Locals in dark but fearful for jobs at plant


Beef burgers were selling well in Ballybay butchers yesterday despite all the bad publicity and equally bad jokes about equine burgers.

However local people were well aware that the adverse headlines relating to the town’s biggest employer, the Larry Goodman-owned Silvercrest Foods, were no joke.

Politicians are normally a loquacious bunch but local Fianna Fáil councillor Therese Hamilton’s comment was “no comment at all”.

That was the general drift yesterday. Although local butcher Michael Quinn was prepared to acknowledge the revelations about processed burgers and possible equine and pork additives might send people back to their local butcher shop, what was crucially important was the issue did not damage a vital local industry.

“Silvercrest Foods is very, very important to the town. I hope this won’t do any damage or cause any worries over the jobs at the plant. I hope this will be resolved very quickly,” he said. Still, he wondered, “How could something like this happen?”

No information

At Silvercrest Foods, source of the Tesco burger with a horse meat content of 29.1 per cent, nobody was saying anything.

The security man at the locked gate could offer no assistance. No, there was nobody available to speak to the press from the factory; no, he did not know who should be contacted.

Silvercrest employs some 150 workers, most of whom, according to many locals, are “foreigners from countries such as Lithuania and Poland”.

At another meat counter in the town where beef burgers were selling for 80 cent each, the butcher said that “only a handful” of employees were from Ballybay.

Like many others in the town yesterday, he knew little about the story – the morning papers and the local Northern Sound radio station were the main source of information. In fact, people seemed more bemused by all the reporters in the town than the horse meat issue.

Just then, a man in his mid-30s walked in and volunteered that he was a former worker at Silvercrest. He couldn’t shed much light on how the horse meat ended up in some burgers.

‘Blocks of beef’

He offered, however, that in his time at the factory “frozen blocks of beef” from other European countries were brought into the plant to augment the local beef used in the processing of the burgers. He wondered could one of these have been the source of the problem.

Heneghan PR in Dublin, which was handling press queries yesterday, could make no comment on this last night.

It was “at a loss” to explain the particular 29 per cent horse meat burger content and added “only a small percentage of meat is currently procured from outside of the UK and Ireland”.

On the main street in Ballybay, a pensioner farmer was in no doubt all this business would cause problems.

“Nothing happens in this country but it has an effect,” he said. “Cattle prices will be down but the cost of meal and getting out the feed to the cattle in the morning won’t be down.”