There are fresh concerns for the traceability of Irish food products after 25 horses due to be slaughtered and supplied to the food chain were found to have false identities.
The latest twist in the horsemeat saga raises questions about the equine passport control system, which the opposition said was “totally open to abuse and not fit for purpose”.
The Department of Agriculture said it made the “deeply disturbing” findings that passports did not match the microchips in 25 horses after carrying out checks at the Ossory Meats abattoir in Co Offaly last Friday.
The passports contain information about the animal — including any medicines administered to it — and must be presented to an abattoir to determine if it is fit for human consumption.
Some horses were presented as yearlings but were much older. They were humanely slaughtered and destroyed to ensure they did not enter the food chain, and the abattoir has been suspended from operations.
The findings were contained in a report by the department on its investigation into the presence of equine DNA in some beef products. It said the incident was “quite extraordinary”, particularly the “brazenness” in attempting to have these animals slaughtered last week, at a time when “the entire horsemeat saga was receiving such intensive public scrutiny”.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney expressed his concern with the discovery and said he would be introducing a centralised database for horse passports.
“We believe there is need for significant changes here to move horse traceability to the same level as cattle identification, where systems were developed in response to BSE in the mid 1990s.”
Fianna Fáil spokesman Éamon Ó Cuív said the minister was belatedly admitting the system was “riddled with holes”. He said responses to previous inquires about the traceability system suggested it was “foolproof” but it turns out to be “totally open to abuse and not fit for purpose”.
The number of horses being slaughtered here has risen dramatically in recent years, to about 13,000 last year. They are generally exported to Italy, France, and Germany. “We do not know whether some of the horse meat took a circuitous route around Europe and arrived back to food suppliers here,” said Mr Ó Cuív.
The report also found that QK Meats had found horse DNA in consignments from its Polish suppliers as far back as last June, but failed to inform the department.
The report said this information “could have shortened the initial phase of the investigation in identifying the likely sources of the equine DNA” and the company “showed scant regard for the public good”.
Following publication, Mr Coveney hit out at a number of the companies involved, and said he was “extremely concerned” at the failure of Larry Goodman’s ABP group to maintain proper oversight of its Silvercrest plant “particularly given its position in the Irish food industry”.
Mr Coveney said the Irish control system had uncovered a global problem: “Ultimately, this is about learning lessons from something that should never have happened that led from sloppy management and fraudulent behaviour.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved