Trader at centre of horse meat scandal says he was ‘fall guy’ for beef industry

Martin McAdam : ‘I couldn’t say my last goodbye to my mum on her death bed’

Martin McAdam at his home in Lisdarragh House, Newbless Co Monaghan. Photograph: Philip Fitzpatrick

Martin McAdam at his home in Lisdarragh House, Newbless Co Monaghan. Photograph: Philip Fitzpatrick

Mon, Jan 20, 2014, 01:00

Co Monaghan meat trader Martin McAdam, who was at the centre of last year’s horse meat scandal, has begun a new meat business and plans to announce the creation of up to 10 jobs in March.

McAdam said he had lost everything because of the horse meat scandal but was determined to put it behind him.

Last January, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland revealed that horse meat had been found in burgers produced for Tesco by the then ABP-owned Silvercrest plant in Monaghan.

McAdam had been buying frozen beef product from Poland and selling it to a range of customers including the Larry Goodman-owned ABP group.

The spotlight fell on McAdam Food Products in early February when it was revealed that a batch of its product, which was being stored by Freeza Meats in Newry, was found to contain horse DNA.

Rangeland Foods also said product provided by McAdam had tested positive for horse DNA and ABP Food Group issued a statement saying McAdam’s firm had supplied product containing horse DNA to Silvercrest.

However, McAdam is suing ABP for defamation, saying he did not supply the meat that tested positive for horse DNA to Silvercrest. ABP said it would fight the action.

McAdam said the events of last February were like a tsunami from a personal and business point of view. “I lost everything. My turnover dropped by 80 per cent. Customers held back about €400,000 in payments due,” he said. “My cash flow went to zilch.”

McAdam’s mother Susan was seriously ill at the time and just as a food safety investigation team called to speak to him on Friday, February 1st, he got a phone call to say she was dying. Because the officials were there, he did not see her before she died that morning. “Obviously when I knew my mum was dying I couldn’t focus on their questions, and maybe that’s why the witch hunt started.”


Public link
By Tuesday morning, he had been publicly linked with the scandal and there was a media presence outside his home in Newbliss. His mother’s ashes were buried that morning but he felt he couldn’t attend the service because of media attention.

“So because of this horse meat scandal, I couldn’t say my last goodbye to my mum on her death bed and I didn’t even get to see her ashes being buried.”

The Department of Agriculture’s investigation cleared McAdam of deliberately trading meat he knew to contain horse DNA. “They literally sat here for three weeks. They traced every one of my emails. They queried every sales transaction I’d done,” he said.

He showed them letters from Polish suppliers stating he had ordered and bought beef only, and paid beef market prices.

“I still believe the source may be in Poland, or eastern Europe but it’s so hard to say where it’s come from.” While some people criticised Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney for not providing enough information during the crisis, McAdam said he believed the Minister said too much.

“If he had come to us quietly then we could have maybe got the perpetrators at the job, but because he was on RTÉ every second day, the guys who were at it were tipped off and stopped doing what they were doing.”


Move away
Before the horse meat scandal, he had been planning to move away from meat trading and open a beef boning plant. “But my turnover dropped from €10 million to €2 million for the year and the project was scuppered.”

Three months ago he began a new business, buying cattle from farmers and marts, slaughtering them in Cavan and having them deboned in Dublin for sale to butcher shops and restaurants.

He is planning to open his own facility in Clones in March to do this work. “There will be a minimum of five jobs, potentially 10 jobs in it,” he said.


History
“I don’t touch any foreign product anymore. I’m doing 100 per cent Irish product. The meat trading is more or less history for me now,” he said. “I’m in this business 25 years . . . I’ve trained as a master butcher and I’ve done my business degree at night and I speak fluent German so I’m not leaving this industry.”

He believes he was a convenient scapegoat. “The Irish beef industry was in serious jeopardy of losing massive contracts and damage to its reputation and I feel that I was deliberately made the fall guy for everyone’s problems because I don’t employ people. I’m just a small meat trader.”

It emerged that French company Comigel was involved and quickly it became a Europe- wide problem. “It’s been an eventful year but I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “What doesn’t break you makes you tougher.”