PRODUCTION AT BALLYBAY PLANT TEMPORARILY SUSPENDED AS INVESTIGATIONS CONTINUE INTO SOURCE OF HORSE DNA

25 January 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

Production at Silvercrest Foods in Ballybay has been temporarily suspended by the company until it has completed its investigation into the source of horse DNA traces detected in burger products.

Preliminary details of further tests carried out by the Dept of Agriculture at the plant released last week showed that nine out of 13 burgers tested positive for traces of equine DNA. Seven samples of raw material were tested and one, sourced from another EU state, tested positive.

All ingredients in the production of burgers sourced from Irish suppliers tested negative for equine DNA.

Further tests on samples taken from Liffey Meats in Ballyjamesduff were negative. The initial FSAI findings issued last week had showed that the Co Cavan plant had also produced burgers containing horse DNA traces, but that these formed less than O.1% of meat content.

A spokesman for the ABP food group, which owns the Ballybay operation, said that its own investigations were centred on the possibility that the suspect ingredients were supplied from the Continent.

While the company was examining all possible sources of the contamination, the investigations remained centred on third-party ingredient suppliers from the Content, the spokesman pointed out.

He said that ABP and Silvercrest Foods were co-operating fully with the competent authorities in the investigation, and pointed out that the company never knowingly bought or processed horse meat, and were still shocked by the initial Food Safety Authority finding that a sampled burger contained equine DNA to a level of 29%.

In a statement the ABP Food Group said that to date its investigations had centred around two third party EU suppliers.

“Following receipt of…Irish Department of Agriculture results, we believe that we have established the source of the contaminated material to one of these suppliers.

“However, because equine DNA has been found in finished products tested this week, we have decided that the responsible course of action is to suspend all production at the Silvercrest plant in Co Monaghan with immediate effect.

“This week’s production has not been released from the plant. During the suspension of production, all staff will continue to be paid, and we will be working with the relevant authorities, management and advisory team to complete our investigation.

“We will continue to communicate with our customers and suppliers over the coming days.”
Welcoming the decision to suspend production at the Ballybay plant, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said that the latest test results had been fully assessed by officials of his Dept and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. The FSAI had arranged to have the positive samples further analysed in Germany with a view to quantifying the percentage of equine DNA present.

The Dept of Agriculture was continuing its examination of all raw ingredients used in the production of the affected products and this, together with the further laboratory tests being carried out in Germany, should give greater clarity to the source of the original problem, the Minister stated.

The Minister reiterated earlier assurances that there was no concern from a food safety perspective.

IFA SEEKING “DEFINITIVE CONCLUSION”

Speaking earlier this week, IFA President John Bryan said it was essential that the Dept of Agriculture expediently identified the precise source of the equine DNA found in the further tests. Farmers, Mr Bryan stated, were disappointed that the Dept had not yet brought the issue to a definitive conclusion.

“It is critically important,” the IFA President added, “that this is brought to a swift end to maintain the high reputation of Irish food production, and reassure consumers and retailers both here and in the UK.”

He pointed out that the Chief Executive of the FSAI, Alan Reilly, had made it abundantly clear that the survey findings did not pose any food safety risk, and that consumers should not be worried.

“Farmers undertake a comprehensive system of cattle identification and traceability at farm level, comprising four key elements,” Mr Bryan stated.

“These include double tagging at birth, issuing of an individual passport by the Dept of Agriculture, completing the on-farm herd register and recording all movements on a computerised database.”

Mr Bryan also noted that the equine DNA issue had not figured prominently at the Green Week food fair held in Berlin at the weekend and which he had attended.

The IFA President stated: “Green Week, as the world’s largest food fair, is a good barometer of consumer sentiment. Based on the discussions at the formal and informal sessions there is scope for Ireland to grow our existing markets for quality beef.

“The German market, for example, imports 17,000 tonnes of Irish beef and buyers are looking to increase this. In other countries where we export Irish beef, the level of coverage of the fall-out from the FSAI survey findings has not been significant.”

Meanwhile, the President of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association has expressed concern about the latest test results from Silvercrest, but described it as significant that the only raw material sample which tested positive was from another member state.

“It now looks increasingly like the problem is related to imported raw materials,” the ICSA’s Gabriel Gilmartin stated. “We need answers on why there is any need for imported ingredients in burgers when Ireland is the biggest exporter of beef in the Northern hemisphere.”

He called on all meat processing plants to ensure that they suspended the use of any imported material in meat products “until this crisis is over”.

GOODMAN SAYS FIRM WAS “LET DOWN”

Founder and executive chairman of the ABP Food Group Larry Goodman said in an interview with the Financial Times at the weekend that his company had never brought or traded in horse meat and he suspected the contamination detected had come from a hamburger filler product sourced from a Continental supplier.

“We have been let down,” Mr Goodman stated.

Mr Goodman hit out at what he branded the sensationalist coverage of the issue in some aspects of the media, stating that he was “disgusted” by some of it.

He strongly denied that cost-cutting was to blame for the contamination. While there was intense pressure from retailers on cost, this did not mean that ABP Food Group used inferior products, he stated.

Mr Goodman said there were no health problems associated with equine DNA traces but he understood why there was genuine public concern at the issue.

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