In a new twist to the horsemeat controversy UK Environment Minister Owen Paterson has claimed that Agri- culture Minister Simon Coveney told him the Irish authorities were working from a tip-off when they started to look for horsemeat in burgers last November.
This is at variance with repeated claims by Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) chiefs in media interviews and in testimony to the All-Party Committee on Agriculture that the DNA tests looking for equine contamination were purely random.
A spokeswoman for Mr Coveney later offered a further clarification, saying he had spoken privately with Owen Paterson last night and reiterating that the FSAI checks did not follow a tip-off.
Mr Paterson was defending himself in the House of Commons on Monday against opposition charges that the British food agency response to the crisis had been too slow.
He said: "The reason why the Irish agency [FSAI] picked up on this issue in the Irish plant was that it had local intelligence there was a problem. That is why they did a random check. I cleared that with Minister Coveney today."
In his evidence last month to the All-Party Committee on Agriculture, Prof Alan Reilly said: "Contrary to some speculation, it was a random survey. Our work is guided by a combination of scientific risk assessment and common sense.
"The survey was carried out against a background of increasing prices of raw material used in food and feed manufacture and global sourcing of ingredients. This can lead to a temptation to cut corners to substitute cheaper raw materials for higher-priced ingredients."
In an interview with the Sunday Independent last month, FSAI director Raymond Ellard was repeatedly pressed on why the FSAI decided to look for horsemeat in burgers and if they were acting on a tip-off.
"I know people will say, 'There's no smoke without fire', but we didn't," he said. "We have done this type of random process before. We went to fish and chip shops and took samples of fish and asked, 'Okay, they are selling it as cod, I wonder if it is cod?' and then in some cases it turned out not to be."
A spokeswoman for Mr Coveney said she would not comment on a private conversation between two ministers, but said Mr Coveney had been consistent in his explanation of why the FSAI decided to investigate possible equine contamination in burgers.
Meanwhile, Ireland's two biggest food businesses are in dispute over the source of horsemeat contamination in a bolognese sauce made by Greencore, the agri-giant headed by Patrick Coveney, a brother of the minister.
Greencore says the meat for the sauce, which UK supermarket chain Asda claims contained horsemeat, was sourced by Greencore from ABP Nenagh, controlled by Larry Goodman.
ABP disputes the Greencore claim, saying it had carried out a traceability check on the beef used in the consignment sent to Greencore and was satisfied it was not the source of the positive equine results. ABP insisted it had never processed, purchased, traded, stored or handled equine product.
A spokesman told the Sunday Independent yesterday that ABP would be strongly defending its position in relation to its Nenagh plant.
Production at Goodman-controlled Silvercrest Foods in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, where the first traces of equine contamination were discovered, sparking a pan-European food crisis, remains suspended with staff on full pay.
Shares in Greencore tumbled on the back of its link to the horsemeat scandal as meat at yet another company, QK Cold Stores in Naas, Co Kildare, tested positive for equine DNA.