Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Culture has to change to start from top down

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The horsemeat saga rumbles on. You would like to think that the extensive report presented by Minister Simon Coveney to the Dail last week marks the end of this damaging debacle.

Unfortunately, the form of certain individuals involved in the sector suggests otherwise.

The mere fact that 25 horses were presented at Ossary Meats, a horse factory in Offaly, recently with what appears to be falsified passports shows the flagrant lack of regard some links in the supply chain have for proper procedure.

This incident caught the authorities' attention only after they had insisted on installing their own staff at the plant.

If horse owners thought they could get away with this after the reputation of the entire Irish food sector was under the spotlight for the last two months, God knows what they were up to before this story broke. But the problem certainly isn't confined to the supply end of the meat chain.

We also discovered last week that one of Ireland's biggest meat processors sat on crucial information about illegal Polish horsemeat imports for an incredible six months before informing the Department of Agriculture.

In fact, they sat on the evidence of fraudulent labelling for over three weeks after news first broke here that Irish meat was contaminated with horse DNA. This company is owned by the same family, the Queallys, that own a large part of the billion euro Dawn Group.

As Michael Hoey of Country Crest told me recently, you don't change the ingredients in one of your products without everybody from management down to the factory floor knowing exactly what is going on.

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The fact that meat buyers are keener than ever to source quality assured stock on these shores is a small comfort for farmers who are depending on everybody else down-stream from their farms to handle their product with the same integrity that is demanded inside the farm.

If there isn't a major culture change at every level in the sector, coupled with bullet proof controls, there is nothing stopping another scandal emerging in the months and years ahead.

The Government can only do so much in terms of implementing extra checks on horses and DNA testing.

But we now need to see real leadership on this issue from the very top levels in our beef industry. These individuals have made vast fortunes on the back of Irish beef.

However, they shouldn't be allowed jeopardise everybody else's income so they can continue to line their own pockets.

A halt needs to be put to their greed.

Irish Independent