independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

More questions to be answered

There was relief in the Irish food sector this week as the source of horsemeat contamination in burgers produced at the Silvercrest plant in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, appeared to be finally nailed down.

The announcement that the source of material was a Polish supplier to the ABP-owned facility appeared to signal the closing phase in the most serious food crisis to hit the Irish industry since the pig dioxin scare in 2008.

There was also a positive reaction to ABP's decision to source only Irish or British beef for all burgers produced by Silvercrest in future.

In the aftermath of the announcement, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said the findings of the investigation, which showed that all Irish ingredients had been free of horse meat, had confirmed that the integrity of Irish food production was maintained.

QUESTIONS

However, there are still a number of questions that remain unanswered. With this in mind, the ICSA issued a very interesting statement yesterday listing a number of issues that remained to be explained in the wake of the controversy. The questions included:

nWhy was Polish meat going into Irish beef burgers, even though Ireland is the largest exporter of beef in the Northern Hemisphere?

nWhy is the Department of Agriculture now putting a full-time presence into Silvercrest – is this an admission that there hasn't been enough scrutiny of processing units?

nWould Minister Coveney accept that there has been too much focus on farms and not enough on the rest of the food chain, in relation to traceability and quality assurance?

nAre there any other processing units importing ingredients, such as meat, for inclusion in meat products that are sold here or exported?

nWas the ABP group aware of the fact that Polish raw material was being imported by Silvercrest?

In addition to these very specific queries, ICSA also questioned whether the importation of cheap meat was part of a policy by ABP to keep a lid on cattle prices here at home.

"ICSA believes that a full and comprehensive explanation is owed to farmers who have put so much effort into traceability," said ICSA beef chairman Edmond Phelan.

Minister Coveney and the Department will also have to outline the possible changes to its approach to the quality assurance procedures employed by beef processors.

This debacle has highlighted a fatal flaw in our much vaunted traceability and quality controls.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland should also take a bow for a job well done.

The criticism that was hurled at them by IFA president John Bryan was a classic case of shooting the messenger.

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