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Horse Meat Demands Change from Consumer to Commission Level

13 February 2013

Ireland/UK – Meat inspection failures highlighted by the recent horsemeat scandal have been met with strong disapproval from producer groups and MEPs who are demanding a stringent and speedy response by the legislative.

Particular concern over horsemeat believed to be emanating from Romania focuses on traceability.

Calls for swift adaption up to the European Commission level have been made by Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) who have said that despite EU regulations covering on-farm meat tracing, major problems need addressing along the food chain.

“Given what has emerged in recent days, it is clear that this is no longer a matter for individual member states but something that has to be dealt with on a pan-European basis,” said Gabriel Gilmartin, ICSA President.

A key element of any regulation would be compulsory DNA testing carried out by the competent authorities in each state, on an unannounced inspection basis.

A total review of meat traders and possible licensing conditions is required, added Mr Gilmartin.

The Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney has called on Irish manufacturers of processed meat products to carry out DNA testing and to work with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) in developing testing protocols for this purpose.

The minister said it is a necessary step in order to provide further reassurance to Irish consumers and consumers of Irish food abroad.

Mr Coveney has been in regular contact with his UK counterpart, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Owen Paterson.

Having regard to the close trading relationship between the Irish and UK food industries both Ministers have agreed that the FSAI and the UK Food Standards Agency will work closely together and jointly agree an approach for protecting the authenticity of meat ingredients used in the manufacture of meat based products.

As this matter has developed into a pan European problem, Minister Coveney has arranged a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday with EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy Tonio Borg to consider the wider EU implications of the recent revelations concerning the presence of horse meat in beef products.

The Minister intends to discuss with the Commission and other relevant Ministers whatever steps may be necessary at EU level to comprehensively address this matter. The Minister has also arranged to have the issue on the agenda for the next Council of Agriculture Ministers later this month.

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for the South East of England, said:“The Horsemeat scandal exposes major questions over EU rules on food safety and quality, transparency and food labelling, and as regards cross-border fraud and crime.

"Concerns about the regulatory system, product labelling and how this alleged fraud could have been allowed to happen in the EU's internal market, must be addressed without delay."

Regarding an EU meeting held in Brussels today (13 February) over horsemeat investigations Mr Taylor advises full origin labelling on meat products.

The National Beef Association Greater government, consumer and producer scrutiny has been requested by to ring the changes, tightening the ‘murky side’ of the meat processing industry.

The consumer’s role in ensuring the provenance of the products purchased is important and can be done by insisting cattle are born reared and processed in the UK, explained NBA national director Chris Mallon.

“Farmers play their part by ensuring the provenance of cattle produced inside the UK is second to none. Each of their animals is individually identified and fully traceable - and if these cattle have been given veterinary medicines they can only be sold into the food chain when the withdrawal period is fully complete.”

“The integrity of their product contrasts hugely with the horsemeat which that has infiltrated the domestic food chain as a result of careless, or unscrupulous, actions undertaken by participants in a supply chain which is understood to cover companies in Poland, Luxembourg, Romania, France and the Republic of Ireland.”

The Quality Standard Mark and Red Tractor Logo serve as marketing labels that assure shoppers of the origin of the animal and the standards it was raised in.

The NBA wishes to see more effort by supermarkets to display the origin and species in processed products.

Meanwhile, UK supermarket chain, Tesco has announced that it has found horse meat in some Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese.

It carried out a number of tests following the product's withdrawal from sale on a precautionary basis.

Tesco says that of the positive results, most are at a trace level of less than one per cent but three showed significant levels of horse DNA, exceeding 60 per cent. The company also tested the horse meat for 'bute' and the results were negative.

Tim Smith, Group Technical Director, said: "A week ago Tesco withdrew a frozen Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese product from sale. We did this as a precaution because Findus products from the same factory were reportedly at risk of containing horse meat.

"Since then, we have carried out a number of tests on the product and those tests identified the presence of horse DNA. Of the positive results, most are at a trace level of less than one poer cent but three showed significant levels of horse DNA, exceeding 60 per cent. We have carried out further tests to ensure that there is no danger to health through the presence of potentially harmful bute. The test for bute was clear.

"The frozen Everyday Value Spaghetti Bolognese should contain only Irish beef from our approved suppliers. The source of the horsemeat is still under investigation by the relevant authorities. The level of contamination suggests that Comigel was not following the appropriate production process for our Tesco product and we will not take food from their facility again.

"We are very sorry that we have let customers down. We set ourselves high standards for the food we sell and we have had two cases in recent weeks where we have not met those standards. Our DNA testing programme is underway and will give us and our customers assurance that the product they buy is what it should be."

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