TWO giants of the Irish food industry were locked in a war of words last night, and at stake is the reputation of the Irish beef industry.
Larry Goodman-owned ABP has strongly refuted the claim made by convenience meal manufacturer Greencore that meat supplied from its Nenagh factory was the source of horse meat found in Bolognese sauce.
In a strongly worded statement, ABP said it had carried out a traceability check on the beef used in the consignment sent to Greencore – which involved identifying the actual animals slaughtered. As a consequence, the company said it was satisfied that it was not the source of positive equine results.
Furthermore, ABP Ireland insisted that it had never processed, purchased, traded, stored or handled equine product.
The news that ABP is fighting its corner will be welcomed by all those associated with the Irish beef industry, given that this latest instalment of the horse-meat saga is potentially the most dangerous for the sector.
While the controversy up to now has been limited to the processed-meat trade, this latest claim is a direct challenge to the reputation of Ireland's fresh beef business.
Should Greencore's assertions stack up, it would be disastrous for the beef sector and could undo 20 years of hard work by farmers, beef processors and the state-marketing body Bord Bia.
Ireland exports 230,000 tonnes of beef each year and the trade is worth €1.9bn. Britain remains our most important market, with beef sales worth €910m last year.
Much has been made of the fact that Greencore is headed up by Patrick Coveney, a brother of the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney.
However, sources within the farm sector made little of the connection. They are too nervous about the implications of the controversy to care about the characters involved.
The latest twist has received a lot of media coverage in Britain and companies are just waiting to see how it plays out.
Irish meat processors, including ABP, have very lucrative contracts with all the main supermarket chains in Britain and protecting that business is now their primary focus.
There was some good news on that front yesterday when results of tests on over 2,500 samples of processed beef products showed no new products contaminated by horse meat.
The British Food Standards Association (FSA) announced that of the 2,501 samples of processed beef, 2,472 of these (almost 99pc) were negative for the presence of horse DNA at or above the level of 1pc.
Some 29 samples tested positive for the presence of undeclared horse meat at or above 1pc. However, all 29 positive results related to seven products that have already been reported and withdrawn from sale.
The testing was carried out on raw ingredients and final products from a range of manufacturers, catering suppliers, wholesalers and retailers across Britain. A further 950 tests are still in progress.
Where products were found to contain horse DNA, they were tested for the presence of veterinary drug phenylbutazone, known as bute, but all tested negative for the drug.
Ireland needs more results like these.