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O’Neill meets with supermarkets over horsemeat controversy

Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill today held a meeting with senior officials representing the major supermarkets to discuss issues relating to the horsemeat controversy.
Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Speaking after the meeting, the Minister said: “I stressed to the supermarket representatives that 2012 was an exceptionally difficult year for our farmers, with incomes falling dramatically due to an number of factors out of their control. The horsemeat controversy is therefore a very unwelcome development so early in the new year, and it is essential that the major supermarkets take this into consideration when dealing with the fallout from this serious issue for the industry.

“I made it clear that the cost of sampling food should fall on those businesses importing or utilising product which doesn’t have the authentication provided by our own local traceability systems and that such costs must not fall to our primary producers whose product is second to none.”

At the meeting the Minister highlighted to the supermarkets that the quality beef from the north, reared on grass a grass based system has a justified reputation as a premium product and consumers can have absolute confidence that it is totally natural and of the highest quality available.

She added: “The traceability controls in our agri-food supply chains are robust and well integrated which emphasises the benefits to consumers and businesses of purchasing local produce, not only due to the environmental, economic and social benefits but also the integrity and safety of our produce. This provides confidence and reassurance to concerned consumers who want to know where their food comes from and what it contains.

“The NI Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme, operated by the Livestock and Meat Commission, and extensive traceability controls throughout the supply chain assure our customers of the total integrity of our beef. The Farm Quality Assurance Scheme sets standards for the care for animals and the farm environment. The Farm Quality Assured logo on a beef package or displayed at a butchers shop assures consumers that our beef and lamb is wholesome, safe and free from unnatural substances.”

The Minister suggested that given that our locally produced beef has a complete quality assurance system, some form of quality assurance system in the processed meat sector might be a mechanism for establishing consumer confidence.

Earlier in the day the Minister also met with the Foods Standards Agency (FSA). She said: “It was helpful to receive an update on the ongoing investigation being carried out by the FSA.

“The current situation centres on processed beef products and with a focus on those which contain ingredients which originate outside of Ireland. The investigation is however not yet complete and I have urged the FSA to pursue their investigations both thoroughly and with urgency to identify and act against anyone who is threatening our well deserved and hard earned high reputation.”

Notes to editors:

  1. The supermarkets were represented by Aodhan Connolly, (NI Retail Consortium - whose members include for example Tesco, Sainsburys, Marks & Spencer and Asda), Glyn Roberts, Rowan Black, Kate Stewart, (NI Independent Retail Trade Association whose members include for example Spar, Costcutter, Vivo, NISA and many local traders), and Aoife Harrison (Lidl).
  2. For media enquiries please contact DARD Press Office 028 9052 4619 or email: DARD Press Office Out of office hours contact the Duty Press Officer via pager number 07699 715 440 and your call will be returned.