Tesco Plc (TSCO), the U.K.’s largest grocer, said it withdrew some beef products after tests by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland found some contained horse DNA.
Two frozen beef burger products sold by Tesco in both the U.K. and Ireland had horse DNA, the company said in a Jan. 15 statement on its web site. “We immediately withdrew from sale all products from the supplier in question,” the retailer said.
Irish food safety authorities on Jan. 15 said about 37 percent of the beef burger products it examined in a broad survey tested positive for horse DNA, while 85 percent showed pig DNA. Those with the horse cells were produced by processing plants in Ireland and the U.K., the food safety agency said. It listed Tesco as one of the retailers that sold the products.
Alan Reilly, chief executive of the Irish agency, said the beef doesn’t pose any public health concerns. There is no clear explanation for the presence of the horse DNA, he said.
“In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horse meat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger,” Reilly said.
Tesco shares fell as much as 1.7 percent in London trading. They were down 1.1 percent at 345.85 pence at 11:50 a.m.
“It’s damaging because people don’t want to think they’re eating horse and it brings into question the whole trust issue,” said Matt Piner, research director at Conlumino. “Retail trust is harder to build than throw away.”
The affected products were supplied to Tesco in Ireland by Silvercrest Foods, a unit of Irish company ABP Food Group, a Tesco spokeswoman said. Dalepak Foods produced affected meat in the U.K. while Liffey Meats also produced affected meat in Ireland, according to the FSAI.
“Although the products pose no risk to public health, Silvercrest has taken immediate action to isolate, withdraw and replace all suspect product,” Silvercrest said in a statement, adding that it has never purchased or traded in equine products and has launched an investigation into its European suppliers. Dalepak issued a similar release.
Tesco this month reported the strongest sales growth since 2010 as money-off coupons and an enhanced food offering helped spark a revival. U.K. sales at stores open at least a year rose 1.8 percent in the six weeks ended Jan. 5, excluding gasoline and value-added taxes, the Cheshunt, England-based grocer said. That was only the second quarter of growth in eight.
Iceland Foods said it has also withdrawn two Iceland- branded quarter pounder burger lines, after being alerted by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, according to an e-mailed statement.
Aldi also said it had taken three of its frozen burgers from shelves and is conducting further investigations, the discount grocer said on its Web site.
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