ABP Food Group has issued a strongly worded response to the Irish government’s report on the horsemeat scandal, saying it is “bitterly disappointed” by some of the comments made about its company in the report and by Irish agriculture minister Simon Coveney.

ABP – and particularly its Silvercrest plant, which produced the Tesco Everyday Value frozen burger that was found to contain large amounts of horse DNA and which ABP has admitted went against customer specifications in sourcing some of its raw materials – was one of the companies singled out for strong criticism in the report, which was published by Coveney on Thursday (14 March).

Silvercrest’s decision to buy raw material from suppliers that had not been approved by its customers showed an “inherent disrespect for customer requirements” and had led to “very serious consequences” for the Irish food industry, the report said, adding: “Silvercrest is owned by Ireland’s largest beef processor, ABP. It is a real concern that management oversight and corporate governance structures were not in place to prevent the failures detected in this investigation in Silvercrest.”

In response, ABP said it had been “at the forefront of the successful development of Ireland’s agri-food exports over many years” and operated “to the very highest standards of management and governance”. It added sales of chilled Irish beef – “which account for 95% of its and the sector’s business” – had not been affected by the horsemeat scandal. “Furthermore, market prices for Irish cattle are at an historic high, reflecting strong market demand for the product we sell internationally,” it said.

“Market prices for Irish cattle are at an historic high, reflecting strong market demand for the product we sell internationally” - ABP

Coveney’s report also revealed Irish processor QK Meats – which is not related to ABP but part of the Queally Group – had found horse DNA in imported meat from Poland as early as last June but did not inform the authorities until 5 February.

In his comments on the report, Coveney referred to the failings at ABP/Silvercrest and QK Meats in the same breath, saying both companies’ practices were “unacceptable”, and they had “let themselves down as well as risking reputational damage to the Irish food sector itself”.

ABP conceded the controls at Silvercrest had “let the company down” but – in an apparent bid to contrast its own actions against those of QK Meats – stressed ABP had acted swiftly once it became aware of problems at Silvercrest, and had co-operated fully with the Irish authorities during their investigations.

It added the revelations about QK Meats in Coveney’s report were “extraordinary”. “It is remarkable that another food operator was aware of equine contamination in the beef supply chain for many months without making the authorities or the industry aware. Had the authorities been aware, the issue could have been managed very differently and the risk to the Irish agri-food sector significantly reduced.”

For its part, QK Meats issued a statement on Friday (15 March) saying it acted in good faith at the time but now accepts it should have informed the authorities earlier, and has apologised to Coveney’s department.