DUBLIN – Tesco PLC has dropped Silvercrest Foods as its beef supplier and plans to use DNA testing across the retailer's meat products.

Tesco, the largest retailer in Europe, joins Burger King and the Co-Op Food Group in switching beef suppliers after food-safety authorities in Ireland found horse DNA in ground beef. The Co-Op Food Group has 2,800 stores throughout Britain and Northern Ireland.

Tesco conducted its own investigation and shared its findings with customers.

“The evidence tells us that our frozen-burger supplier, Silvercrest, used meat in our products that did not come from the list of approved suppliers we gave them,” Tim Smith, group technical director of Tesco, said in a statement. “Nor was the meat from the UK or Ireland, despite our instruction that only beef from the UK and Ireland should be used in our frozen-beef burgers. Consequently, we have decided not to take products from that supplier in future. We took that decision with regret, but the breach of trust is simply too great.”

Smith said the company was taking steps to prevent a similar incident from re-occurring. Thus, the company will introduce comprehensive DNA testing across Tesco meat products.

“These checks will set a new standard,” Smith said. “It will be a significant investment for Tesco, borne by Tesco. We want to leave customers in no doubt that we will do whatever it takes to ensure the quality of their food and that the food they buy is exactly what the label says it is.”

The Co-Op Food Group said that although it specifies all meat in its frozen hamburgers should be British in origin, some of meat used to produce the burgers came from outside the UK. As a result, the company delisted Silvercrest as a supplier "with immediate effect".

ABP Food Group, parent company to Silvercrest Foods, suspended production at the plant after additional tests of its meat products were found to contain traces of horse meat. Additionally, ABP traced the source of the horsemeat to an ingredient imported from Poland.

In a statement issued Jan. 26, Paul Finnerty, group chief executive, said ABP never deliberately bought or processed horse meat and that all the company's purchases came from approved and licensed European Union plants.

“This has been a very difficult experience for all involved and has led to a significant interruption in business for Silvercrest and its customers,” Finnerty said. “We are relieved that the source of the problem has been identified.

“While the company has never knowingly purchased or traded in equine product, I wish to take this opportunity to apologize for the impact this issue has caused,” he added.

Following extensive internal investigations, ABP decided to appoint a new management team at the Silvercrest facility. The company also has undergone a re-organization.

“With immediate effect responsibility for the Silvercrest business will transfer to ABP Ireland [the Irish chilled-beef division],” Finnerty said. “The sister business in the UK, Dalepak Foods, will come under the immediate control of ABP UK [the UK chilled beef business].”

Going forward, the Group will be independently auditing all its third-party suppliers and has already begun implementing a new DNA-testing regime the company said is “over and above any legal requirements”.

“This DNA testing [including equine] will be in addition to our current comprehensive testing regime which the company carries out for food safety requirements,” Finnerty said.

Finnerty added that the source of the contaminated meat from Poland is not related to ABP’s plant in Poznan, and that the Poznan plant does not process horse meat.