Battling to beat the horsemeat scandal
Horsemeat in Irish beef burgers; who'd ever have thought we'd end up in a mess like this?
Incredibly, the latest reports from Bord Bia and the meat companies suggest that demand for Irish beef on most markets, and particularly those on the Continent, is holding well.
But damage has been done, particularly in the British market and especially for processed beef.
As the crisis unfolds, two questions remain to be answered: How did an Irish beef burger end up with 29pc of the content being horsemeat?
And will the Department change its traceability and quality assurance regimes to include ingredients added by processors?
Retail analysts are predicting a fall-off in processed beef sales in Britain as a result of the controversy. This is bad news for Ireland as factories here produce 50,000t of minced beef each year. It's only a fraction of the overall business, but it's still worth €200m annually.
But while a fall-off in exports in this end of the business would be worrying, of far greater concern is the reputational damage that has been done to Irish beef and to the traceability and quality assurance procedures that helped underpin that reputation.
At a recent meat markets seminar in Dublin, speakers from Bord Bia and the Department repeatedly stressed that our beef traceability and quality assur-ance schemes were critical to Irish beef processors gaining access to high-value markets within the EU and beyond.
However, although the Department and Bord Bia will not admit it, the effectiveness of both initiatives has been undermined by this crisis.
In short, customers could justifiably ask: why, when we have all these procedures in place, do inspectors find a beef burger from an Irish processing plant with 29pc of its meat content being horsemeat?
With this in mind, how can we cling to the illusion that our procedures are working because there was no horse DNA found in the Irish-sourced element of the burgers?
Horsemeat shouldn't have been found in the burgers full stop; and there should have been adequate quality control checks in place to ensure that all ingredients were tested by the factories in question before being used.
The sad fact now is that the reputation of prime Irish beef is being sullied by the use of poor quality ingredients at the bargain basement end of the beef business.
What good are traceability and quality assurance schemes if nobody is checking what the processors are doing?
The Department has been on the receiving end of some stick becuase it was the Food Safety Authority who identified the horsemeat problem.
That may be somewhat unfair but there is no doubting that this controversy has exposed the frailty of our quality control procedures.
Imposing traceability and quality assurance regimes at farm level is a waste of time unless the processes and ingredients used by meat factories are subjected to equally stringent inspections and controls.