FSA update on testing of beef products for horse DNA

Last updated:
22 February 2013
The FSA has received the second set of test results from the food industry, which has been checking for the presence of horse DNA in products that are labelled as beef.

Food industry testing

The main results from the food industry's own tests are as follows:

  • The overwhelming majority, 3599 (over 99%), of tests contained no horse DNA at or above the level of 1%.
  • 35 results, representing 13 products, contained horse DNA at or above the 1% threshold. These products have already been named and withdrawn from sale. These are detailed in the attached report (see Table 2).
  • Overall, there have been 3634 results received from a range of manufacturers, retailers, caterers and wholesalers throughout the UK. This includes the 1133 new results published today that show six further products containing horse DNA, since the first set of industry results was announced last week.
  • No tests to date on samples containing horse DNA have found the veterinary medicine phenylbutazone (bute).
  • There have been and continue to be instances where food businesses have withdrawn products due to trace contamination levels, or on a precautionary basis; for example, where they have been produced by manufacturers that have supplied other products found to be contaminated with horse DNA.

The FSA's main focus at this point is on gross contamination of beef products with the substitution of horse meat, where there is more than 1% horse DNA detected in a product. The Agency believes that such levels of horse DNA indicate either gross negligence or deliberate substitution of one meat for another.

The major trade organisations, representing the businesses carrying out the testing, have provided estimates of the percentage of tests completed to date. Retailers inform us that they have completed approximately 90% of tests; manufacturers, caterers and wholesalers indicate they have completed around 80% of their tests. This includes all the major suppliers to schools, hospitals and other public institutions. A further update of industry testing results will be published next Friday.

Additional test results

The FSA is able to confirm today information regarding two further tests that have found horse DNA, which have been detected by industry prior to the formal testing programme or through other testing and investigations by the Agency and by local authorities. Details of these products are also available in the report attached below (see Table 3).

FSA and local authority sampling programme

The FSA’s own formal sampling programme is already well under way and being carried out by local authorities across the UK. This programme will provide further validation of the testing carried out by the food industry.

This programme includes minced beef products, such as burgers and sausages, and also ready-meals where beef is an ingredient. We expect to be in a position to release the initial findings from this sampling in early March.

Additionally, as part of the work going on across Europe, the UK has been asked to take 150 samples that are labelled as containing beef or indicate they contain beef, such as minced meat and meat products (e.g. burgers, pies and ready meals) for sale at retail, wholesale and catering outlets.

A cross-Government group is finalising the protocol and details of products to be sampled, to ensure we provide a representative sample, covering a variety of products. Samples will not include gelatine, as indications from the Commission are that this is out of scope.

Twenty-four local authorities across the UK are being recruited to carry out the sampling for this survey work (different from the 28 LAs undertaking the previous surveys) and the samples will be tested by Public Analysts.

Sampling will start on 25 February and results from the analysis will be sent to the Commission in early April 2013.

Commenting on the industry results, FSA Chief Executive Catherine Brown said: 'The overwhelming majority of results, over 99%, have come back negative for the presence of horse DNA above the threshold of 1% - which is reassuring for consumers.

'However, our work is far from done. The sampling programme being carried out by local authorities on behalf of the FSA is already well under way and we expect to report the initial findings from that work in early March.

'We are also committed to pursuing enforcement action where we can, to ensure that those who were at fault take full responsibility for their actions. We are determined to get to the bottom of this to find out exactly what happened - and to make sure it doesn’t happen again.'