Coveney demands collective European action on horsemeat
AGRICULTURE Minister Simon Coveney has said he wants collective European action to tackle the horsemeat scandal.
Speaking this evening on his way into a meeting of Ministers from countries caught up in the crisis, Mr Coveney said there must be a Europe-wide response to stamping out the fraudulent use of horsemeat rather than leaving it up to individual countries to take different measures.
This could include DNA testing of meat products and new country of origin labelling on processed beef products so consumers knew where it was coming from.
Mr Coveney said Ireland had formally notified the EU Commission of the problem with horsemeat a few days ago when it became clear it was an Europe-wide problem.
Asked why this notification had taken so long given the problem had been identified in Ireland a month ago, he said Irish officials had previously been in touch with the EU authorities but were advised it did not require a formal food safety alert as it was not a health issue.
That still remained the case in Ireland as all samples of meat and processed products found to contain horsemeat had tested negative for horse medications which could pose a risk to consumers, he said.
"That suggests to us that there is no health risk at the moment but there is a lot of testing going on at the moment so we don't know what will turn up in the next few days, but as of now no tests suggest there is a health issue," said Mr Coveney.
"This is a fraud issue, it's a labelling issue, it's a selling of horsemeat as beef issue," he said.
"I suspect we will have a proposal coming from the Commission after the meeting this evening which will involve taking proactive action as a result of the facts as we know them to date.
"What we have here is fraud in the food chain where people are selling cheap horsemeat as beef and that's something we need to get out of the foodchain and make sure it doesn't happen again.
Mr Coveney said he had been speaking regularly to his colleagues in Britain and other countries as the scandal unfolded, and EU Commissioner Tonio Borg had been very helpful in convening today's meeting.
Mr Borg attended the meeting along with ministers from Britain, France, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania and Sweden.
Also speaking on his way in to the meeting UK Environment Minister Owen Paterson said "nobody had a clue" there was widespread adulteration of beef products with horsemeat until the Irish authorities identified the problem.
While it had initially appeared to be a more confined issue, the revelation last week that the French company Comigel was producing products with pure horsemeat had completely changed the whole issue, and member states were now committed to stamping it out.
Mr Coveney called for a European Commission report and proposals into country of origin labelling of processed beef products to be fasttracked in light of the horsemeat scandal.
"Now that we know that this is a European problem, we need a European solution and the Commissioner has been very helpful in convening a meeting at short notice" Mr Coveney said.
Better enforcement of existing regulations was needed as well as new measures, he said.
Meanwhile the director of a plant in Wales raided by the UK authorities yesterday as part of their investigation into horsemeat in beef products has said he was carrying out a legitimate business.
Farmbox Meats director Dafydd Raw-Rees said he had been cutting horsemeat shipped from Ireland for the last three and a half weeks, but this was a legitimate trade.
The horsemeat was handled completely separately from beef and was not used to make kebabs, he told the BBC.
Mr Raw Rees said this legitimate work was continuing at the plant.
Meanwhile Waitrose said it had withdrawn some batches of its frozen beef meatballs made by Larry Goodman-owned ABP Freshlink plant in Glasgow after tests suggested they could contain pork.
The supermarket chain said it will now create its own processing plant to produce ready meals using its own supply of British beef.
However in a statement the ABP Food Group said it had carried out over 450 DNA tests at the Freshlink plant over the last two and a half years.
"All our test results have been confirmed as negative for non-declared species," it said.
"Freshlink will share all results directly with the FSA as part of their investigations."