Beef mogul Larry Goodman was "as shocked as anybody" when the horsemeat scandal engulfed his multi-million euro ABP food group on January 14, his chief executive Paul Finnerty has revealed.
Mr Finnerty said that the multi-millionaire businessman, who is executive chairman of the group, "is actively involved with me in dealing with this situation".
Mr Finnerty defended the company's record in the House of Commons in Britain last week, but said that he and other representatives of the company that has 37 plants and employs 8,000 people have not been called upon to appear before a Dail committee on the horsemeat scandal.
"I don't think Ireland's reputation is damaged internationally," said Mr Finnerty yesterday. "Our beef is sold as a premium product and we haven't seen any impact or negative damage to beef sales."
Although there has been a reported drop of 40 per cent in frozen hamburger sales, Mr Finnerty said that part of the reason for this is that so many products were withdrawn from sale that there wasn't product to buy. ABP is destroying 10 million frozen beef burgers withdrawn from sale so that they do not enter the food chain.
He said that ABP wanted to "fix the problem before fixing the public relations" and the Goodman-owned private company has taken radical steps to prevent a repeat of the horsemeat scandal that engulfed the international beef industry since the Irish Food Safety Authority (IFSC) suddenly revealed that equine DNA had been discovered in samples of frozen burgers.
"We were the first to be impacted – but it has since spread to major international brands like Nestle, Birds Eye, even IKEA. This is an EU-wide fraud on our industry, on retailers and consumers . . . our company never knowingly purchased horsemeat," he said.
Mr Finnerty also denied that the 170 tonnes of frozen 'horse' product that was purchased by the Silvercrest Plant in Ballybay, Co Monaghan, was purchased because ABP managers were under pressure to achieve profit targets.
He said that there was nothing wrong with beef products sourced from Poland, which has the same EU regulations as Ireland and is about 10 per cent cheaper. The problem arose from a 'third party' somewhere in the supply chain providing product that turned out not to have been beef.
Mr Finnerty said he demanded a full report on the DNA tests at 7am on January 15 and the manager of the Silvercrest plant was "stood aside". Since then, three other executives have been stood down and the convenience food division has been disbanded and responsibility handed over to another division of the multi-national company.
Other changes put in place include sourcing all material from Ireland and the UK, stopping the use of meat brokers and other third-party intermediaries and a comprehensive regime of DNA testing, which started in the company's plants within days of the scandal breaking.
Mr Finnerty is adamant that the ABP business is 95 per cent fresh beef [as opposed to frozen] and this has not been affected by the dramatic events following the FSAI tests. He also believes there has been a particular focus on ABP because Larry Goodman is one of Ireland's richest men, but keeps a low profile.
"We are a low-profile business, but we have nothing to hide. I think that what has happened is going to strengthen the industry in the long term," he said.