The horse meat controversy hit close to home, this week, with the revelation that a Carrick on Suir based meat processing company has been ordered to suspend its operations for labelling horse meat as beef.
The Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the Department of Agriculture ordered B&F Meats to suspend all operations last Friday and entered the plant to carry out an investigation as to why horse meat from the facility was shipped to the Czech Republic labelled as beef.
B&F Meats is a Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, company that moved its de-boning and packaging operations to the Mill River Business Park within the last year , following a fire that damaged their Thomastown premises. The Carrick on Suir premises was previously occupied by a local company, for meat processing, until that company went into liquidation and it had no connection with B&F Meats.
B&F Meats is one of just three companies in Ireland licensed to slaughter horses, although the plant being investigated is reported to only process and debone horse carcasses. The company is run by directors Ted Farrell and John Barron. The company has not issued a statement.
On Saturday department investigators moved into other buildings associated with the firm near Thomastown, Co Kilkenny, and seized paper and computer records.
Last Friday local people were shocked when it was revealed that the first Irish company to be directly associated with the mislabelling of horse meat as beef was located in South Tipperary. This is the first time that a single company has been found to have been mislabelling horse meat as beef. In other cases around Europe meat suppliers have claimed they were conned by others in the supply chain.
According to the Department of Agriculture, B&F Meats was despatching 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.
Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, said: “I am seriously concerned about this development and the Gardai have been fully appraised of this development and are working closely with my Department. The issue here is one of mislabelling and that will be the focus of the investigation”.
The investigation led by the Department’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU) continues in conjunction with the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation. This involves forensic examination of electronic data and records associated with consignments of beef products. It also involves detailed inspections of certain food business operators including traders, transporters, processors and exporters. The SIU is also liaising with counterparts in other EU member states and Europol in relation to this pan-European investigation.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland is coordinating an enhanced inspection programme with the HSE and local authorities of cold stores and wholesalers, across the country, to authenticate providence and accuracy of labelling of beef raw ingredients used in the manufacture of processed meat products.
The ICMSA President, John Comer, has said that the Department’s SIU was to be congratulated for the determination and skill they were demonstrating in their investigations. He said that farmers and consumers alike had a right to now expect that the full weight of sanctions and penalties available to the authorities would be brought to bear against any party or parties that had deliberately engaged in fraudulent mislabelling. Given the importance of our beef and wider agri-food exports, Mr Comer said that fraud of this nature that endangered the reputation of those exports constituted an act of economic sabotage.