Alan O’Reilly, chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, spoke before Britain’s House of Commons environment, food, and rural affairs committee in April and faced a barrage of questions, including accusations that the FSAI could have told its UK counterpart, the Food Standards Agency, at an earlier stage about the results of its testing programme at the end of 2012.
The fractious tone of the exchanges in the committee hearing prompted the FSAI to lodge a submission with it shortly afterwards, rebutting individual points raised by committee members.
Most seriously, the FSAI said it was concerned that committee member Barry Gardiner had transcripts of a private conversation between Prof O’Reilly and the chief executive of the FSA, Catherine Brown.
“A record was taken of this conversation by Ms Brown without the knowledge of the FSAI and subsequently released without the consent from the FSAI,” according to the submission.
“The conversation, partly speculative on the part of the FSAI, took place early on in the horsemeat investigations and at a time when few of the facts were known. The FSAI is also concerned that the placing of some of this information in the public domain may be in breach of the EU rules on the protection of professional secrecy.”
Mr Gardiner suggested in the hearing that the FSAI may have been aware of adulteration of processed beef with horsemeat in Ireland and had tried and failed to get the industry to “clean up its act”, before then claiming that the FSAI set about organising a survey using a test method which would not be admissible in court proceedings, thereby uncovering wrongdoing while avoiding legal actions.
In its response to the committee, the FSAI said:
*The theory is a bizarre fabrication, without merit and is not supported by any facts;
*The FSAI had no knowledge prior to the survey that beef ingredients in Ireland or elsewhere (widely throughout the EU, as it transpired) were adulterated with horsemeat;
*There had been no instruction to the industry to “clean up its act”;
*The test methods used were accredited, and survey samples were, and are, regularly used by the FSAI in monitoring the food chain.