Department of Agriculture refuses to release documents on horse meat scandal

‘No public interest in releasing records’, ‘Irish Times’ is told

The Department of Agriculture has refused to release a large number of records under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act that relate to test results taken during the horse meat controversy.

The Irish Times lodged an FOI request with the department on January 30th seeking all correspondence to and from the department regarding the investigation into the presence of horse meat in burgers from November 1st, 2012, onwards.

Under the FOI legislation, the department must provide a schedule of records giving a description of the record sought. In its response, the department said it had identified 28 records running to 257 pages. However, 17 of these records, or 222 pages, were refused.

Of these records, two queries, running to 144 pages of internal and external emails which included the results of DNA tests carried out on January 23rd and 24th were refused on grounds that their release might interfere with investigations and that the information was commercially sensitive.

Emails dated January 28th, which included a memorandum of legal advice on the horse meat investigation, were refused on law enforcement grounds.


Other records, including a series of emails on dates between January 22nd and 30th which included briefings prepared for Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney ahead of an EU agriculture committee meeting, were also refused on grounds that the records concerned matters relating to the deliberative processes of a public body.

Although in its correspondence the department noted that it was required to consider public interest arguments in favour of the release of documents under certain sections of the FOI Act, it held that, "on balance, there is no public interest in releasing the records".

Urgent sampling
Records which were released show that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland wrote to the department on December 21st last seeking urgent meat sampling on certain consignments of meat from Silvercrest Foods and Liffey Meats to be sent to Identigen, a DNA-testing laboratory "as a matter of urgency".

However, details of the sampled consignments were redacted by the department in its reply.

No further records of correspondence to or from the department on the issue are listed until January 18th, on which date an email including a “draft report for a meeting with meat plants”. However, access to this record was also refused. Other records, mainly correspondence relating to press queries, were either granted or part-granted.

One released record documents tests carried out on meat by Eurofins, a DNA-testing laboratory, on January 22nd. Of 27 of the samples listed, there was “no issue” with 12 samples while seven contained less than 1 per cent equine DNA.