HOSPITALS in Northern Ireland have withdrawn beef burgers due to traces of horse DNA being found.
The Department of Health confirmed the move on Friday after procurement wing, the Business Services Organisation, received advice from its food supplier and the Foods Standards Agency.
The four main hospitals in Belfast – the City, the Royal Victoria, the Ulster and the Mater – are affected.
A Health spokesperson said: “The Business Services Organisation (BSO) as the lead body for the procurement of fresh, frozen and ready meals for the HSC has measures in place to audit and assure the quality and providence of food supplies.
“In addition to our normal safeguards BSO has put in place a series of measures to ensure that we can maintain confidence in the food chain. We are working with the Foods Standard Agency and our suppliers to ensure that we have the most up to date information on quality of supply.
“We have acted immediately to remove one range of beef burger from health and social care facilities, this was on the advice of the FSA and the food supplier.
“We will remain vigilant as the results of further testing become available and ensure that we can maintain confidence in the food that our Trusts provide to patients and clients.”
The Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill is holding a special meeting with a number of Executive ministers to address the horse meat controversy on Friday morning.
Ministers are expected to receive an urgent update on the situation from senior officials from the Food Standards Agency at the Loughry agriculture campus in Cookstown, Co Tyrone.
Test results for horse meat in processed meals are due on Friday afternoon. They will come from all beef products such as burgers, meatballs and lasagne. The FSA said it wanted the food industry to show the food it sells and serves is what it says it is on the label.
The Ulster Farmers Union also hosted a special meeting on Friday morning, with top food and business bodies, to try and come up with a way forward that will boost consumer confidence in the meat industry.
Harry Sinclair, of the Ulster Farmer’s Union, said: “Farmers have come through a very difficult year. We’ve only in the last couple of weeks saw the incomes for farmers being announced – a 52% drop. So farmers are felling very, very despondent out there at the moment.
“They feel this whole thing is actually the food chain letting them down.”
He said that looking forward, the crisis could provide an opportunity for the local industry.
Mr Sinclair explained that the food chain did not need to be so long – involving numerous countries – as there was a very short food chain available in Northern Ireand.
“We’ve a high quality product and that should actually give confidence to the consumer – and consumers should be asking for it.”
He added that farmers didn’t want any testing costs to be pushed back down the chain to them.
Ian Stevenson, chief executive of the Livestock and Meat Commission, said they are encouraging people to look out for the Farm Quality Assurance logo.
The scheme is operated by the commission on behalf of the beef and sheep industry and was developed to give consumers assurances about the farm end of the production chain of their food.
“NI produce, we can stand over it – it has been produced on farms, processed under a whole series of rigorous assurance and integrity schemes.”
Glyn Roberts, the chair of the NI Independent Retailer Trade Association, has called for the Agriculture Minister to convene a round table meeting with retailers, processors, suppliers and farmers as soon as possible “to hammer out this issue.”
“I think there’s a lot of players to this particular problem and if we’re going to solve the problem, we’ve got to have everybody round the table working at an agreed solution,” he said.
Elsewhere, detectives are still questioning three men arrested in Wales and England in connection with the mis-labelling scandal.
They were arrested on suspicion of offences under the Fraud Act and were taken into custody from two plants inspected and temporarily shut down by the FSA on Tuesday.