DNA testing has been deployed in recent times as part of the FSAI’s proactive approach to food authenticity and food fraud control programmes in this country. It was this testing which first uncovered the issue relating to mislabelling of meat that has since become a matter of concern across Europe.
In light of recent developments, officials from my Department and the FSAI met with the meat processing sector on 14th February to agree a national protocol for DNA testing of meat to be applied at retail, catering and processing level in Ireland. This testing will provide further reassurance to Irish consumers and consumers of Irish food abroad about the authenticity of ingredients in our meat based products. DNA testing will apply from now on as part of routine food testing across the country. The following categories of food are being tested – pre-packaged beef products on sale to the final consumer or to mass caterers, beef products offered for sale without pre-packaging to consumers or to mass caterers and meat ingredients used in processed beef products. The results will be made known to the public. The industry has already been engaged in product testing and results received by the FSAI to date have all been negative for equine DNA (except for 5 positives which related to products previously identified as a problem and which had already been removed from the market).
In addition, at the instigation of the EU Commission and with the strong support of the Irish Presidency, a coordinated EU plan was agreed on 15th February whereby the DNA testing of meat and meat products may commence immediately and will be co-funded by the Commission at a rate of 75 per cent for the first month. Results from the first round of tests, to be carried out by the end of March, will have to be reported to the Commission by 15th April. The number of DNA tests, which will be carried out on the basis of representative sampling, is expected to exceed 2,250 across the EU, and this will be supplemented by bute testing on the basis of one sample per 50 tonnes of horsemeat. This testing will contribute to a clearer understanding of the situation across Europe and may be extended for a further two months. As part of the EU-wide plan, 50 additional food samples will be checked for horse DNA during March in Ireland. These include products marketed or labelled as containing beef as a major ingredient such as minced meat, meat products and meat preparations. The results of these tests will also be published and will provide the basis for consideration of the need for any further action.