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Tesco Apologizes for Horse DNA in Burgers Amid Media Backlash

Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Tesco Plc, the U.K.’s largest supermarket chain, apologized to customers amid a media backlash over the discovery of horse DNA in frozen beef burgers.

“We and our supplier have let you down and we apologize,” Cheshunt, England-based Tesco said in a statement. “We will find out exactly what happened and, when we do, we’ll come back and tell you. And we will work harder than ever with all our suppliers to make sure this never happens again.”

Tesco Chief Executive Officer Philip Clarke wrote on the supermarket chain’s blog last night that he was “angry” with suppliers and took out full-page advertisements in British and Irish newspapers today including The Sun, Metro, the Irish Independent and Irish Times explaining the “serious problem” and Tesco’s response to it.

About 37 percent of beef burger products examined in a broad survey by Ireland’s food safety authority tested positive for horse DNA, while 85 percent showed pig DNA. Tesco was among retailers that sold the products alongside Aldi, Lidl, Iceland Foods Ltd. and Dublin-based Dunnes Stores. The beef doesn’t pose any public health concerns, the agency said.

The affected Tesco products -- the Everyday Value frozen beef burger, a frozen quarter-pound burger from the company’s mid-tier range and a branded line called Flamehouse Frozen Chargrilled Quarter Pounders -- were supplied by Silvercrest Foods, a unit of ABP Food Group. Tesco has removed all 26 frozen burger products supplied by Silvercrest from its stores.

‘Prompt Actions’

Clarke said on the blog that he expects suppliers to “deliver to a standard, and to meet basic food traceability rules.” Still, the executive said “you won’t find us hiding behind our suppliers” and promised to reveal what happened.

Tesco’s “prompt actions” mean its U.K. sales may not be badly affected, according to Clive Black, an analyst at Shore Capital. “The contamination is not exclusive to the retailer and prompt actions have been taken to reassure customers, outlined in national advertisements today,” he said in a note.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland said Ireland’s Liffey Meats and Dalepak Hambleton in the U.K. also supplied beef products containing horse DNA to supermarkets.

Silvercrest and Dalepak said they had never purchased or traded in equine products and have started an investigation into European suppliers who they suspect are the source. Liffey also said it withdrew all products identified by tests.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah Shannon in London at sshannon4@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Celeste Perri at cperri@bloomberg.net

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