Beef producers call for prosecutions over horsemeat scandal

Farmers and beef producers have called for prosecutions to be brought over the horsemeat controversy as a British parliamentary committee criticised the lack of legal actions here and in the UK.

Britain’s House of Commons environment, food, and rural affairs committee published its report on food contamination and said it was disappointing, six months on, that no prosecutions have been brought in either the UK or in Ireland, where the horsemeat contamination was first identified.

“The evidence we received from retailers and food processors in the UK and Ireland suggests a complex, highly organised network of companies trading in and mislabelling frozen and processed meat or meat products in a way that fails to meet specifications and that is fraudulent and illegal,” said the committee.

“We are concerned at the failure of authorities in both the UK and Ireland to acknowledge the extent of this and to bring prosecutions.”

The committee also said it was “dismayed at the slow pace of investigations”, and wanted assurances that prosecutions would be brought.

That prompted Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney to stress that prosecutions could still take place.

He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that he rejected any criticism from the UK committee, given the prompt response from the Irish authorities to the horsemeat crisis, adding: “I am not going to go to court unless I know I can win.

“The only prosecution we are pursuing at the moment is in relation to one company that we know deliberately put false labels on product. We have been taking legal advice as to how to pursue that prosecution.”

The department is currently engaged with the Chief State Solicitor’s Office in relation to the prosecution of offences arising out of the issue but would not comment further.

Edmond Phelan, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association’s beef chairman, said of likely prosecutions: “We’ll believe it when we see it.

“Farmers are cynical about the different treatment that they get from the authorities compared to the way in which meat companies are being dealt with.

“If a farmer breaches any minor regulation, even down to small paperwork errors, there are severe financial consequences. Yet when there are serious issues around horsemeat being passed off as beef, there seems to be no urgency about penalties.”

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland, which has handed over material to the department regarding the horsemeat contamination, said while it is responsible for the enforcement of food safety legislation, the investigation and prosecution for criminal activity was the responsibility of the gardaí and the DPP.

Among other criticisms contained in the committee’s report is that there are no checks on the movement of horses between the North and the south of Ireland and the level of controls over the issuing of horse passports.

* www.parliament.uk/efracom

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