SDLP slams farms minister over illegal meat raid silence

The SDLP has expressed concern that Agriculture Minister Michelle O’Neill did not appear in the Assembly yesterday to explain a major operation against illegal meat in south Armagh.

It was revealed on Monday that the PSNI, Department of Agriculture (DARD), the Food Standards Agency and Newry and Mourne District Council had raided premises in Forkhill and Bessbrook.

Yesterday vice-chair of the Agriculture Committee SDLP MLA Joe Byrne expressed his concern that the agriculture and health ministers had not met formally about the issue.

“It is very disappointing that a first-hand account was not given by the DARD Minister in the Assembly,” he said.

“At the very least the minister should have spoken to the Agriculture Committee to reassure us, the farming community and the wider public.”

A DARD spokesman told the News Letter that the police and FSA are in the lead and that it is “therefore appropriate for the Health Minister [Edwin Poots] to respond to the Assembly” and not Ms O’Neill.

Mr Poots told MLAs yesterday that the food industry could be jeopardised if illegal meat production increases, but added that one illegal slaughterhouse should not be blown out of proportion.

But UUP MLA Roy Beggs, who sits on the Health Committee, said his party had highlighted 9,000 stolen cattle over the past three years.

“I am really disappointed Mr Poots did not answer today what the FSA has been doing about that,” he said.

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