Published Wednesday, 13 February 2013
There are growing fears that the reputation of local produce may be damaged. (© Getty)
European Commissioner for Health, Tonio Borg, proposed that EU members should carry out thousands of random tests for traces of horse - and also for a drug called bute, which is used to treat horses and could be of risk to humans - over a period of three months from March.
The early results would be declared on 15 April.
It is expected the plan will be endorsed when it is put to a meeting of the EU's Standing Committee on the Food Chain.
Speaking after Wednesday evening's seven-nation meeting in Brussels, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said he is "delighted" with the proposals.
He added: "I am delighted with the proposal for a three month period of DNA testing of processed products. It is completely intolerable that consumers have been presented with products with beef marked on the label and containing horse."
Mr Paterson also welcomed closer national cooperation to tackle the meat crisis.
He said: "A major priority is closer co-ordination between us and Europol is the appropriate agency because it responds to requests from nation states."
It is quite clear that we also need a much more effective and rapid transfer of information on this, and that was agreed
The meeting was chaired by the Republic of Ireland's Agriculture Minister, Simon Coveney.
He welcomed the outcomes: "Ireland will continue to give leadership in this area and will work with our EU partners to ensure new consumer assurance measures, including increased testing and more accurate labelling, are introduced."
Earlier, Stormont Agriculture Minister, Michelle O'Neill, met with supermarket bosses to discuss the ongoing horsemeat scandal.
She said guarantees are being sought to ensure that the reputation of Northern Ireland's beef industry is not damaged.
"I stressed to the supermarket representatives that 2012 was an exceptionally difficult year for our farmers, with incomes falling dramatically due to a number of factors out of their control," Sinn Féin minister Ms O'Neill said after the talks.
"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."
Ms O'Neill also met with the Foods Standards Agency on Wednesday.
She suggested that some form of quality assurance system in the processed meat sector might be a mechanism for establishing consumer confidence.
"It was helpful to receive an update on the ongoing investigation being carried out by the FSA," the minister continued.
"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."
Local retailers, who also took part in the talks, said they had been useful.
"This was a useful meeting with Minister O'Neill discussing the need for rigorous testing, traceability and Quality Assurance to move the 'horsemeat' problem forward and to learn lessons for the future," said Glyn Roberts of the Independent Retail Trade Association.
"At the meeting we pressed the need to restore consumer confidence in the Food and Supply Chains and to ensure that the concise information is given to retailers and processors in relation to testing.
'NIIRTA Food Retailers pride themselves in sourcing nearly all of their meat and poultry locally and will continue to support our Agri-Food sector in these challenging times.
"We also urged the Minister to host a round table of retailers, processors, suppliers and farmers to address not just the horsemeat issue but also other key issues such Farmgate prices and other problems in the local supply chain."
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