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Coveney struggles to contain beef crisis as results withheld

AGRICULTURE Minister Simon Coveney is struggling to contain a growing crisis over the horse meat scandal, as he is being accused of "putting the beef industry in jeopardy".

Mr Coveney (pictured) is continuing to withhold the latest test results from the investigation into the source of the horse meat, saying he wants to double check them first. Two months since the investigation into burgers began and a fortnight on from getting absolute confirmation of the presence of horse meat, the Government still hasn't identified the origin of the products.

The Department of Health was first told about the horse DNA problem in early December, the Irish Independent has learned.

And the food safety body that started the inquiry into the scandal denies it got a tip-off to look at burgers.

Following the latest vague statement from the minister, Fianna Fail accused him of failing to reassure farmers,

producers, retailers and the public that he is dealing with it.

As the controversy rolls on, the industry received another blow. British supermarket chain Waitrose announced it was removing burgers from its shelves produced by the British plant Dalepak, which is owned by Larry Goodman's ABP Group.

After promising a quick and transparent investigation into the horse meat scandal, Mr Coveney is under intensifying pressure to provide some answers.

Fianna Fail agriculture spokesman Eamon O Cuiv said: "All this vagueness has caused huge disquiet in the farming community and is putting the industry in jeopardy.

"This investigation has been ongoing for two months now and needs to be brought to a speedy conclusion. We need answers as soon as possible," he said. But Mr Coveney continued to withhold test results from meat yesterday, saying he wanted to double check them .

Mr Coveney said he wanted to correlate all the information from the probe into the Silvercrest plant before concluding how horse meat got into burgers. He confirmed another 24 test results were received from a German lab on Thursday.

"These have been sent to an Irish laboratory for confirmatory quantitative analysis," he said.

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Meanwhile, the Food Safety Authority (FSAI) says it told the Department of Health in early December about its investigation into the burgers. The FSAI contacted the department on December 7 once it had received the first test results showing the presence of horse DNA.

But the authority is denying reports its survey of beef burgers was prompted by a tip-off.

"It was part of an ongoing investigation into food products. There was no tip-off. We test foods for authenticity all the time," a spokesperson said.

Darragh McCullough

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