LONDON/DUBLIN Burger King BKW.N, one of the most popular fast-food chains in Britain and Ireland, said on Thursday it had stopped using one of the firms caught up in the scandal of supplying grocers with beef that contained horse meat.
The British food industry has been rocked by the revelation last week that retailers including market leader Tesco (TSCO.L) and smaller chains Aldi ALDIEI.UL, Lidl LIDUK.UL and Iceland ICFDG.UL had sold beef products that contained horse meat.
The scandal has left Ireland's 2 billion euros beef industry, which accounts for 21 percent of all of the country's food and drink exports, reeling from the first major knock-on effect from the discovery.
Food safety experts say horse meat poses no added health risks to consumers, but the discovery has raised concerns about the food supply chain and the ability to trace meat ingredients.
On its website, Burger King said it had decided to replace all Silvercrest products in Britain and Ireland with products from another approved Burger King supplier.
"This is a voluntary and precautionary measure," Burger King, famed for its flame-grilled burgers, said. "We are working diligently to identify suppliers that can produce 100 percent pure Irish and British beef products that meet our high quality standards."
The beef burger products from the grocers, which were revealed last week to have tested positive for horse DNA, were produced in processing plants by Liffey Meats and Silvercrest Foods in Ireland and Dalepak Hambleton in Britain.
The authority responsible for food safety in Ireland said Burger King was still interested in sourcing beef from alternative Irish producers, which still had the capacity to take on large contracts.
"Burger King has said they're looking at other Irish sources to try and source and replace this," John Bryan, president of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) told Ireland's state broadcaster, RTE, on Thursday.
"Several of them would have the capacity to take up an 8,000 tonne burger contract and there would be plenty of availability of meat to fill this contract," he said.
The exact figures on Burger King's contract with Silvercrest are not clear.
Ireland's agriculture minister Simon Coveney, under pressure to stem the flight of customers of Irish meat, said Burger King wanted to source beef from Britain and Ireland.
"Burger King have said that they do want to source beef from Britain and Ireland because they realise the high standards here," he told RTE radio on Thursday.
Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny said at the weekend he was "not satisfied" that the government had got to the bottom of how nine out of 13 burgers from the plant tested positive for traces of horse meat in a set of DNA tests.
Tesco, Britain's biggest retailer, last week withdrew from sale all products from its supplier, Silvercrest, which is owned by Ireland-based ABP Food Group, saying it was working with authorities and the supplier to urgently understand how horse meat came to be in the product.
ABP Foods said at the time that the source of the contamination was a beef based product bought from two third-party suppliers outside of Ireland.
A Tesco Everyday Value burger made at the Silvercrest plant was found to contain 29 percent horse meat when tested.
The discovery of horse meat could be both embarrassing and damaging for the retailers involved. The mass-selling Sun newspaper carried the Burger King announcement on its front page on Thursday with the headline "Shergar King", in reference to a famous racehorse that was kidnapped and never seen again.
The value of Ireland's food and drink exports is about 9 billion euros, representing 6 percent of the amount of goods and services produced and 10 percent of all Irish exports.
(Reporting by Kate Holton in London and Stephen Mangan in Dublin; Editing by Mike Nesbit)