Farmers raise doubts over prosecutions
Committee report in UK expresses dismay ‘at the slow pace of investigations’
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said one prosecution was being pursued in connection with the deliberate mislabelling of meat product
Farmers remain sceptical that any meat industry figures will be prosecuted for their role in the horsemeat scandal, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association has said.
The comment follows yesterday’s publication of the findings of an inquiry by Britain’s House of Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee into the handling of the crisis.
The report expressed disappointment at the lack of prosecutions in the UK and Ireland and said it was “dismayed at the slow pace of investigations”.
ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan said: “We’ll believe it when we see it”, regarding the likelihood of prosecutions being taken.
“Farmers are cynical about the different treatment that they get from the authorities compared to the way in which meat companies are being dealt with,” he said.
“If a farmer breaches any minor regulation, even down to small paperwork errors, there are severe financial consequences. Yet when there are serious issues around horsemeat being passed off as beef, there seems to be no urgency about penalties. Farmers think it’s one law for the little people and another law for the big boys in the meat industry.”
Asked about the progress of the Garda investigation into the mislabelling of meat products, a Garda spokesman said: “We continue to liaise with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in this matter.”
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said one prosecution was being pursued in connection with the deliberate mislabelling of meat product.
“We have been taking legal advice as to how to secure that prosecution,” he said. “I’ve made it very clear that I want to secure prosecutions, but I’m not going to go to court unless I know I can win.”
He said the lack of a prosecution was not because of a lack of effort as it took time to put a strong case together. “And if we can secure a prosecution we will do that,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
SDLP MP Margaret Ritchie, a member of the environment, food and rural affairs committee in the UK, said some members of the committee had been very critical of Ireland and felt that it was not doing enough.
However, she said the final report was “toned down considerably” in that respect and was more critical of the British government’s performance. She said the scandal highlighted the need for greater co-operation between British and Irish authorities and closer cross-Border co-operation in Ireland.
The committee had robust exchanges with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) chief executive Alan Reilly during its hearings. MPs had suggested that the Irish authorities were more concerned with protecting the Irish beef industry than in finding out how horsemeat had appeared in beef products. Prof Reilly rejected this and told MPs their citizens would still be eating horsemeat if it hadn’t been for the tests carried out by the FSAI.
The MPs also met ABP Food Group chief executive Paul Finnerty. Among other things they questioned him about the involvement of his chairman, Larry Goodman, in the beef tribunal. Mr Finnerty said the events of 25 years ago bore no relation to the horsemeat crisis and said ABP had never knowingly purchased horsemeat.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture said arrangements were being made to ensure all meat traders were registered as food business operators. This was one of the recommendations made in the department’s Equine DNA & Mislabelling of Processed Beef Investigation report, published in March.