Ask the wrong question, what do you expect?

Horse meat answer left newspaper in the dark

Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food, Simon Coveney  presented his report to the Dáil on the ongoing horsemeat scandal. Photograph: Eric Luke /The Irish Times

Minister for Agriculture, Marine and Food, Simon Coveney presented his report to the Dáil on the ongoing horsemeat scandal. Photograph: Eric Luke /The Irish Times

Sat, Mar 16, 2013, 10:03

CANTILLON: The former Fianna Fáil minister, Ray Burke, and the former Fine Gael leader, John Bruton, have in their time defended the non-disclosure of information while in Government to members of the opposition on the basis that they weren’t asked the right question.

This point of view came to mind yesterday when the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, presented his report to the Dáil on the ongoing horsegate scandal.

Not too long ago this newspaper got an anonymous letter to the effect that it had now emerged that Dawn Farm Foods had tested Polish beef between April and September 2012 and got some positive results for the presence of equine DNA. Yet this information had not been disclosed to the department, the letter said, and it was not until January 2013 that subsequent findings elsewhere led to the launch of this ongoing crisis.

Minister Coveney’s press office was contacted and asked if this was the case. The press officer took a note and went to get a response. Some time later the answer was given that the department had no such information but that it would like it if the newspaper kept in contact over the issue. In yesterday’s report the Minister outlined how QK Meats had conducted tests for horse DNA on Polish beef last year but had not contacted the authorities when some of the tests proved positive. The first of these tests were conducted in June, 2012, approximately half a year b efore the Food Safety Authority of Ireland conducted its tests in Silvercrest and elsewhere. The department was not told of the QK Meats tests until February 5th of this year.

Despite the positive tests during 2012, QK continued to supply untested Polish material to Dawn Fresh Foods, Fethard, Co Tipperary, as well as customers abroad.

When the department was reminded yesterday of its response to the anonymous information given to this newspaper, the answer included phrases that would be familiar to messrs Burke and Bruton.