Irish firm exported horse meat as beef
Probe: Files seized as Coveney steps up fraud detection
AN IRISH processing plant found to be exporting horse meat labelled as beef to the Czech Republic has been shut down and files and computers seized.
B&F Meats, a small deboning factory in Carrick-on-Suir in Co Tipperary, was found to be selling mislabelled product to a customer in the Czech Republic through a UK-based trader.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said all operations at the plant had been suspended.
"I am seriously concerned at this development and gardai have been fully appraised and are working closely with my department," he said.
"The issue here is one of mislabelling and that will be the focus of the investigation."
The Minister announced new measures to step up the detection of food fraud.
The department's Special Investigation Unit (SIU) was leading the investigation, in conjunction with the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
This involved forensic examination of electronic data and records associated with consignments of beef products, the department said.
It also involved detailed inspections of certain food business operators, including traders, transporters, processors and exporters.
The SIU was also liaising with counterparts in other EU member states and Europol "in relation to this pan-European investigation".
"In this context, it has been discovered that B&F Meats, a small scale plant approved to debone beef and horse meat, was dispatching some horse meat to a single customer in the Czech Republic via a UK-based trader using a label in the Czech language which, when translated, refers to beef," the department said yesterday.
SIU officers entered the Carrick-on-Suir plant yesterday afternoon to carry out a full investigation.
There was no response from the plant's owners last night.
As part of an EU-wide co-ordinated control plan, 50 additional food samples will be checked for horse DNA in March.
These include products marketed or labelled as containing beef as a major ingredient, such as minced meat, meat products and meat preparations.
The Minister said he "has agreed this EU-wide programme to investigate food fraud in order to restore consumer confidence and to establish the extent of the problem across the EU".
The controls will run for one month initially, but may be extended for a further two.
As well as the EU programme, officials from the department together with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland have met representatives from the meat-processing, retailing and catering sectors "and agreed a protocol for DNA testing of beef products to check for adulteration with horse meat".
There will also be more extensive testing for phenylbutazone (bute), a drug given to horses for pain and fever.
In addition to the EU control programme for residues of bute, the department is introducing a 'positive release programme' for horses destined for the food chain.