British food standards body launches probe into contamination
on 17/01/2013 00:00:00
It then met with a food industry representatives to discuss the extent of the potential problem and to ask how the contamination might have occurred.
The move came as the Ulster Society for the Protection of Animals (USPCA) said it was "not surprised" contamination had happened, and the Irish Farmer's Association (IFA) said it would be calling for more regulation to ensure any additives in Irish-marked produce would be fully traceable and ideally also generated in Ireland.
John Bryan, president of the IFA, said tracing systems at farm level were "excellent" but beyond that, increased levels of supervision were needed.
"When you get to further processing and mixing and matching, that is an area we were always highlighting to the department, that we were not happy about," he said.
"Now this has been highlighted we will be insisting on further regulations to monitor any additional elements being added."
Mr Bryan said anything sold as Irish produce needed to be entirely Irish and that "the important thing here is that this is cleared up very quickly".
Last autumn, two men from the North, Kieran Murphy and Laurence McAllister, were convicted of illegally transporting horses to Scotland and were also convicted of transporting cannabis on the same trip.
Their vehicles were stopped and searched en route to an abattoir as part of a probe by the USPCA into the illegal transportation of horses.
There is no suggestion of a criminal link to the cases uncovered this week by the FSAI, but yesterday USPCA spokesman David Wilson said he was "not particularly" surprised that horsemeat was found in burgers.
Last year, USPCA chief executive Stephen Philpott was quoted as saying Irish authorities were "doing nothing" to stop the trade in illegal horsemeat and yesterday Mr Wilson said there was a need for greater vigilance.
The president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association, Gabriel Gilmartin, called on the processing plants involved in the controversy to explain what proportion of their burgers consist of imported product.
Mr Gilmartin claimed: "Suspicions are growing among Ireland's beef farmers that the Irish beef content of burgers is being reduced with a view to keeping prices down."
He added that farmers were concerned that the standards they were meeting were not being matched elsewhere in the processing and production chain.
Elsewhere, the head of food at Grant Thornton, Ciara Jackson, said the integrity of the supply chain was vital.
Ms Jackson added: "Now, more than ever, it is vital the industry collaborates to create a resilient supply chain that can deliver cost efficiencies whilst ensuring Irish produce maintains its international reputation.
"Every second that the horsemeat story runs on Sky News could translate into millions of euros in lost sales."
Meanwhile, Fine Gael Cavan/Monaghan TD, Seán Conlan, called for DNA testing of processed meat products to be made mandatory across Europe.
No threat to health
*The likelihood of anyone having an allergic reaction to horse meat is so low there is virtually no threat to human health, a top immunologist has confirmed.
Dr Jean Dunne, a chief medical scientist at the Department of Immunology at St James's Hospital in Dublin, said an allergic reaction to horse meat was very rare.
"It would be an extreme circumstance that there would be allergies to horse meat," she said.
Dr Dunne said she could not recall any body asking for an allergy test for horse meat and said any reaction to horses would typically be due to horse hair.
She said the fact horse meat is typically not consumed here meant allergy tests were unlikely to be requested, but she said people had asked for testing for pork allergies.
While traces of pork were found in some of the sample, Dr Dunne said they were at such a low level it would be highly unlikely to prompt a reaction.
"We eat a lot of pork but it is a rare incident that there would be a pork allergy," she said.
However, one woman who contacted the Irish Examiner yesterday but who did not want her full name to be used, said she was allergic to horse meat and this had been uncovered when she was younger as a result of being given a vaccine that had been derived from elements of horse serum.
She said she had needed to be resuscitated after the vaccine had been administered, and that when she reached adulthood she had undergone tests that had determined she was allergic to horse meat.
nYesterday, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney stressed the controversy, while negative in many ways, was unlike previous food safety scares in that there was no threat to human health.
- Noel Baker