EU ministers discuss horse meat crisis

Mon, Feb 25, 2013, 00:00

EU agriculture ministers will this evening discuss the deepening horse meat crisis, as part of the meeting on negotiations to reform the Common Agricultural Policy.

There will be a full debate on the EU-wide controversy at the EU Council meeting, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney, who will chair the meeting as part of Ireland’s presidency of the EU, left for Brussels yesterday after insisting that the Irish investigation into the scandal was detailed, complex and progressing well.

He said the special investigations unit was conducting the inquiry in conjunction with the Garda. “This investigation is independent and feeds into the department,” he said.

“This issue needs strong political leadership as well as a detailed investigation and a strong policy response at both national and European level. Ireland is leading that response and will continue to do so.”

He was responding to calls by Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin for him to step aside from the issue.

Speaking at the Fianna Fáil National Youth Conference in Sligo, Mr Martin urged the Government to establish an independent investigation in the wake of revelations that horse meat labelled as beef had been exported by BF Meats in Carrick-on-Suir, Co Tipperary.

The facility was closed down after inspectors found it was exporting horse meat under a Czech label which translated as beef.

‘Terrible conspiracy’

Referring to a “terrible conspiracy within the industry”, Mr Martin said many countries had been blamed but “now on our doorsteps we find mislabelling has occurred”.

Echoing comments by the party spokesman on agriculture Éamon Ó Cuív, Mr Martin said the issue had rumbled on for months, damaging consumer confidence, which was critical to the wellbeing of the industry.

“From day one, I think the Minister has misread the gravity and scale of the issue,” he said. Mr Coveney had consistently sought to minimise the significance of the issue and had “rushed to declare it solved”.

But the Minister said the department would be happy to give the Fianna Fáil leader a briefing on the investigation at this stage “to get a full understanding of the complexity involved”.

Department sources pointed out that a meeting with seven other EU ministers and the EU Commissioner arranged by Mr Coveney had resulted in the introduction of an EU-wide DNA testing programme.

In a separate development, the director of the State agriculture development agency, Teagasc, said the discovery at BF Meats was “the first time that horse meat produced in Ireland was . . . found to have been exported to the Czech Republic”.

Thorough investigation

Addressing the Colmcille Winter School in Gartan, Co Donegal, Prof Gerry Boyle described the development as “very worrying”. “I don’t think unfortunately we have seen the end of it,” he added.

It was imperative the investigation be conducted as thoroughly as possible, he said. “The worst thing would be if there was an announcement that the investigation was complete and subsequently there was another revelation.”

However, “the fact that Ireland instigated the investigation in the first place, I think it is going to stand to us”, he said.