Irish Republic's horse licensing system 'must change' - Coveney

Image caption Mr Coveney rejected suggestions that the slaughter of horses should stop altogether in Ireland

Ireland's agriculture minister has said the licensing system for horses must be "radically changed".

Simon Coveney said the system whereby seven individual bodies currently issue horse passports would have to end.

He said this would be replaced by a centralised issuing body controlled by the Department of Agriculture to ensure there is a "watertight system".

However, he rejected suggestions the slaughter of horses in Ireland should stop until the new system is in place.

His comments come after an inspection at Ossory Meats in Banagher, County Offaly, found that 25 horses presented for slaughter had irregularities relating to their passport and microchip identification.

Mr Coveney said that to deliberately falsify the identity of a horse was a criminal offence.

He said that currently horses are only being allowed into the food chain on a "positive release" basis.

This meant that every single horse that is slaughtered is tested for the drug bute, which is used on horses but poses a risk to humans, and only when they pass the test are they released into the food chain.

Previously, carcasses were only tested on a random basis.

Mr Coveney said that although the pilot project, which has been running for the past month, was expensive, it was necessary to preserve the integrity of Irish food.

Meanwhile, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers' Association has called on Mr Coveney to take a much tougher stance with meat processors who fail to meet traceability standards.

Speaking on RTE, ICSA President Gabriel Gilmartin said farmers are forced to comply with strict conditions when it comes to traceability and he wants the same regime introduced for meat processors.

Mr Gilmartin said the minister would have to start imposing serious financial penalties on processors where identification irregularities have been found.

Irish food inspectors announced in mid-January that they had found horsemeat in frozen beefburgers made by firms in the Irish Republic and the UK, and sold by a number of UK supermarket chains.

At the end of January, Monaghan-based Silvercrest Foods plant lost several major contracts as a result.

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