Bord Bia plays down scandal impact

Fri, Jan 18, 2013, 00:00

Bord Bia said today it is continuing to work closely with Irish beef exporters to reassure overseas customers after traces of pig and horse DNA were found in Irish beef.

The body, which is tasked with promoting Irish food abroad, says an international media monitoring campaign it has undertaken shows coverage of the issue in print and broadcast media has been “relatively limited” outside of Ireland and the UK.

It says while online reporting of the topic has been more prevalent, it is not at a level likely to create concern among buyers.

In its analysis of online reporting from January 14th to January 18th, it said just 4.4 per cent of online news stories pertained to the horse meat issue. "Accordingly there is little or no impact to date on trade beyond the Irish and UK markets," Bord Bia said.

This weekend, Bord Bia will carry out research in the UK and Ireland, through focus groups and online surveys, to gauge consumer sentiment towards Irish beef. It says the results will be used to guide its response to the crisis.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said today that the matter would be dealt with comprehensively.  “It’s only right and proper that the evidence be able to be stood up completely so that we can be absolutely up front with people that there is no danger to human health here and that that any damage being done to Ireland’s reputation can recover quite quickly,” he said.

“We were very careful before in respect of the bacon products and that was dealt with comprehensively as this will be,” he said.

Meanwhile, the owner of Silvercrest Meats, the Larry Goodman-owned ABP Group, says it has now pinpointed the source of the contaminated material to one European supplier. The news follows results of Department of Agriculture tests released last night which showed horse DNA present in nine out of 13 burgers tested at the plant. The exact amount of horse DNA will not be known until the results of further tests currently being carried out in Germany.

Production suspended

The company has decided that the responsible course of action is to temporarily suspend all production at the Silvercrest plant in Co Monaghan with immediate effect. This week’s production has not been released from the plant.

The Monaghan-based plant also manufactures products for Burger King.

Today, the ABP Food Group issued a statement saying there was no evidence of any contamination of raw materials used for the manufacture of any Burger King products.

“All Burger King products produced by us are stored separately and manufactured on an independent line,” the statement said. The company said the entire plant was being closed for several days to “complete the sanitation process”.

Silvercrest employs some 150 workers, but the ABP Food Group said all staff would continue to be paid during the suspension of production.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) revealed this week it had analysed 27 frozen beef burger products from a number of processing plants and found traces of horse meat in 10 of them.

Nine samples had very low traces, but one, from a Tesco Everyday Value burger made in the Silvercrest plant, had 29 per cent horse DNA relative to beef content.

Tested positive

Following these findings, department staff took 13 samples of finished burgers on Tuesday at the Ballybay plant and last night’s results showed that nine tested positive for traces of horse DNA and another four tested negative.

“Seven samples of raw ingredients were tested, one of which, sourced from another member state, tested positive. All ingredients in the production of burgers sourced from Irish suppliers tested negative for equine DNA,” the department said in a statement.

Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said arrangements were being put in place with the FSAI to have the samples analysed in Germany.

The preliminary laboratory results were released by Mr Coveney last night after being assessed by the authority and his department officials. He welcomed the decision by the company to temporarily suspend production. Mr Coveney said the department was continuing its examination of all raw ingredients used in the production of the affected products and this, together with the laboratory tests in Germany, should give greater clarity to the source of the original problem.

Suspicions

This morning Mr Coveney said good progress was being made in identifying the source of the problem but he admitted he did not know for how long Irish burgers have contained horse meat.

He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the department had “suspicions” about the origin of the horsemeat which it was following up.

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