Coveney promises to expose any fraud in horse meat controversy
New controversy has emerged after 75 per cent horse DNA was found in a meat product at Rangeland Foods. File photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has vowed to expose any possible fraudulent activity involved in the controversy over horse meat in burgers.
Addressing the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture this afternoon,Mr Coveney said the investigation was now trying to establish if there had been any fraudulent or criminal activity but he had to be careful not to prejudice the outcome of the investigation.
He also criticised "bad management practices" at Silvercrest Foods, the ABP-owned plant in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, which has been at the centre of the scandal.
Mr Coveney said the people involved in the actions that had led to the loss of major contracts had "let themselves down, let their company down and let the Irish food industry down and it should not have happened".
Mr Coveney told the committee he had invited Polish vets to Ireland if they considered it necessary to examine the product and accompanying documentation. "Somebody is selling rogue product and somebody knows about it and is responsible."
Food Safety Authority of Ireland chief executive Prof Alan Reilly said he believed the eventual impact of this controversy would be "positive for consumers and for the reputation of Ireland as a producer of safe and wholesome food".
Earlier today Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he was committed to resolving the horse meat crisis after the Food Safety Authority of Ireland warned of fraudsters "drip-feeding" contaminated product into the food chain.
As the scandal spread to more processors, the Garda fraud squad has been called in to help agriculture authorities track down the source of the mislabelled meat.
“This is a matter of reputation, obviously we cannot afford to have that,” Mr Kenny said. "It is a matter that needs to be sorted out and it will be sorted out."
Rangeland Foods in Co Monaghan was one of the latest plants to cease production after a sample at the factory tested positive with a reading of 75 per cent equine DNA in raw ingredient.
It supplies burgers to one of Ireland’s most popular fast food chains, Supermac’s, but the restaurant’s chief executive Pat McDonagh insisted he is sure all the firm's burgers are 100 per cent Irish.
The highest level of horse DNA has been found in a quantity of frozen meat being stored in Northern Ireland. Freeza Meats in Newry had meat which was 80 per cent equine, which the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA) said was potentially linked to the Silvercrest factory in the Republic of Ireland, one of the first processors to be named in the scandal. The meat has not entered the food chain and was not purchased by Freeza, a spokesman for the company said.
The same meat trader in Ireland has supplied meat to Freeza, Silvercrest and Rangeland, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) said. The source has been blamed on a meat supplier in Poland.
McAdam Foods, a meat trader based in Co Monaghan, confirmed a team of special investigators from the Department of Agriculture had been inspecting its premises and its deals with Polish suppliers.
The company specialises in delivering beef and pork products throughout Ireland and Northern Ireland. It also exports meats into the UK, Germany, Denmark and much of northern Europe.
In a statement this evening, McAdam Foods said management and staff at the company were "shocked and astonished" to discover that equine content has been identified in products which have been imported and supplied by them.
"McAdam Foods is a reputable and well run business and is compliant with all required food industry standards and regulations," it said.
The source of these products is Polish and McAdam Foods has identified the specific Polish supplier names to the Irish authorities. McAdam Foods states and confirms that any such products were bought and imported on the basis of their being ordered, documented, labelled and understood to be beef, and nothing else. The company has supplied all such labels and documentation to inspectors of the Department of Agriculture and the FSAI."
Professor Alan Reilly, whose research at the FSAI first exposed the contamination of processed beef burgers in Irish-made products, also briefed the Oireachtas committee this afternoon.
"The net is tightening for sure but the investigations have some way to go," Prof Reilly said before the hearing. "We are no longer talking about trace amounts... We are talking about horse meat. Somebody, some place is drip-feeding horsemeat into the burger manufacturing industry. We don’t know exactly where this is happening."
Prof Reilly said the level of horse DNA found meant there had to be "some level of fraud going on". This was why gardaí had been asked to get involved in the investigation. All checks by Irish and UK authorities have shown the contaminated or mislabelled meat has come from Poland, either directly, or through traders in the UK or one trader in Ireland.
Mr Coveney said he had asked An Garda Síochána to get involved in an inquiry led by his department’s special investigation unit.
Rangeland Foods, based in Castleblayney Co Monaghan, employs about 80 people and has a turnover of some €18 million, according to its website.
It said the beef consignment had come from Poland in early January and did not go into production.
Mr Coveney confirmed last night his department had received a test result confirming 75 per cent horse DNA in a raw material ingredient at Rangeland Foods. The raw material was imported through a meat trader based in Ireland.
A spokesman for Rangeland Foods said it had asked a German laboratory to carry out DNA tests on its ingredients following the controversy involving Silvercrest Foods, also in Co Monaghan.
The tests were positive for horse DNA and the company notified the Department of Agriculture on Thursday evening. Results of tests conducted by the department were received yesterday.
The spokesman for Rangeland said none of this product has entered the food chain and 90 per cent of Rangeland’s beef usage was of Irish origin.
Polish authorities said preliminary tests had found no equine material in five of the six facilities flagged by the Irish authorities. Jaroslaw Naze, deputy chief of Poland’s veterinary inspectorate, said Polish companies supplying the Irish meat processing industry were “ready to send their meat samples to be examined in Ireland”.
The ABP Food Group, owned by Larry Goodman, has lost contracts worth an estimated €45 million with Tesco, Aldi, the Co-Operative Group and Burger King over the matter.
The source of the equine DNA, in another case as high as 29 per cent in a burger, has been traced to a factory in Poland. ABP’s plant, Silvercrest, also in Co Monaghan, was found to have been supplying contaminated products.
The committee will decide tomorrow whether ABP should be called in to explain its part in the saga.
Farm organisations have reacted angrily to the news that a second meat processor has been drawn into the horse meat controversy. IFA president John Bryan said this was further evidence that only Irish raw material must be used in the manufacture of Irish beef burgers.
Mr Bryan said today it was "completely unacceptable" to farmers that somebody had "taken a shortcut" and bought product from someone they shouldn't, then "stuck it in a box and labelled it as Irish". Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Pat Kenny programme, he said the need for Silvercrest or Rangeland to be using such product "just doesn't add up".
Fianna Fáil spokesman on food Éamon Ó Cuív has called for an independent investigation into the ongoing horse meat controversy.
"Somebody should be appointed by the Oireachtas to investigate the whole background to this particular issue and to find out what the source of the contamination is but also to examine the whole issue of horse meat in Ireland and how it’s handled,! Mr Ó Cuiv said this morning.
He added that any such investigation should not hinder garda enquiries into the matter. "I think it would be very important that we would know where the gardaí have been called in, what investigations they’re carrying out” and whether the fraud squad has been called in.
"Obviously to misrepresent a product would be potential fraud so it’s very very important that anything that would be done by the Oireachtas…would not in any way interfere with an Garda Síochana in their work and we’d have to be advised by them in that regard."
Additional reporting: PA