Support for Newry firm embroiled in horsemeat crisis

February 11, 2013

By Christine Keighery

Freeza Meats, the Newry company who have become unwittingly embroiled in the ongoing horsemeat controversy have spoken of their “distress” and “concern” at having been caught up in the eye of a contamination storm which has far reaching repercussions for the food processing industry throughout Ireland.

The family run company, which employs 50 local people, has been left reeling from the impact of recent revelations that frozen meat from Poland, which was under quarantine at its cold food store in the Greenbank Industrial Estate premises, had been found to contain around 80% horsemeat in tests carried out by the Food Standards Agency.

Director Paul Mackle insisted that Freeza Meats had refused to buy the consignment from Monaghan based meat trader, McAdam Foods, and had stored it in a quarantined area since last September as a good will gesture after labelling issues were raised following a random inspection by Newry & Mourne district council officials.

Both McAdam Foods and Newry and Mourne District Council Environmental Health Department have corroborated that explanation with John Farrell, the council’s Director of Environment, Health & Building Services confirming that Freeza Meats have co-operated fully with investigations after being put “in a difficult position through no fault of their own.”

The beleaguered firm has also garnered political support, with SDLP Assembly Member for Newry and Armagh, Dominic Bradley calling for urgent Ministerial intervention in the debacle.

Mr Bradley said local jobs had been “inadvertently” put at risk due to “poor communication” by the Food Standards Agency and confirmed that Freeza Meat products have been cleared of equine DNA by both Newry and Mourne Environmental Health Office and independent DNA testing by British supermarket chain, ASDA.

At the end of a harrowing week for Freeza Meats, a company spokesperson said:

“Recent days have been the cause of considerable concern for our company, staff and customers. We have been working closely with the local Environmental Health Office and speaking to our customers in order to reassure people about our own products and standards.

“As part of continual testing further samples have been taken of our products and tested by industry authorities. These samples have come back completely clear and the quality of our products and processes are again vindicated. We hope this assures customers and the public that we have adhered to the highest standards of practice as a processor in the meat industry.

“We have been deeply distressed by this experience and by some irresponsible and inaccurate media reporting. It has had an adverse effect on our company reputation, our customers and staff. We have however, been encouraged by the political support we have received during this time.

“We call on officials in the industry with politicians across the UK, Ireland and indeed Europe to get to the bottom of this issue immediately as being irresponsibly implicated in this issue has put at risk the livelihoods of almost 50 staff in Freeza Meats and the industry as a whole.”

Meanwhile, the Polish abattoir at the centre of the crisis has denied processing equine products in its factories.  The firm, which describes itself as “a reliable, trustful supplier to many companies” said it did not “process, slaughter, debone, process, pack or freeze any equine product.”

In a further development, it has emerged that the prospect of a police investigation into the horse meat situation has moved a step closer, after police officers met with Newry and Mourne District Council Environmental Health officials and representatives of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in Belfast to assess any potential criminality and whether they should begin a formal investigation.

The Northern Ireland assembly is holding a joint meeting between the health and agriculture committees today (Tuesday), to which environmental health officers from Newry, and representatives of the FSA as well as department of agriculture officials have been summoned.