Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill has made a statement to the Assembly to update members on the incident regarding the discovery of equine DNA in beef products.
The Minister used the opportunity to once again make it clear that this issue has nothing to do with the high quality, fully traceable beef produced here in the north.
She said: “My Department delivers meat hygiene official controls on behalf of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in approved slaughterhouses, and other establishments. Senior officials from my Department and FSA maintain regular formal and informal contact to ensure consistent and effective delivery to the agreed standard, and the FSA performs regular checks and independent audits to ensure the quality of work delivered on its behalf.
“My Departmental inspectors enforce regulations, which provide customers with assurance about the origin of beef, in abattoirs and approved cutting plants. It is on this basis that I am confident of the high quality, safety and full traceability of beef born, raised and slaughtered in the north.”
The Minister said that she has appealed to the FSA to carry out full and throughout investigations and to provide the public with information on how these are progressing.
She said: “The horsemeat controversy has now become a pan-European investigation. An intense investigation into the traceability of the adulterated processed meat products is still underway, and the FSA is working closely with the respective authorities.
“This is a very serious issue and evidence points to either gross negligence or deliberate contamination of the food chain. For this reason, the FSA is working closely with police forces across Ireland, Britain and Europe and already a number of arrests have been made in Britain.
“I intend to ensure the 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.
“I also want assurances that traceability of raw materials continues from the fresh meat sector through to the processing sector. 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.”
The Minister added: “During these investigations my officials will continue to work tirelessly to protect the beef industry in the north and I would encourage local consumers to continue to support our industry and to buy and consume local produce.”