DUBLIN – At least one meat company in Ireland knew there was a problem with horse meat-tainted beef trim as far back as June 2012, but it failed to notify authorities, according to a report released by Ireland’s Ministry for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Simon Coveney, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, recently released Equine DNA & Mislabelling of Processed Beef Investigation, which explains in great detail how the scandal unfolded, the investigation into the tainted beef and the Irish government’s response to the problem.

Investigators discovered that one company, QK Meats, had beef trimmings test positive for horse DNA as early as June 2012. QK Meats had sourced beef products from 19 different Polish suppliers and stored the items in QK Cold Stores. The company admitted to testing 15 shipments from nine of the 19 Polish suppliers, and seven of the tests were positive for horse DNA. The first positive test was returned June 27, 2012, according to the report. Additional positive tests came back in October, November and December 2012 and again in January 2013.

QK Meats claimed none of the horse-tainted beef entered the food chain. But the company continued to source material from Poland despite former shipments testing positive for horse DNA, the report stated. Additionally, QK Meats failed to test other products from their Polish suppliers, and some tainted products did enter the food chain. Birds Eye eventually named the company as the source of contaminated horse meat in some of its products and suspended QK Meats as a supplier.

“Other than suggesting there were ‘mumblings’ in the trade about suspect Polish raw material, QK Meats did not explain fully why it was testing for equine DNA since last June or why, having found equine DNA in some products it did not test all such products,” the report stated.

QK Meats knew the Irish government was investigating the source of the contamination, but failed to inform authorities of its earlier findings. Doing so, the report stated, “would have led to earlier conclusions on the source of equine DNA.”

“This failure on the part of QK Meat senior management showed scant regard for the public good and was a serious failure of judgment on its part in not revealing to the official authorities, information that could have shortened the initial phase of the investigation in identifying the likely source of the equine DNA.

“The plant remains under investigation,” the report said.

The investigation by Irish authorities revealed among other findings:

• The horse DNA in frozen beef products came from Poland. Investigators found no evidence that products were adulterated in Ireland.
• Investigators found no evidence that Silvercrest, a subsidiary of ABP Food Group, and Rangeland Meats deliberately bought or used horse meat in their production processes or that the companies re-labeled or tampered with imported meat.
• B&F Meats did mislabel a “limited quantity” of horse meat for export to the Czech Republic.

Finding the root cause of the contamination was a difficult and complex task that required significant government resources, the report revealed. The initial investigation at the Silvercrest facility focused on gathering samples; analysis of the beef used in production and a detailed audit of company records and supporting documentation.

“The complexity of the task can best be demonstrated by the fact that multiple ingredients from some 40 suppliers (many supplying a variety of raw ingredient products) were used in the production batches and the mixture of ingredients could vary in every half hour production batch,” the report stated.

Sampling protocols, laboratory capacity limits and the time needed to analyze the samples extended the time needed for the investigation.

“The sampling process itself involved drilling into large frozen blocks of meat multiple times in a systematic way whilst ensuring the avoidance of cross contamination to acquire the necessary sample quantity,” according to the report.

Tests results were available on Jan. 25 and Jan. 26, and the initial investigation at Silvercrest established a direct link between the burgers that tested positive for horse DNA and beef originating from an EU-approved facility in Poland. Polish authorities were notified on Jan. 26, the report stated. Conversely, multiple samples were taken from similar product manufactured in Ireland, and those results came back negative.

Ultimately, the investigation expanded to include Rangeland Meats, QK Meats, B&F Meats and to a lesser extent Liffey Meats, ABP Nenagh and Dawn Fresh Foods.

As a result of the findings, Coveney decided that all meat traders operating in Ireland will be required to register with the federal government as Food Business Operators (FBO’s). Additionally, Coveney is recommending that FBO’s be required to notify authorities about incidences of food fraud or mislabeling.

Ireland’s beef industry represents approximately 30 percent of output value in the country’s agri-food sector. This includes almost 100,000 family farms, almost 60,000 beef producers and employing some 8,000 people, according to the report. Ireland is the largest net exporter of beef in the Northern Hemisphere, according to the report. The country’s beef industry in 2012 produced 495,000 tonnes of beef valued at €1.9 billion ($2.45 billion). Roughly 453,000 tonnes of beef was exported that year.

Beef used in further processing accounted for 11 percent of the country’s overall beef trade. In 2012, Ireland exported about 50,000 tonnes of frozen beef and beef for further processing valued at €200 million ($257.7 million).