Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Send your burgers back, school canteens ordered

No equine DNA is recalled meat, suppliers insists

Beef burgers to be eaten by thousands of schoolchildren in Northern Ireland have been recalled over fears the frozen produce could contain traces of horse meat.

As many as 166,000 children in nursery, primary and post-primary school eat school dinners every day – 55% of all pupils.

Although the product has been withdrawn, the Department of Education has moved to assure parents that there is no food safety or health risk.

A spokesman said: "The department has been advised that a supplier of frozen burgers to education and library boards has instigated a full product recall following detection of trace amounts of equine DNA in the supply chain.

"This is a precautionary step and the Food Standards Agency has confirmed that there is no food safety or health risk from the products. The position is being kept under review and the Food Standards Agency will issue further advice on any developments."

But last night Newtownabbey-based Henderson Food Services, which distributes the burgers to the education and library boards, said independent tests had found no equine DNA in the products.

There was widespread confusion yesterday with two boards – the South Eastern and the Southern – stating they had withdrawn frozen burgers from school dinners as a precaution.

However, the Southern Board later did a U-turn, saying it had reinstated burgers on school menus following receipt of confirmation from suppliers that all meat supplied is from a bovine source.

Then a third education and library board – the Northern – revealed it had withdrawn burgers as a precaution.

This was superseded by the department issuing its statement yesterday evening.

Last night the Northern Regional College in Co Antrim, which falls under the remit of the Department for Employment and Learning, said it was also removing burgers from canteens as a precaution.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill (right) has refused to back the Food Standards Agency for its handling of the meat crisis in Northern Ireland. Ms O'Neill also said Health Minister Edwin Poots should have come forward and spoken out more on the food safety issue.

She said she would be meeting Mr Poots soon, as "tbe FSA are reporting to him".

Asked if she had confidence in the independent FSA, which is leading the investigation into the horse meat scandal, Ms O'Neill repeatedly declined to back the agency in a radio interview.

"I'm going to reserve judgment because I'm not confident in the fact that the investigation is taking so long," she told Radio Ulster.

"I'm not happy with the fact that the longer this goes on it's causing reputational damage to local industry, even though they're not involved.

"So I'll reserve judgment at this time, until we get to the bottom of this situation, because obviously there's either fraudulent activity or gross negligence.

"Either way, it needs to be exposed."

However, the FSA's Northern Ireland director Gerry McCurdy said official advice had been offered to public institutions that offer meat – but it was up to them to carry out checks.

Speaking before the Education Department issued its statement, Mr McCurdy said different boards had taken different approaches.

"Some of those suppliers may well be able to give assurances... which satisfy them that they can go ahead and use that product," he said. "Others may not be able to provide that assurance at this point in time. And as a precautionary measure, some of those boards may well be holding back in terms of letting that product be supplied into the system until such times as they get those guarantees."

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