QK Meats, the Irish company that was named by Birds Eye as the source of horsemeat in some of its frozen ready meals, has tonight issued an apology for not informing the Irish authorities after it discovered horse DNA in beef imported from Poland last June.
The company said it had acted in good faith at the time but now accepts its actions “fell short” and it should have told the Irish department for agriculture, food and the marine about its discovery sooner. “We have apologised to the department for this, deeply regret it and any breach of trust which it has caused given our commitment to food quality and safety,” the company said in a statement.
QK Meats stressed it had not broken any laws – a fact reiterated by Irish agriculture minister Simon Coveney today – and said it could state “categorically” that none of the beef that tested positive for horse DNA in tests conducted by QK Meats had entered the food chain.
“Any product that tested positive was immediately isolated and either returned to the supplier or detained in quarantine at our premises,” it said. “QK Meats can categorically state that it did not introduce any product that tested positive into the food chain.”
“QK Meats can categorically state that it did not introduce any product that tested positive into the food chain” - QK Meats
QK Meats’ apology comes after an Irish government report into the horsemeat scandal revealed yesterday that QK Meats had found horse DNA in raw material from Poland as early as 27 June 2012 – as well as in subsequent tests conducted in October, November, December and January – but did not inform the authorities until 5 February 2013.
The report described QK Meats’ actions as “extremely disturbing” and “inexcusable”. The company knew the Irish government was involved in “a full public investigation” into the source of horse DNA in beef products as of late January and yet did not inform it about its test results until early February, the report said. Had QK Meats shared its findings earlier, they would have “informed the official investigation in a significant way and most likely would have led to earlier conclusions on the source of equine DNA”, it added.
The report also criticised QK Meats for not explaining fully why it had been testing imported beef for horse DNA in the first place, other than suggesting there had been “mumblings” in the trade about “suspect Polish raw material”.
QK Meats did not offer further insight on this in its statement tonight, saying only it introduced tests following “concern about a batch of product in June 2012”. It added the beef it bought from Poland came from “fully approved EU licensed suppliers”.
On 5 March, Birds Eye said QK Meats was the source of horse DNA found in three of its frozen ready meals in the UK and Belgium. QK Meats was also identified as the source of horse DNA in cottage pies from Oak Farm Foods, which was supplied to schools in the UK and recalled on 8 March.