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Faulty Beef Burgers

This is the appropriate editorial to replace that of the Irish Times of 2nd February 2013.

The blame for Ireland’s faulty beef burgers lies with the relevant Irish meat processors and, maybe, with someone in Poland. The testing of the burgers showed two pertinent facts; the animal source of the burger content and the proportion coming from each animal type. Of the tested burgers, most contained trace elements of horse and/or pig. One did not. That one burger, from Silvercrest Foods Ltd., revealed that Silvercrest’s meat constituent of the burger was one third horse meat. The other burgers, with traces of adulteration, were evidence of contamination, probably from the factory machinery. The machinery, in its turn, must have been contaminated by the very same source as the Silvercrest  burger; the meat the processors had put through the machines and into the burgers. The fact that there were traces only in those other burgers was not a relief; it simply showed the adulteration had passed through the factory and was, or had been, in an earlier burger production run.

Why did it take the Minister so long to discover Silvercrest’s meat sources led to, inter alia, Poland?

The fact that the public does not know the full facts relating to the adulteration of its food is the responsibility of the Minister for Agriculture and Food. It is unacceptable that the Minister persists in implying that unwittingly eating horse and pig meat is not a food safety issue. The public did not choose to eat horse or pig in the circumstances in which it ate those meats; the Minister is wrong to imply that the public does not know what is good for it, or that its loss of control over its food is not a big deal. Strictly, the Minister seems to think frozen burgers are fungible protein sources.

It is galling that Tesco is acting as the Minister should have acted; applying severe but appropriate sanctions to the guilty. Of what is Silvercrest guilty? It, reputedly, breached its contract with Tesco. It was limited under that contract to sourcing its meat from Irish or British suppliers. That contract would not have failed to stipulate that the meat was to be beef meat. When Silvercrest supplied Tesco it knew that the burgers, or some of them, were not in accordance with contract. Every such supply to Tesco involved a misrepresentation by Silvercrest. Unwittingly, presumably, Tesco in its turn misrepresented the contents of the burgers to its customers. In fact each of those misrepresentations was really a misrepresentation of Silvercrest to each consumer. Tesco was just a conduit of the falsehood. To suggest that this was a failure of quality control is, to be charitable, poor judgement. What Tesco describes as a “breach of trust” is clearly a breach of contract and a breach of Section 41 of the Consumer Protection Act 2007. It is an unsettled point whether it was also a breach of Section 42 of the Consumer Protection Act 2007.

It is disturbing that the Polish authorities are challenging the Silvercrest and Ministerial narrative of events. If Poland is not the source of the horse meat, what is the Minister going to do about that, resigning aside?