A MAJOR Irish food company kept secret its discovery of horse meat in beef products last summer and was later found to have supplied contaminated meat found in school meals and Birds Eye products.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney has slated the "inexcusable" delay by QK Meats in Naas in notifying his department of its discovery of horse DNA in imported meat until weeks after the Europe-wide crisis broke.
Speaking in the Dail on the release of an official report into the horse-meat scandal, Mr Coveney criticised QK Meats, which is part of the Queally family's food empire, for "knowingly withholding information about problems in the supply chain".
He also criticised management at the ABP food group for failing to maintain proper oversight of its Silvercrest plant and warned that QK and ABP were "risking reputational damage to the Irish food sector itself".
Mr Coveney also revealed that Ossory Meats in Co Offaly has had its operations suspended after investigators found irregular paperwork for 25 horses being brought to slaughter last Friday, including older horses being passed off as yearlings.
The department's report revealed that as far back as last June, QK Meats had discovered horse DNA in beef trimmings imported from Poland -- and in total found horse meat in seven out of nine consignments DNA-tested between June 2012 and January 2013.
It returned some of these consignments and got its money back from the Polish company that supplied them, while others were later impounded by the Department of Agriculture.
However, the company continued to source raw materials from Poland despite being aware of the suspect nature of raw material in the food chain it had been using.
"The company having tested and found positive results for equine DNA in some of the raw material of Polish origin, failed to test other such ingredient products and some of these products have entered the food chain," the official report said.
Birds Eye had named QK Meats as the source of horsemeat contamination in three of its frozen meat products.
QK Meats had also supplied the minced beef product used by its sister company Dawn Fresh Foods to make cottage pies for schools in Lancashire that were pulled after being found to contain horse DNA.
The report said that even when the State launched a full public investigation in January into the source of horse-meat contamination uncovered by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, QK Meats had failed to inform it until February 6 of these earlier DNA findings.
"This failure on the part of QK Meats senior management showed scant regard for the public good and was a serious failure of judgement on its part" the report said.
Earlier disclosure could have shortened the investigation and helped pinpoint the likely source of horse DNA, it said, noting that the QK plant remained under investigation.
Department investigators also found that QK Meats had been purchasing the supposed beef trimmings at €400 a tonne less than the going rate for such a product in Ireland.
QK Meats said in a statement that it noted the publication of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s report and was reviewing its contents.
"We continue to fully co-operate with the Department on this matter," it said.
ABP said it had taken swift and radical action ever since the horse meat problem at Silvercrest had been revealed.