Farmers could end up the fall guys because of the horsemeat scandal in the North, it has been claimed.
MLA Jo-Anne Dobson called for a major exercise to restore consumer confidence and Stormont‘s agriculture minister said more needed to be done to predict problems in the food chain.
An enhanced whistleblower-type scheme where information about suspected food contamination can be given anonymously could be introduced, Michelle O’Neill revealed.
Ms Dobson said: “As always the farmers are the fall guys for this and they end up financially or otherwise bearing the brunt of that if they don‘t react quickly enough. It is abundantly clear that a major exercise is required to restore consumer confidence.”
The minister said beef produced in the North was fully traceable and has held a series of meetings including representatives from several countries about horsemeat.
“I will want assurances that traceability of raw materials continues from the fresh meat sector through to the processing sector,” she said.
“It is important that a system is put in place in order to ensure that horizon scanning for future potential problems is improved and I will wish to investigate further the proposal from Safefood for a neutral environment where information can be placed anonymously.”
Last week it emerged burgers containing horsemeat from Rangeland Foods in Co Monaghan were sent to hospitals north of the border.
There was also contaminated burger supplied by Rangeland to two secondary schools in the North, among 27 sites in the region, the Compass Group said.
Several retailers in the North have withdrawn potentially affected products from sale.
Meetings have also been held to discuss the crisis involving a range of Stormont Executive ministers.
Ms O’Neill said her officials were working tirelessly to protect the beef industry.
“I intend to ensure that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) continues to require supermarkets to maintain their responsibility to provide their customers with assurance as to the authenticity of their beef products by continuing to carry out surveillance for species,” she said.
Deputy chief veterinary officer in Northern Ireland Robert Huey said the Safefood organisation had brought forward a proposal to improve horizon screening across the island of Ireland.
“They identified there was a problem for people with knowledge of potential risks putting this information into the public domain for fear it could affect their business or that they might risk prosecution,” he said.
He said there could be a safe haven where people could tell somebody their suspicions, adding a similar situation was already in place with the animal feed industry.
“It is for people with legitimate concerns to say them somewhere without having to raise them with the enforcement authority,” he said.