Irish pork DNA testing scheme deemed ‘incomplete’ by EC

The European Commission has called Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA) DNA testing scheme has been called “incomplete” by the European Commission.

The Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland (ACBI) and pork firm McConnon Meats have been outspoken against a round of pork DNA testing undertaken by the IFA. DNA tests of boars, supplied by DNA specialist IdentiGEN, are compared with a database supplied by the IFA.

Yvonne McConnon, owner of McConnon Meats, said her business was adversely affected by the IFA testing scheme. Last year the IFA found it reportedly selling foreign meat labelled as Irish. On further examination, the meat was supplied by a Bord Bía quality-assured farmer from four of his boars that he had failed to register. McConnon Meats was immediately delisted from a major retailer, which McConnon said caused “huge upset and damage to our business, which up until now had an absolutely impeccable record”.

The testing sparked fresh criticism after the IFA released its latest round of results showing that, out of 91 product samples, 26 (or 29%) were not Irish, 25 of which were bought in independent butchers’ shops.

The EU Commission replied to McConnon’s concerns in a letter, saying: “A considerable weak point seems to be that DNA samples of meat are tested against a database of ‘Irish’ boars that is unfortunately incomplete.”

Defending the scheme, IFA Pigs Committee chairman Pat O’Flaherty said: “We follow a strict set of protocols in advance of making any claims in relation to the origin of the meat. The programme is supported by the Irish AI stations, Irish farmers and is an integral element of our Quality Assurance Scheme. The EU traceability system simply requires a link of ‘one up, one back’ which means that everyone in the chain is reliant on the honesty of their own suppliers and paperwork – a system that is open to abuse. We have moved away from this to a science-based system.”

However recent correspondence from Brussels with McConnon Meats stated the scheme can certify whether the meat of a certain pig comes from the offspring of boars registered in the database, but cannot be used to assure that a certain cut of meat comes from a pig not reared in Ireland.

The IFA said it was “very disappointed” with the European Commission’s comments on the scheme.

“IFA set up the DNAcertified programme in the absence of strong enforceable legislation in this area and we find it very disappointing that the EU Commission would indicate that our database is not complete without any contact with us or any detailed examination of the programme.

“Furthermore, we believe the country-of-origin labelling being introduced in April legislation is inadequate, as it only covers fresh pre-packed products and will not cover ham or bacon. The IFA programme has never been more necessary and has been welcomed by genuine processors in the industry, who are concerned about how their businesses are being impacted by those who mislead consumers in relation to the origin of their meat.”

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