Irish beef plant shuts over new horsemeat

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DUBLIN -- Food quality officials said yesterday that they have identified more traces of horsemeat in beef burgers produced in Ireland and pinpointed the problem in an imported ingredient. Ireland's second-largest manufacturer of supermarket beef patties shut down its production line in response.

The Irish Agriculture Department said nine of 13 burgers analyzed Tuesday tested positive for horse DNA. In a potentially crucial finding, it said seven ingredients added to the product also were tested and only one, imported from an unspecified European country, tested positive for horse DNA. It said the six Irish-produced ingredients did not contain equine material.

"Identifying the source of the one [ingredient] contaminated is good news. We're getting there. The fact that the burgers were contaminated isn't a surprise, if an ingredient was positive," said Mike Gibney, director of the Institute of Food and Health at University College Dublin.

The processing plant at the center of the controversy, Silvercrest Foods in County Monaghan, announced it would suspend operations indefinitely pending further investigations. The company has recalled 10 million beef burgers from supermarket shelves here and its main export market, Britain.

Ireland ordered the fresh testing of Silvercrest burgers hours after the country's Food Safety Authority published test results Tuesday of 27 brands of beef burgers on sale in November and December at Irish supermarkets. It found horsemeat in 10 of them. While virtually all had only minuscule traces, one produced for British supermarket giant Tesco had 29 percent horse content in its meat.

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While that discovery poses no threat to public health, Ireland says it highlights either sloppy practices, fraud or both in the production of processed meat products.

Tesco published large apologies in Irish and British newspapers yesterday, saying customers had a right to know exactly what they were eating.

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