independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Horse meat: farmers 'are fall guys'

Minister for Agriculture Michelle O'Neill called for a whistleblower-type scheme in the wake of the horse meat scandal

Farmers could end up the fall guys because of the horse meat scandal in Northern Ireland, it has been claimed.

MLA Jo-Anne Dobson called for a major exercise to restore consumer confidence and Stormont`s agriculture minister said more needed to be done to predict problems in the food chain.

An enhanced whistleblower-type scheme where information about suspected food contamination can be given anonymously could be introduced, Michelle O'Neill revealed.

Ms Dobson said: "As always the farmers are the fall guys for this and they end up financially or otherwise bearing the brunt of that if they don`t react quickly enough. It is abundantly clear that a major exercise is required to restore consumer confidence."

The minister said beef produced in Northern Ireland was fully traceable and has held a series of meetings including representatives from several countries about horse meat. "I will want assurances that traceability of raw materials continues from the fresh meat sector through to the processing sector," she said.

"It is important that a system is put in place in order to ensure that horizon scanning for future potential problems is improved and I will wish to investigate further the proposal from Safefood for a neutral environment where information can be placed anonymously."

Last week it emerged burgers containing horse meat from Rangeland Foods in the Irish Republic were sent to hospitals north of the border. There was also contaminated burger supplied by Rangeland to two secondary schools in Northern Ireland, among 27 sites in the region, the Compass Group said.

Several retailers in Northern Ireland have withdrawn potentially affected products from sale. Meetings have also been held to discuss the crisis involving a range of Stormont Executive ministers. Ms O'Neill said her officials were working tirelessly to protect the beef industry.

"I intend to ensure that the Food Standards Agency (FSA) continues to require supermarkets to maintain their responsibility to provide their customers with assurance as to the authenticity of their beef products by continuing to carry out surveillance for species," she said.

Meanwhile, deputy chief veterinary officer in Northern Ireland Robert Huey said the Safefood organisation had brought forward a proposal to improve horizon screening across the island of Ireland.

Press Association

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