Minister Simon Coveney criticises beef companies over role in horsemeat crisis

Friday 15 March 2013 15.17
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Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said the focus would now be on food authenticity
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said the focus would now be on food authenticity
Mr Coveney said Silvercrest Foods had failed to respect customer specifications
Mr Coveney said Silvercrest Foods had failed to respect customer specifications
Tesco Chief Executive Philip Clarke said Tesco was implementing the most comprehensive DNA regime ever
Tesco Chief Executive Philip Clarke said Tesco was implementing the most comprehensive DNA regime ever

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has sharply criticised a number of beef companies for shortcomings uncovered during the official investigation into horsemeat contamination.

Speaking in a special debate in the Dáil, Mr Coveney said the practices of the Silvercrest Foods and QK Cold Stores firms were totally unacceptable.

He also said he was extremely concerned at the failure of Silvercrest's parent company, ABP Foods, to maintain proper oversight.

Mr Coveney said QK had knowingly withheld information about problems in the supply chain, while Silvercrest had failed to respect customer specifications.

A third company, B&F Meats, was found to be involved in mislabelling of a limited quantity of horsemeat for export to the Czech Republic.

Mr Coveney told TDs that sloppy management and fraudulent practices had threatened the reputation of Irish food products and he outlined a range of steps that had now been taken.

He said the focus would now be on food authenticity as much as food safety and that would require a range of extra tests.

The minister warned that the problem of adulteration of beef products was an EU-wide problem, with 26 out of 27 countries affected.

He said that the department was now taking steps to make horse traceability to the same level as that of cattle and beef.

Report highlights management failures

A Government report has found that management failures at ABP Foods "put at risk the entire agri-food sector in this country".

The report published found that:

- The controversy put at risk to an extent the reputation of the Irish meat processing industry at home and in the UK.

- B&F Meats in Carrick on Suir had put a false label on product. The report says the company has denied any fraud.

- According to the report, an inspection at Ossory Meats in Banagher, Co Offaly found that 25 horses presented for slaughter had irregularities relating to passport and microchip identifiers.

- The ABP-owned Silvercrest had failed to respect customer specifications, although there was no evidence the firm knowingly used horsemeat.

- Given that ABP was Ireland's biggest beef processor, it was a real concern that effective corporate governance structures had not been in place.

- The report says that QK Meats, knowing that the State was in a full public investigation into the source of equine contamination during January, failed to inform the department of its earlier findings following positive DNA test results. The plant remains under investigation.

- However, no issues arose in the investigation of Liffey Meats, ABP Nenagh and Dawn Fresh Foods.

Tesco chief confident over tests

Elsewhere, the chief executive of Tesco has said he would be very surprised if there were many more products identified as containing contaminants in the near future.

Philip Clarke was speaking during a visit to Belfast.

Earlier this week, horse DNA was discovered in a Tesco product produced by a firm in Co Armagh.

Mr Clarke said he believed that when the inquiries into the horsemeat scandal were completed it would be very clear that there were elements in the supply chain seeking to adulterate products of suppliers, retailers and manufacturers alike.

He said Tesco was seeking to ensure that this does not happen again by implementing the most comprehensive DNA regime ever.

Mr Clarke also said that Tesco planned to double the amount of fresh meat it sources in Northern Ireland.

Tesco currently spends £500m a year on produce in Northern Ireland.