Food producers are not required, under existing regulations, to check the content of what they add to burgers, it has emerged.
As the Department of Agriculture awaits results of further tests on burgers from the ABP Food Group, which is at the centre of the latest scandal, Meat Industry Ireland admitted there are huge gaps in the regulation system.
ABP Food Group, one of Europe’s biggest suppliers and processors, is being investigated by health and agriculture authorities here and in the UK.
Two of its subsidiaries, Silvercrest Foods in Ireland and Dalepak Hambleton in Yorkshire, supplied beef burgers with traces of equine DNA to supermarkets, including one product classed as 29% horse.
Suppliers in the Netherlands and Spain have been identified as the possible sources for incorrectly labelled ingredients.
The scandal was uncovered through DNA testing of samples by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. The results showed low levels of horse DNA in burgers sold in Tesco, Lidl, Aldi, Iceland, and Dunnes Stores in Ireland. Over 10 million burgers have been taken off the shelves as a result.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney is awaiting the results of tests, due today, into the latest batch of burgers from the Silvercrest plant as probes continue into how the beef product became contaminated with horse meat.
Speaking in the Dáil, Mr Coveney said: “There is no evidence from the investigation being conducted so far to show that the manufacturer knowingly brought in equine products to use in production of these burgers.”
He said he did not want to “scapegoat” anyone and would not be naming the companies until investigations are complete.
Mr Coveney said that greater enforcement was needed. It is understood new regulations are currently not being considered.
Mr Coveney also said at this stage there appeared to be “no linkage” between Silvercrest and companies also owned by Larry Goodman and based in Spain and the Netherlands.
ABP Food Group said it was “at a loss to explain why one test showed 29% equine DNA”.
It also turned attention towards the companies supplying the additive for the contaminated burgers, stating: “Should our own testing prove positive, we are also considering our options in respect of the two suppliers concerned. It is vital that the integrity of the supply chain is assured and we are committed to restoring consumer confidence.”
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