THE agriculture committee at Stormont has welcomed government assurances that illegal meat is posing no risk to public health.
Responding to yesterday’s briefing by Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) officials, committee chairman Paul Frew described recent discoveries of horse meat labelled as beef as “worrying” – but said beef produced locally was safe.
“The committee is extremely proud of the Northern Ireland beef industry as it has one of the highest standards in the world in relation to the traceability of meat,” he said.
“The consumer can be confident that when he/she buys beef produced in Northern Ireland, the product is of the highest standard.”
Mr Frew said the unscrupulous activity could be a result of supermarkets’ drive to push down the cost of food. He said he was shocked at the illegal activity but added: “If they [supermarkets] are determined to push down prices that our producers have to get, or expect to get, then should we really expect any different from cold stores and processors bringing in imported meat cheaper in order to make ends meet?”
Deputy chairperson Joe Byrne said: “The committee understandably has genuine concerns with the recent revelations about horse meat labelled as beef being found in a cold store in this region.”
But, he added: “We are glad to hear today that beef produced in Northern Ireland is a quality product, in which the consumer can have confidence.”
Committee member William Irwin also said he was encouraging consumers to buy local produce, saying: “Northern Ireland produce is of the highest quality owing to our strict traceability regulations and this should not be detracted from in any way and I would encourage people to buy local and support our local farmers.”
Burger King, Aldi and the Co-op have all withdrawn contracts with Irish beef supplier Silvercrest after it was linked to the horse meat row.
The Irish government has vowed to fully investigate any possible fraud at the centre of the horse meat scandal and yesterday confirmed that the garda was heavily involved in the inquiry.
Simon Coveney told deputies and senators in the Dail he would be careful not to prejudice the investigation, but said: “Very significant resources have been deployed by my department and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, initially to find the source of this food incident, so that consumers can be fully reassured, and now also to consider whether there is fraudulent or criminal activity involved.”
Martin McGuinness has called for a similar police inquiry north of the border. The Deputy First Minister said a probe was necessary as the affair threatens confidence in the future of a number of companies on both sides of the border.