Inquiry trying to establish if criminal activity involved, Coveney says
If there was fraudulent activity by food processors, meat traders or individuals that led to the scandal of horse meat in beefburgers it would be exposed, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney told the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture yesterday.
He said the investigation, which now involved the Garda and the Department of Agriculture’s special investigation unit, was trying to establish if there had been any criminal activity. Mr Coveney said he did not want to say more in case it prejudiced the outcome.
During the four-hour meeting with the committee he also criticised “bad management practices” at Silvercrest Foods, the ABP-owned plant in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, 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”.
He also said he had invited Polish authorities to Ireland so that his officials could sit down with them and discuss the investigations.
Mr Coveney said veterinary and food safety officials had visited the offices of the meat trader [McAdam Foods] linked with Silvercrest and Rangeland Foods last Friday and removed files and computer disks.
He said raw material supplied to Rangeland contained 75 per cent horse DNA, which “to all intents and purposes is pure horse meat”.
Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) 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”.
He said the authority had “brought to light some very poor practice within the burger manufacturing industry which is not acceptable, although it remains to be seen whether this is the result of carelessness, collusion or deliberate fraud”.
Lack of power
Before the public hearing, the committee discussed whether they should ask ABP Food Group officials to meet with them. Because of the lack of powers of Oireachtas committees to compel witnesses to attend or make certain findings, it was decided not to do so at the moment.
Afterwards committee chairman Andrew Doyle said the committee would continue to engage with Mr Coveney, his officials and the FSAI in the coming weeks.