DUBLIN – Ireland's surprise discovery this month of horsemeat traces in factory-produced burgers is boosting business for one trade: Forensics labs that use DNA fingerprinting to tell you what's on your plate.
Horsemeat, which costs a fraction of beef, might not be bad for you to eat but it's definitely bad for sales of products that are labeled as beef.
Until now, supermarkets and food processors have not used DNA testing to determine whether food products marked as chicken, pork, beef, lamb or fish contain bits of other animals. Experts say that's because such findings don't affect food safety, only the integrity of labeling.
But a growing list of food processors and retailers say they will introduce such testing after the Food Safety Authority of Ireland — seeking to confirm whether food labels on meat and fish are accurate — used DNA testing to show that even "pure" processed meat products often contain traces of other animals slaughtered in the same facilities or carried in the same vehicles.
Worse, the agency's testing found that bargain-brand burgers produced at the Silvercrest food processing plant for sale by British supermarket king Tesco contained up to 29 percent horsemeat, a revelation that government and Silvercrest officials have pinned this week to a meat supplier from Poland.
atherine Brown, chief executive of Britain's Food Standards Agency, told London lawmakers on Wednesday that the undisclosed Polish firm supplied frozen blocks of offcuts — slaughterhouse leftovers — that were labeled as "beef trim" but actually were a mixture of cow and horse.
Brown said consumers in Britain and Ireland may have been eating horsemeat-heavy burgers for up to a year.
And compounding that impression, another British supermarket chain, the Co-operative Group, announced Wednesday its own DNA testing had found 17.7 percent horsemeat in one of 17 burger products pulled from its shelves earlier this month as a precaution. It blamed Silvercrest and immediately severed its supply contract with the company.