ABP must come clean on horsemeat scandal

ABP should have come clean earlier on the Polish connection. A week before the Department of Agriculture revelations, at a funeral in Wicklow, I was told of a Cork-based transport company delivering "blocks of frozen meat" into Silvercrest from Poland.

The exact source of these meat blocks from Poland is still unclear but a blatant breach of labelling rules has taken place.

ABP has already paid a price with the loss of major burger business with Tesco, Burger King, Co-op, Asda and Aldi. Nobody knows what further litigation or compensation claims face the company. Thankfully, Tesco is to continue buying €100m of fresh beef from ABP.

Hopefully, other Irish suppliers will pick up some or, better still, all of the lost burger contracts. While there are any amount of suppliers of fresh burgers, Ireland has only a limited number of frozen burger plants.

The Dawn Group, Kepak, Rangeland Meats, and Liffey Meats are all in the frozen burger business. However, these companies remain coy about prospects for new business arising from the horsemeat debacle.

On its website the ABP group has apologised for "letting customers down in this incident". Group CEO Paul Finnerty said that ABP had "learned important lessons from this incident and was "determined to ensure that this never happens again".

The company is also reported to have apologised to its farmer suppliers but we have heard little from Larry Goodman himself.

For those of us of a slightly older vintage, the whole affair brings back memories of the 1994 Beef Tribunal and the fraudulent activity that came out in the evidence.

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Interestingly, the EU's consumer health division, DG Sanco, recently carried out inspections of traceability and labelling of beef products in seven Member States including Ireland.

The report (which is available on http://ec.europa.eu/food/fvo/specialreports/2012_6624_en.pdf) identified weaknesses and missing links, especially in the traceability of mincemeat.

The individual countries where the deficiencies occurred were not listed but each country did get a report pertaining to itself.

I find that Irish cattle farmers are torn between anger over the damage that the APB group has done to Brand Ireland, and concern that the company's viability is not jeopardised.

While Ireland needs big meat players to counteract the strength of the supermarkets, the sheer dominance of the ABP Group over cattle prices is not healthy.

Hopefully, this debacle will motivate the Minister for Agriculture to ensure more rigorous inspection of ABP Group and its role in cattle pricing.

Some transparency of company accounts and profitability would also be desirable and justified in the public interest.

Irish Independent

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