FSAI records outline probe into horsemeat contamination

Records released by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) outline the various strands of investigation into the possible sources of horsemeat contamination, which has so far not led to any prosecutions.

The documents also show concerns within the Department of Agriculture regarding the easy movement of “sport” horses between Ireland, England and France.

The horsemeat scandal exploded on Jan 15 with the publication of test results on beef products conducted by the FSAI, which also showed some products contained pork DNA.

In one test case, featuring a Tesco Everyday Value Beef Burgers taken from a store in Dublin, it was found to have 29.1% equine DNA.

Internal FSAI correspondence from Jan 22 also shows a Department of Agriculture official claiming: “There is a trilateral agreement between Ire[land], UK and France which allows free movement of horses between the three countries if the horses are sport animals. This seems a significant weakness as horses could move between the jurisdictions on the basis of being ‘sport’ and then be slaughtered and introduced into the food chain.”

Correspondence within and from the FSAI show that food safety agencies in Spain, the Netherlands, Britain, and Greece were quickly in contact as they sought to establish whether they were the recipients of or source of contam-inated beef products.

For example, on Jan 18 the FSAI said two Dutch companies providing beef trimming were “of interest, but they were investigated by the Dutch safety agency, the NVWA, and nothing untoward was found”.

Similarly, the MSSSI (ministry of health, social services, and equality) in Spain contacted the FSAI requesting details as to claims that some beef products were supplied to Irish companies including Silvercrest. By Jan 18 the Spanish authorities had written to the FSAI stating the company had supplied frozen blocks of boneless front leg beef to Irish companies, and the content had been shipped from Bilbao, but that horse had never been processed on the premises.

The FSAI response was there was “no obvious reason for horse DNA to have been detected in the beef from Spain”.

On Jan 15, the Hellenic Food Authority in Greece contacted the FSAI wanting to know if Liffey Meats and Silvercrest products had been distributed there. A later email from Lidl confirmed that the products were sold in Cyprus but not mainland Greece.

Elsewhere, a non-profit consumer organisation based in the UK protecting the halal diet wrote to the FSAI on Jan 17. Ruksana Shain of Behalal in Birmingham wrote: “Liffy [sic] meats is one of the largest suppliers of halal meat.

“Horse meat has been used as a substitute for beef and we feel this may also be used in lamb and mutton products. What is being done to check other lines?”

Yesterday she said she had not received a reply from either the FSAI nor Liffey Meats.

Internal correspondence shows that the FSAI was keen to avoid fuelling speculation regarding the possible source of contamination, with some references to a need to avoid a “Spanish cucumber” incident, referring to false links being made in 2011 between Spanish cucumbers and an E.coli outbreak in Germany.


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