Newry cold store: Horsemeat not ours

The controversy surrounding the presence of horsemeat in beef products spreads to more companies. Mervyn Jess reports for BBC Newsline

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A County Down company at the centre of the horsemeat controversy says it does not own the contaminated consignment.

Freeza Meats of Newry was storing the meat for a company in the Irish Republic after declining to buy it.

Tests found that samples from the consignment contained about 80% horsemeat. It follows the discovery of horse DNA at a plant in the Republic.

Newry and Mourne Council confirmed that tests on Freeza Meat's burgers were free from horse meat DNA.

Martin McAdam, whose firm owned the meat, said there was "clearly an issue" with their Polish supplier.

Mr McAdam says he is working with the Food Standards Agency in Ireland and the Republic's department of agriculture and has provided them with documentation.

Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has called for the police to investigate the latest revelations about the meat processing industry.

Mr McGuinness said the country's good image abroad for producing top-class meat was being damaged and that was unacceptable.

Irish police have launched an investigation into the recent discovery of horse meat at a beef processing factory in the Republic.

'Fraudulent'

The assembly's agriculture committee is receiving an emergency briefing by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development officials on Tuesday afternoon.

The Irish government will also be briefed on the latest developments.

Gerry McCurdy of the FSA said there was "definitely now the potential" of fraudulent activity.

Police in the Irish Republic were asked to investigate after horsemeat was found in beef products at a third factory.

Ministers requested police assistance after equine DNA was found at Rangeland Foods, in County Monaghan.

The firm stopped production after tests found 75% horse DNA in an ingredient imported from Poland.

The company said the consignment had not gone into production.

Mr McCurdy, of the FSA in Northern Ireland, said the possibility of fraud needed to be investigated.

'Safety risk'

"That is why the Republic of Ireland, the Department of Agriculture, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the minister, the Garda are involved," he said.

"We will be working very closely with those authorities to try and establish the facts of this case and to determine whether or not this is accidental, in terms of someone has packaged and mislabelled, or whether or not there is deliberate fraudulent activity."

He added: "At this point in time we have no indication of food safety risk, but this is an issue about food safety confidence."

Paul Frew, the chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly's agriculture committee, said he was shocked that the horsemeat had been found.

"This could well be the legacy that our supermarkets have left us, whereby, basically the old adage comes in where you get what you pay for," he said.

"If they are determined to push down prices that our producers have to get, or expect to get, then should we really expect any different from cold stores and processors bringing in imported meat cheaper in order to make ends meet?"

In a statement, Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney said he had asked the police to join the investigation by his department's special investigations unit into how the horsemeat had got into beef products at the factories.

Speaking of Rangeland Foods, he said: "The company has indicated that none of this product has entered the food chain.

Analysis: Richard Wright, BBC NI agriculture reporter

The discovery of horsemeat at the Freeza Meats plant in Newry and Rangeland foods in County Monaghan has put this issue back at the top of the headlines.

It has prompted Irish authorities to call in fraud investigators.

But the real concern for the industry is that it raises fundamental questions, not about the safety of meat products from Ireland, but about the integrity of the food supply chain and its ability to meet rigorous specifications laid down by food service and retail buyers - in this case that all product must only come from British or Irish meat.

This leaves the whole industry with a new battle to reassure its customers.

"The department has had inspectors in the plant since last Friday. The investigation is focusing on the full supply chain, including the meat trader concerned and others who facilitated the purchase of the product and its transfer to users in Ireland."

Rangeland Foods said the test results on the meat, which it had taken delivery of in early January, were immediately reported to the Department of Agriculture.

The company said that 90% of the beef it uses is of Irish origin.

Fianna Fáil has called for an independent investigation into the horsemeat controversy.

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