Ulster Unionist MLA for East Antrim Roy Beggs has called on support for ‘trusted local butchers’ in the wake of the discovery of horse meat in various processed meat products.
Speaking during a briefing given to the Stormont Health Committee on the health implications of the Horse Meat scandal by officials from the Food Standards Agency, Mr Beggs said:
“Northern Ireland has a very high level of traceability, perhaps the highest in the world. However, rogue traders and processors, whether in Europe or elsewhere, have put a bit of doubt in some minds at a cost to legitimate businesses.
One of the ways of reducing risk factors is to keep the food chain as short as possible and that, to a degree, that means buying from a trusted local butcher.
With local butchers, you can get full traceability all the way back to the couple of fields in which the animals were reared. In the catering trade, we are also driving up standards with Scores on the Doors. There seems to be a huge gap in between, particularly with factory-processed minced meat, burgers and convenience foods.”
During the question and answer session at Stormont Roy Beggs received an admission that unlike in the rest of the UK, the FSA had carried out no genetic testing of meat in Northern Ireland in the past year:
“ Mr Beggs: I have a final question. I understand that, in England, DEFRA had responsibility for the genetic testing of meat, but that was devolved to local councils. I take it that responsibility remains with you, in Northern Ireland. How many such tests were carried out in the past year?
Ms Jennings (FSA): When the Food Standards Agency carried out this work across the United Kingdom, we generally carried out UK-wide surveys. In the past, we have looked at salamis, for example, and we have identified horse and donkey meat there; we have looked at different species of fish; and we have looked at rice, the selling of lower quality rice and such things. It is fair to say that, since the responsibility in England moved to DEFRA, there has been a shift in the money and the programme to DEFRA, which means that, when we go to carry out a UK-wide survey now, DEFRA leads on it and we provide top-up funding for that work. For the past couple of years, the focus of the Food Standards Agency has been on food safety issues. We are having those discussions with DEFRA at the moment, and the planned programme will, of course, obviously, shift to this issue.
Mr Beggs: You have not answered my question. Were no tests carried out last year in Northern Ireland?
Ms Jennings: No. There were no tests on speciation carried out in Northern Ireland. Sorry.
Mr Beggs: Do you agree that even some random testing would create a higher level of risk for those trying to dupe the system and to profit at the expense of others?
Ms Jennings: Definitely. This has obviously focused our attention on to that; there is no doubt.”
For full transcript of the committee meeting see