Irish gave British one day's notice of horse DNA in beef

Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 00:00

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) failed to give its British counterparts proper notice of the discovery of horse meat in burgers, the chairman of the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has told a House of Commons inquiry.

Former Labour minister Jeff Rooker and FSA chief executive Catherine Brown were questioned by the Commons committee on environment, food and rural affairs about the relationship between the two food safety bodies.

British told

The British were told on January 14th – a day before the public announcement – that horse DNA had been found in a number of samples taken from two plants controlled by Larry Goodman’s ABP group in Ireland and in Yorkshire.

“One of the things is that they didn’t tell us until the day before they announced it yet weeks before they must have known what they were finding but they didn’t tell us,” Lord Rooker told MPs.

“They did two sets of tests, for a start. Received the first results of the tests in late November and then they sent further samples for testing in December. Quite clearly there was a process going on,” he said.

However, the FSA’s chief executive said relations between the agencies were very good and a written protocol existed requiring them to “inform each other as soon as possible if something occurs”.

The FSAI had informed the FSA last November it was carrying out a new type of DNA testing. The agency told the FSA on January 10th it had gone ahead with tests. “On the 14th they told us that they had found some contamination.”

The Polish supplier blamed for the contamination had supplied meat to Silvercrest for a year and is being investigated by Polish authorities.

“One of the things [they] are investigating is whether this was coming in for a year, or has something changed at the Polish end,” said Ms Brown.

Tesco group technical director Tim Smith, whose company yesterday ended its frozen burger contract with Silvercrest, said the Irish side believed the horse meat contamination dated back more than six months.

“I have had the benefit of conversations with the Minister of Agriculture in Ireland [Simon Coveney] and the FSAI and both of them have said – in a conversational way, rather than an evidential way – that they believe it started in May 2012,” he told MPs.

Tesco inspected plant

Tesco inspected Silvercrest’s plant in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, three times last year and approved the use of seven suppliers who were checked to make sure they obeyed food quality and animal health rules.

“Silvercrest, for whatever reason, chose to use suppliers that we had not approved and audited. If somebody chooses to step outside that process in a deliberate attempt for whatever commercial reason it is impossible to check a supplier in Poland that we don’t even know exists,” Mr Smith said.

Trish Twohig, an executive with Iceland, said the frozen food firm had carried out tests but so far the results had “come back negative” for horse DNA.