FOOD companies in Northern Ireland have been praised for their response to the discovery of illegally labelled meat products on both sides of the Irish border.
The reassurance came yesterday as government officials addressed a Stormont committee discussing horse meat being passed off as beef in the Republic – and a quantity of horse meat recovered from a cold store in Newry.
A senior official from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DARD) told the agriculture committee that any irregularities north of the border had been highlighted by the “well-run” companies involved themselves.
Last month, Irish food inspectors found horse DNA in some beefburgers bound for sale in both UK and Irish supermarkets. Since then, there have been further cases of horse meat labelled as beef products found in Irish processing plants.
At the weekend, McColgan’s food company in Strabane withdrew certain products after beef pies bound for Muslims in prisons in England and Wales were found to contain pork DNA. Under strict dietary laws, Muslims are forbidden from eating pork products.
However, DARD officials told the committee yesterday that companies like McColgan’s were “reputable and well-run” businesses.
One of the DARD representatives said the fact that McColgan’s discovered the irregularities and took appropriate action shows they “acted well”.
He said: “They carried out their own testing. They did that themselves and that shows the quality of the company.”
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is leading the investigation in Northern Ireland. Commenting on the discovery of horse meat at the Freeza Meats plant in Newry, a FSA spokesman said: “The FSA has tested a quantity of frozen meat currently detained in a cold store on the premises of a company called Freeza Meats in Northern Ireland, which is potentially linked to the Silvercrest factory in the Republic of Ireland.”
Silvercrest has been identified as the supplier of beef burgers that contained horse DNA, identified in a survey carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
The FSA spokesman added: “Of the 12 samples from the suspect consignment that have been tested, two of the samples came back positive for horse meat, at around 80 per cent. As this meat was detained, it has not entered the food chain.”
Freeza Meats have stressed that the meat products under investigation were being stored on the company’s premises at the request of a meat trader based in the Republic and that none of their own products have been found to contain equine DNA.
“This raw material was not purchased by Freeza Meats and never reached the food chain through this company. We have, under legal jurisdiction, been required to detain the product in quarantine awaiting the direction of the local environmental health office,” a company spokesman said.
Council officials in Newry have confirmed the illegal meat was of Polish origin.