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Horses for courses...

News that supermarket burgers were ‘contaminated’ with horsemeat provided a ‘perfect storm’ as far as the media were concerned, with negative coverage about the meat industry nearly rivalling the ‘bad old days’ of the BSE scare during the 1990s.

The discovery by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland of ‘equine DNA’ in some burger products created a media storm around the meat industry not seen since the announcement in 1996 that there may be a link between BSE cattle and human brain disease (CJD).

Although no food safety risk was involved on this occasion, the findings created something of a ‘perfect storm’ in the media – combining the public affection for horses with their cynical view of Tesco and some other retailers with a story about consumers being hoodwinked by the inclusion of cheap, low quality ingredients in their food.

The Irish beef conglomerate, the ABP Food Group, was the company involved, with production practices at three of its subsidiaries, Silvercrest Foods and Liffey Meats in Ireland and the Dalepak site in Hambleton in Yorkshire called into question. The offending ingredients were finally traced to a source in Poland and, amongst others, own label burger products in Tesco, Aldi, Lidl and Iceland were implicated. The discovery resulted in a massive product recall and termination of numerous supply arrangements with ABP Group companies.

Tesco issued a public apology to the media and promised to rectify matters as soon as possible.

The event was covered in all areas of the media on a daily basis during January and a small selection of the reports can be accessed on these links:

Daily Mail

Daily Telegraph

Guardian

Mirror

Times

BBC

A further flurry of negative coverage for the meat industry resulted from reports that Pork DNA had been discovered in a range of Halal certified meat pies delivered to the prison service by distributor 3663 and another Irish processor, McColgan Quality Foods.

The Sun

Daily Mail

Times

BBC

As a result of both these incidents, it is certain that the meat processing industry will have to take on board increased surveillance measures to document the provenance and traceability of meat ingredients used, including additional checks using DNA and isotope testing.