Suspected horsemeat contamination: Garda criminal investigation unit carries out searches on farms

CAB officers at a previous farm raid. Image: Gardai
CAB officers at a previous farm raid. Image: Gardai
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Margaret Donnelly and Ciaran Moran

A number of farms were searched this morning by the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation in connection with suspected horsemeat fraud.

Seven sites, including farms, houses and one commercial premises were searched this morning in Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo, Westmeath and Kilkenny by Gardai, along with officials from the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

Gardai confirmed the searches are part of an ongoing investigation being conducted by members of its National Bureau of Criminal Investigation into fraudulent practices regarding tampering of identification passports and microchips of horses presented for slaughter in this jurisdiction.

It's understood the searches relate to the possibility horses that were slaughtered and should have ended up destroyed, may have ended up in being processed for export abroad for human consumption. It's not thought that any of the horsemeat has ended up in the Irish food chain. However this is not expected to be confirmed until the investigation is complete.

The searches are led by the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation and supported by officers from, Criminal Assets Bureau, Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and Garda National Cyber Crime Bureau.

According to the Department of Agriculture, in a statement issued yesterday, it said all slaughterhouses whose meat is destined for human consumption must meet the detailed requirements set out in the EU food safety regulations. It also said no horses can be slaughtered unless there is a record of it on the Department's central equine database and all horses at slaughter plants undergo anti-mortem examination to ensure they are fit for slaughter.

Horses presented at slaughter are also scanned for microchips and their passport checked. If the microchip and passport do not match the horses are excluded from the food chain. 

The range of checks carried out include identification and ownership of live animals, food hygiene checks, animal welfare and transport, animal remedies and checks on the disposal of animal by-products.

However, an illegal operation could see unregulated horsemeat being processed, that has not been assessed by a veterinary practitioner and certified fit for human consumption.

The bulk of the horsemeat is destined to be eaten by customers in Belgium, France and Italy as boneless meat. However, meat from horses that have been treated with the painkiller phenylbutazone, commonly known as bute, is not allowed enter the food chain.

Nearly 22,000 unwanted Irish horses have been slaughtered for meat over the past three years.

Figures released by the Department of Agriculture reveal 6,573 horses were slaughtered for human consumption in 2018, with 7,748 slaughtered in 2017 and 7,618 slaughtered in 2016.

Horse meat scandal 2013

In 2013, horse meat was found in beef burgers after the Irish Food Safety Authority carried out an investigation. While Ireland was the first country to detect undeclared horsemeat in food products, investigations in other European countries found horsemeat in products such as beef pasta, lasagna, chilli con carne and meatballs.

Online Editors