Of the 2501 beef products ordered by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to be tested for the presence of horse DNA, 99 cent came back negative, confirmed the agency on 15 February. Positive results were found in only 29 samples, which contained undeclared horsemeat at or above the level of one per cent – however, these had already been reported to the authorities.
About 950 tests remain to be completed.
The FSA ordered the food industry to test composite beef products − such as burgers, lasagnes and meatballs – after Findus frozen beef lasagne was revealed to contain 100 per cent horsemeat.
Safety concerns are focused on the presence of the veterinary drug phenylbutazone or bute, which was termed a ‘known carcinogen’ by UK shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh. However, despite the scare that six carcasses containing bute, from horses slaughtered in the UK, may have entered the food chain in France, so far, no food product found to contain horse DNA has been contaminated with the drug.
‘It’s encouraging that we have received so many results from industry so quickly, which reaffirms their commitment to working with us to address the serious issue of consumer confidence in the UK food supply,’ comments FSA chief executive Catherine Brown. ‘More important for consumers, it shows that – in the vast majority of cases – the results so far are showing no horse DNA is present in the foods tested. But, this is still not the full picture. We’ve seen several other positive results come through and we expect industry to continue to supply us with regular updates on their testing regime.’
The FSA ordered the DNA tests to a tolerance of one per cent for two reasons. Firstly, above one per cent ‘any contamination would be due to either gross incompetence or deliberate fraud; it’s not going to be accidental,’ claims the agency. Secondly, some laboratories can test only to an accuracy of one per cent.
But, Brown maintains that this doesn’t mean that horse DNA at levels below the one per cent level is acceptable. ‘In terms of faith groups, there remains a significant issue about trace levels of other species below one per cent. So, we have a separate programme of work underway with DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to look at the issues around that, too.’