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Low cost 'drove' horsemeat crisis

Tests revealed horse DNA was found in beef produce.

The retail food industry is hoping to repair its battered image after 16 countries were involved in the horsemeat scandal.

Monday, 18 February 2013
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Consumer confidence nosedived when traces of horse DNA was found in burgers, ready meals, and foods supplied to schools and hospitals in Northern Ireland.

Last week tests on more than 2,500 beef products found 29 contained more than 1% horsemeat - that includes Co-op frozen quarter pounder burgers, Findus beef lasagne, Rangeland's catering burger products, and Tesco value frozen burgers and value spaghetti bolognese.

Five weeks after the first equine traces were identified in food, authorities in Northern Ireland are holding high level meetings to address issues within the food chain.

Chris Elliott, Professor of Food Safety, said the scale of the scandal could never have been predicted. He believes it was triggered by both complex supply chains and the demand for low cost meat.

"We've had a breakdown in the integrity of our food supply chain. I think that's come as a shock to many people, that it could happen," he explained.

The drive has been to keep prices down at all costs, and it seems that the quality and the integrity of what we eat have been compromised as a result... Hopefully we've seen the worst of it now.

Prof Chris Elliott

It seems other countries have borne the brunt of the public's concern about the quality of their meat, with Northern Ireland's reputation still intact.

The Agriculture Minister, Michelle O'Neill is urging people to buy local meat and look for the mark of Farm Quality Assurance.

"I can give assurance over local produce because that's what I'm responsible for and I'll stand over it," she told MLAs on Monday.

"The local produce is safe, it's traceable, it's transparent, and it's there for all to see. If there's a farm quality assured stamp on it, it's safe, it can be stood over.

"I can't stand over processed food, I'm not responsible for processed food," she added.

The Department of Agriculture, Food Standards Authority, Department of Environment and other local authorities all have their parts to play in dealing with the ongoing crisis.

But Prof Elliott believes more must be done to ensure a cohesive front to address the horsemeat issue, and any others that may arise in the future. He said Northern Ireland is still "trying to catch up" with the scandal.

"That's because we've so many different government departments and agencies involved in trying to sort out the mess that we are involved in," he explained.

"We should really think about getting a joined-up government in relation to food."