Burger King Gets Caught Up in U.K.’s Horsemeat Scandal

The chain says it never sold horseburgers, but some media outlets see things differently.

Horseburger? (Photo: Miguel Villagran/Getty Images)

Feb 1, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

When you’re running a multinational restaurant chain, it can be surprisingly difficult to determine what was cooked where. At least that seems to be Burger King’s trouble since reports suggested that its U.K. locations bought meat from the same supplier that sold Tesco beef tainted with horse DNA.

For two weeks the company claimed that, despite its relationship with Silvercrest Foods, the source of Tesco’s horsemeat burgers, none of the Whoppers it sells in the U.K. were partially equine. But the Daily Mail reported yesterday that the company has “abandoned its earlier denials,” admitting in a statement, “Four samples recently taken from the Silvercrest plant have shown the presence of very small trace levels of equine DNA.”

Over at the Los Angeles Times, Burger King’s response to the horse-DNA test results at its supplier’s plant—and its subsequent severing of ties with Silvercrest—is given a markedly different spin: A story published this morning ran under the headline “Burger King says it never sold horse meat despite supplier issues.”

So what gives?

The latter narrative—that no horseburgers have been served at Burger King—aligns with a press release the chain issued yesterday, from which the language quoted in the Daily Mail was lifted. Following the chain’s so-called “admission” of guilt is this damning sentence: “This product was never sold to our restaurants.” The Mail cries cover-up, but doesn’t elaborate on the issue except to say that such allegations have been made (but by who?).

Despite this, Gawker has sided with the Mail: “There Was Horse Meat in Burger King’s Burgers After All.”

Press outlets can’t agree on what Burger King is or isn’t admitting too, and the confusion and denials don’t end there. All fingers point to a supplier in Poland as the point in Silvercrest’s supply chain where horse and beef collided. But Jaroslaw Naze, the deputy head of Poland’s General Veterinary Inspectorate, told the Associated Press, “I don’t have any signs yet that horsemeat was mixed with beef in Poland. But I am waiting for the final reports.”

Horseburgers and hamburgers aside, the takeaway from all of this is that fast-food supply chains are unruly things. If accountability is what consumers are looking for, things will have to move in the direction of McDonald’s new pollock supply chain, which can trace fish back to the fishery it originated from.

Case in point, Burger Kings tells Bloomberg Businessweek that it now plans to test its beef for horse, lamb and swine DNA.