Test results are expected today which will show whether horse meat was confined to one batch of burgers or was knowingly imported by the beef factory which made them.
A “complex” chain of production is being traced by Department of Agriculture officials but so far they have not found evidence that the Silvercrest Food manufacturers deliberately allowed equine product into their Monaghan plant.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney told the Dáil further DNA tests carried out at the factory by his officials on Tuesday “will bring clarity to this preliminary conclusion”.
He said no evidence has emerged from its investigation to date linking the imported horse DNA to other factories owned by beef baron Larry Goodman, whose ABP Group owns Silvercrest.
Sources said if the results show horse DNA then the department will take its investigations further.
Mr Coveney came under criticism yesterday for failing to inform the public earlier about concerns over the presence of horse meat in beef burgers sold across five supermarket chains.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said if tests were “showing worrying results” back in December “the public should have been alerted far earlier”.
Mr Coveney confirmed that his department had been contacted by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on Dec 21 to provide assistance in getting samples from ingredients at some processing plants.
But he said it was not until Monday, Jan 14, that he was alerted to the results of tests showing presence of horse DNA in burger samples and “immediately commenced a full scale investigation”.
A spokesperson for the minister said it is routine for the department to provide assistance to the FSAI in testing products and there was no reason to raise concerns.
Mr Coveney assured the Dáil he would take a “very tough line” with all involved following the discovery that one brand of frozen burgers found in Tesco contained 29% of horse meat.
Silvercrest Foods said it is “at a loss to explain” how this happened to the burgers it produced and believes equine product came from beef-based products it imported from the continent.
During Dáil questions, Sinn Féin’s Martin Ferris asked Mr Coveney if any of these companies were owned by Larry Goodman.
He said when they are known, the companies will be named. He said inquiries show “there is no linkage in terms of ownership of companies, but let’s wait and see until we have the full picture”.
Roscommon TD Denis Naughton said he did not think the company would put their business at risk by knowingly using horse meat in burgers.
He told the minister he must ensure that “someone pays and pays dearly for undermining the integrity of the food chain”.
Mr Coveney said 100,000 jobs are dependent on the food industry and “we need to ensure we do everything to ensure we can maintain Ireland’s reputation as a real quality food producer”.
“What might have caused this problem is not a lack of regulation but a lack of respect for that regulation.”
More meat, higher price
*Many consumers, when they go to buy burgers or sausages, look for the product with the highest meat content.
However, in many cases, the higher the percentage of pure meat, the higher the price.
For example, the ingredients in the Tesco Everyday Beef Burgers, one of the products at the heart of the current controversy, read: “Beef (63%),onion (10%), wheat flour, water, beef fat, soya protein isolate, salt, onion powder, yeast, sugar, barley malt extract, garlic powder, white pepper extract, celery extract, onion extract.”
Because of the low beef content, they sell at less than €2 per pack of eight burgers. If the product were 100% beef, the retailer would make a huge loss at that price.
Paddy Wall, former head of the European Food Safety Authority and now professor of public health in UCD, told RTÉ’s Today with Pat Kenny show: “The additional functional ingredients are added more so to the cheap frozen burgers where you can buy six burgers for relatively little in the shops. The cheap burgers have less beef and poorer quality beef in them and probably have additional fillers to fill them up because they are not 100% pure beef.”
His colleague at UCD Frank Monahan said: “There is a whole range of them. If you look at any food product label you will see that in addition to the meat, many different non-meat components, things like rusk, phosphates, salt, gelatine.”
— Stephen Rogers
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