The shadow environment secretary has apologised for “a slip of the tongue” when she wrongly claimed 70,000 horses are unaccounted for in Northern Ireland.
Labour’s Mary Creagh made the claim on Monday as the Coalition sought to allay fears contaminated meat was being sold in supermarkets across the UK.
She said unwanted horses are being given false paperwork in Northern Ireland, then sold for £8 and resold to dealers for meat for as much as £423 during a discussion of the crisis. Ms Creagh added there is a “lucrative” trade in the animals, and claimed that rather than blame suppliers in Poland, the problem lay closer to home.
She told the House of Commons on Monday: “The Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) have clear evidence of an illegal trade of unfit horses from Ireland to the UK for meat, with horses being re-passported to meet demands for horse meat in mainland Europe.
“It says that there are currently 70,000 horses unaccounted for in Northern Ireland.
“Unwanted horses are being sold for €10 (£8) and being sold on for meat for €500 (£423) — a lucrative trade. It is very convenient to blame the Poles and the Romanians but so far neither country have found any problems with their beef abattoirs.”
Yesterday she apologised for misreading the charity’s figures.
The figure of 70,000 horses was an estimate of the number of horses unaccounted for across the whole of Ireland over a five-year period, the USPCA said.
Ms Creagh was challenged over the figures by North Antrim DUP MP Ian Paisley.
Yesterday she told the House of Commons: “Mr Speaker I’m happy for the record to be put straight on that. In the heat of the debate that was a slip of the tongue.
“Of course, as the granddaughter of a cattle farmer in Northern Ireland it is imperative and incumbent upon me to recommend the meat of the good cows of Northern Ireland.”
Mr Paisley said misinformation such as that presented as fact by Ms Creagh could prove extremely damaging to Northern Ireland’s agriculture sector.
“I am glad that these have been since proven completely untrue.
“The USPCA were completely misquoted here and I know from personal experience that they carry out a vital and excellent job throughout the country.”
A spokesman for the USPCA said the charity was pleased the initial statement had been retracted.