital’s Darren Shirley wrote in an analyst’s note: “What the adulteration may do, temporarily or otherwise, is damage the reputation and so sell through rate of processed meats such as beef burgers.”
However, those retailers currently implicated were unlikely to see sales fall due to the defined nature of the contamination, while those retailers that have not yet been implicated were likely to be testing their products, he said.
“Whilst there is no suggestion of a food safety issue at this stage, there is an issue of consumer deception and offence, given the deeply different cultural perception of horse meat in the British Isles compared to many other markets."
Noting a possible benefit for Irish and UK-produced beef, he added: "It is not unreasonable to suspect that the source of the contaminated product is likely to be meat imported from outside the British Isles."
Chief executive of FSAI Professor Alan Reilly said that there was a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA in beef burgers, because meat from different animals is processed in the same meat plants. However, he said there was no clear explanation for the presence of horse DNA in products from plants that do not process horse meat.
He said in a statement: “In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger. Likewise, for some religious groups or people who abstain from eating pig meat, the presence of traces of pig DNA is unacceptable. We are working with the meat processing plants and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Marine to find out how horse DNA could have found its way into these products.”
The FSAI named three meat processors with samples containing traces of horse meat, Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods in Ireland and Dalepak Hambleton in the UK.
Liffey Meats said in statement that the levels of detection were minute – all under 0.1%.
“Liffey Meats has never produced, purchased or traded any equine products,” it said, adding that the equine DNA was found in raw material imported from an EU approved plant that was certified as coming from bovine sources only.
“We now believe that such imported ingredients were the ultimate source of the DNA traces found in some of our products,” it said.
Tesco Everyday Value beef burgers contained by far the most horse DNA, with 29.1% relative to beef content, according to the FSAI test results. The next highest scoring product – Oakhurst beef burgers from Aldi – contained 0.3% horse DNA, and all others tested positive at very low levels.
All of the retailers involved have removed potentially affected products from their shelves.