Urgent need to isolate source of burger problem
While the cause of the problem remains a concern, food safety controls have proven to be of high quality
The Government needs to get all the facts out concerning the horse DNA crisis as quickly as possible, former minister for agriculture Alan Dukes has said.
“I’m still not sure it’s horse DNA or horse meat that was found in the burgers. There seems to be some confusion over that,” he said.
Dukes, a public affairs consultant with Wilson Hartnell PR, said the Government was responding to the scandal in a correct and appropriate manner by conducting an inquiry into the situation.
“They’ve taken precautionary steps by removing everything from the shelves until they can fully investigate the problem. That was the right thing to do.”
He said one of the positive things to come out of the horse DNA crisis was the high standards of food regulation in Ireland. The current incident came to light as a result of ongoing policing of food authenticity by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. “Our food safety controls are better than other European countries which is excellent.”
Pádraig Slattery, managing director of Slattery PR, echoed Dukes, saying the most important thing for Ireland from a public relations point of view was to make all the information surrounding the crisis available to the public.
He spoke of the need “to communicate quickly what the full story is, how they are going to deal with it and how they are going to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Equally as important though is to ensure they don’t over-react to the situation”.
He said any crisis-prevention steps taken must be sound, well thought out and based on facts.
“We have had other food crises down through the years from BSE to the pork dioxin scare and the long-term impact on Irish food has not been negative. Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture have been very good at portraying Irish food as reliable and green.”
Slattery warned against concealing any information from the public, no matter how small, as it invariably always comes out and becomes a much bigger issue.
‘Honest and open’
“The Government and Government agencies need to be honest and open from the start. They only have one shot to get it right and get the truth out. You have to seem in charge from the start.”
He added that any inquiry and corrective measures taken had to be done as quickly as possible.
“Things need to be done fast in situations like this, a week or two at most. It can’t take months. As Anthony de Mello said, it’s not the issue but how he deals with the issue that defines the man and the same principle applies here.”