Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

We need answers over meat crisis

It is disappointing that confusion reigns in Northern Ireland as the horse meat scandal gathers pace.

Yesterday burgers were on, then off, then back on menus at some schools throughout the province as education boards sought to verify that the foodstuffs were free from contamination. And of course there was bickering among the politicians who have resolutely refused to take the lead on this issue.

The end result is that the general public does not really know what is going on. They want a clear indication that the food they buy in their local supermarket is free of any adulteration. But such information is slow in coming forward as each sector of the food chain tries to safeguard its own reputation. We are told that beef here is traceable back from the chill counter to the field and is of the best quality. But is that beef the ingredient in the processed food we buy?

Parents will now be concerned about the quality of beef burgers served in school canteens after education boards reacted differently to the crisis yesterday. Some said they were assured the meat was not contaminated, others are taking a more guarded view and awaiting scientific verification. And, in the background, the scandal continues to embrace more countries throughout Europe.

Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill wants the Health Minister Edwin Poots and the Food Standards Agency to take a more prominent role in reassuring consumers. But is this a health issue or a food chain problem perhaps involving fraudulent behaviour? What we desperately need in Northern Ireland is a central reference point to answer consumer questions. That could be the FSA or one of the two ministers. At the moment no one seems to be in charge which allows everyone to pass the buck. This is a real crisis which not only is eroding consumer confidence but threatening the livelihood of beef farmers and well-established food brands. We deserve answers soon.

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