IRISH farmers, who are subject to the most rigorous traceability and food production standards in the EU, have every right to be furious that beefburgers produced and sold in Ireland have been found to contain foreign horsemeat.
This is hugely embarrassing for the Irish food industry and there is no doubt but that it puts a dent in our reputation as a quality food producer. This is bad news for the offending meat factories, but it might be said that the problem is of their own making. On the other hand, farmers could also suffer and, in this case, through absolutely no fault of their own.
Ireland is one of the world's top beef exporters and that means Irish farmers have a ready market for their cattle. If foreign consumers get the idea into their heads that an Irish fillet steak could just as likely be a lump of horse, then our beef exports would soon feel the effects. This could have far-reaching effects on farmers here and all because some factories failed to make sure all the meat in their beefburgers really was beef.
All this is aside from the burning question of why Ireland, of all places, is importing meat. This issue has been raised by the ICSA whose President, Gabriel Gilmartin, said last week that it is significant that the only raw material sample which tested positive for Equine DNA from test results at the Silvercrest plant was not of Irish origin.
"We need answers on why there is any need for imported ingredients in burgers when Ireland is the biggest exporter of beef in the Northern hemisphere," he said
Speaking on the issue in the Dáil last week, North Kerry TD Martin Ferris said that Ireland must protect its reputation as a high quality food producer from any damage caused due to uncertainty among consumers. Deputy Ferris, who is also the Sinn Féin Spokesperson on Agriculture, hopes the names of the Spanish and Dutch companies who are claimed to have supplied the products will be made known, as well as their relation to the involved Irish food processing companies.
"I and others have long called for a more comprehensive system of food traceability and labelling in this country", said Deputy Ferris who urged retailers to buy Irish produced food.
Meanwhile, IFA President John Bryan said the Department of Agriculture needs to quickly identify who is responsible for the product ending up in Irish burgers.