Tesco has apologised to consumers after large quantities of horsemeat were found in beefburgers sold by the supermarket in the UK and Ireland.

Scientific tests performed on burgers sold at Tesco Everyday Value Beef Burgers showed horsemeat accounted for approximately 29% of the product. Meanwhile, Tesco’s Beef Quarter Pounders were found to contain traces of horse DNA (0.1%).

Tesco said it had withdrawn the products from supermarket shelves and was working with the authorities in the UK and Ireland and the suppliers concerned to ensure that this type of contamination did not happen again.

Tesco’s group technical director Tim Smith said: “The safety and quality of our food is of the highest importance to Tesco. We will not tolerate any compromise in the quality of the food we sell.

“The presence of illegal meat in our products is extremely serious. Our customers have the right to expect that food they buy is produced to the highest standards.

“We understand that many of our customers will be concerned by this news, and we apologise sincerely for any distress.”

Traces of horsemeat were found in beefburgers sold at Tesco and three other leading supermarkets, according to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).

A study by the FSAI found the presence of horse DNA in frozen burgers sold in the UK and Ireland at Tesco, Aldi Iceland and Lidl.

The burgers were produced at two processing plants in Ireland – Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods – and Dalepak Hambleton in the UK.

A total of 27 beefburger products were analysed and 10 of the 27 products (37%), from the four supermarkets and the Irish chain Dunnes Stores, tested positive for horse DNA and 23 (85%) for pig DNA.

In addition, 31 beef meal products, such as cottage pie, beef curry pie and lasagne were analysed and 21 tested positive for pig DNA and all were negative for horse DNA. All 19 salami products analysed tested negative for horse DNA.

Traces of horse DNA were also detected in batches of raw ingredients, including some imported from The Netherlands and Spain.

The FSAI said it was working with the meat processing plants and Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Marine to find out how horse DNA could have found its way into these products.

The retailers had agreed to remove all implicated batches from their shelves immediately, it added.

Alan Reilly, FSAI chief executive, said consumers should not be worried, as the findings posed no risk to public health, but they did raise some concerns.

“The products we have identified as containing horse DNA and/or pig DNA do not pose any food safety risk and consumers should not be worried. Consumers who have purchased any of the implicated products can return them to their retailer,” said Prof Reilly.

“While, there is a plausible explanation for the presence of pig DNA in these products due to the fact that meat from different animals is processed in the same meat plants, there is no clear explanation at this time for the presence of horse DNA in products emanating from meat plants that do not use horse meat in their production process

“In Ireland, it is not in our culture to eat horsemeat and therefore, we do not expect to find it in a burger. Likewise, for some religious groups or people who abstain from eating pig meat, the presence of traces of pig DNA is unacceptable.”

More on this topic

Fighting for food chain justice