Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Thursday 14 December 2017

Pigmeat DNA tests under microscope after 'flaw' claims

There are claims that there are major flaws in DNA testing of pigmeat.
There are claims that there are major flaws in DNA testing of pigmeat.
There are claims that there are major flaws in DNA testing of pigmeat. Photo: Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images.
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

A Kildare-based pig processor has claimed that there is a major flaw in the DNA test being used to identify pigmeat imports and that it has cost him tens of thousands of euro in lost business.

McConnon's Meats, a pig processor operated by owners Kevin and Yvonne McConnon and employing 12 staff, was delisted from Pettitt's Super Valu stores three weeks ago when a DNA test found that one of their pork products contained DNA not registered within the Irish database.

McConnon's were supplying €150,000 of pork products to Pettitts annually, but they have yet to receive an order for product since the test was carried out.

In addition, husband and wife team Kevin and Yvonne McConnon have seen weekly sales slump by over €10,000 since the test results became known.

Documentation provided by McConnon's to Musgraves showed that the pigs that were used to produce the cuts were in fact Irish pigs supplied by Kildare farmer Roy Gallie.

Mr Gallie, who produces high genetic merit F1 gilts from his 180-sow herd at Garrisker in north Kildare, admitted that the positive DNA test was likely to be the result of unregistered semen that he uses on his sows.

TEASER

"It could also have been a teaser boar but the chances of this are pretty remote because they are used probably on one sow a month at most," he said.

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Mr Gallie relies on genetics from the Dutch Topigs company, which he believes have a higher survivability than other widely available genetics.

The DNA test is used by the IFA, Musgraves and in Bord Bia's quality assurance to determine whether pork products are Irish or not.

But in order for the test to distinguish between DNA in Irish and foreign product, the boars used to sire pigs entering the food-chain must only be used in Ireland.

Despite this requirement, and the subsequent difficulties that this incident has created for McConnon's Meats, Mr Gallie remains a full member of Bord Bia's Quality Assurance scheme.

A statement from Bord Bia said that, "where producers demonstrate they have made every reasonable effort to comply during the transitional period, certification will be granted."

A spokesperson for Musgraves claimed that McConnon's Meats had resumed supply to Pettitts SuperValu.

However, this contradicted Kevin McConnon's claim that they remained delisted from Pettitts.

Pettitts declined to comment when contacted.

Asked if the saga had undermined the credibility of the DNA testing scheme, all the stakeholders in the scheme said it still had their full support.

The IFA said the DNA Traceback system that they helped establish was accurate and robust.

"McConnons is not part of the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme.

"Farmers are concerned to know why McConnons are not part of the QA Scheme, what checks are in their system and how many non-Irish pigs they process each week," a statement said.

However, Kevin McConnon was adamant that the product in question was Irish.

"It was a leg cut, and because I only process legs from the carcasses I buy here, there is no way that this product came from anywhere but Ireland," he insisted.

COMPLIANT

"I decided to drop out of Bord Bia's quality assurance scheme in 2011 because it was costing me at least €10,000 a year but not winning me any extra business.

"But we're still fully compliant with all EU export standards, which in many ways are higher than the Bord Bia requirements."

Mr McConnon added that his company had passed a full traceability audit last November and that all attempts to contact or get help from the IFA over the last week had been ignored by the farmer organisation.

"This has been a horrific time for us and I think it's a disgrace the way we've been treated. I've never tried to get away with anything in my business. And I'm not going to let this or anyone else take away my good name of 22 years," he declared.

Irish Independent