Brussels meeting to discuss tainted meat

Wed, Feb 13, 2013, 00:00

Politicians from seven countries affected by the horse meat scandal will attend a meeting in Brussels this evening called by Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.

It comes after British police raided a Welsh meat plant and a Yorkshire slaughterhouse over claims that horses killed in Britain were used to make low-cost meat dishes.

The raids, a significant escalation in the crisis surrounding food labelling, occurred as MPs in the House of Commons lauded the safety of British meat supplies and urged consumers to “buy British”.

Describing the developments as “absolutely shocking”, environment secretary Owen Paterson said: “It’s totally unacceptable if any business in the UK is defrauding the public by passing off horse meat as beef. I expect the full force of the law to be brought down on . . . this kind of activity.”

Meanwhile, a Polish veterinary delegation was expected to arrive in Ireland last night to be briefed on the Department of Agriculture’s investigation into how horse meat got into Polish beef product supplied to the Silvercrest and Rangeland plants in Co Monaghan.

Europe-wide scandal

The beef product that tested positive for horse DNA came via three different routes but all product was labelled as Polish. The Polish authorities have denied that the horse meat came from its country. The veterinary delegation is expected to spend a couple of days here, examining product and accompanying documentation.

The discovery of horse meat in Findus, Aldi and Tesco products last week turned the issue into a Europe-wide scandal. French company Comigel was involved, meat from Romania was blamed and the products were made in Luxembourg.

The Brussels meeting will be attended by relevant ministers from the UK, France, Luxembourg, Sweden, Romania and Poland. It will also be attended by EU commissioner for health and consumer policy Tonio Borg and a representative from the office of EU commissioner for agriculture Dacian Ciolos.

Mr Coveney said this was now a pan-European issue and it was important to discuss whatever steps may be necessary at EU level to address it. The problem would also be on the agenda of the next formal meeting of EU agriculture ministers on February 25th.

‘On the radar’

In the Northern Ireland Assembly politicians were told the problem of horse meat in products was not “on the radar” in the North until the discoveries were made by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

Gerry McCurdy, head of the Northern Ireland Food Standards Agency, said the discoveries had triggered a series of similar checks in the North.

Mr McCurdy told a joint meeting of the Assembly’s agriculture and health committees that 18 European states were now dealing with a probable fraudulent and complex “pan-European” problem of horse meat contamination.

Assembly members were told that meat was being traded across Europe to food processors as a commodity and that the difference in price between horse meat, at £700 a tonne, and beef, at £3,000 a tonne, was a “major” motivation for fraud.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on agriculture Éamon Ó Cuív has called on Mr Coveney to enforce stricter guidelines to curb the illegal horse meat trade in Ireland.