The Northern Ireland meat plant at the centre of a beef product recall has accused government officials of failing to ensure that the BSE testing procedure was followed.
A spokesman for Dunbia Meats in Dungannon blamed the Northern Ireland department of agriculture for the breakdown on 25 October, which allowed beef from a 54-month-old cow to enter the food chain without first passing a test for BSE.
“I’m assured by the FSA that the risk to the public is extremely low. This should never have happened,” said the spokesman, adding that it could have cost the company tens of thousands of pounds and caused damage to its image.
Dunbia believed that the cow had been presented by mistake to the abattoir within a batch of younger cattle on a day when only under-30-month cattle were being slaughtered.
On arrival at the meat plant the animals were penned and the tags were checked by the veterinary official, but the older animal was not picked up, the company spokesman said.
“We feel the error should have been spotted at the tag checking stage, and that is down to DARD.”
But a DARD spokesman rejected the accusation saying that, although it was down to human error, it was premature to blame government officials.
The Food Standards Agency echoed that point, saying it was too early to point the finger of blame and wrong for Dunbia to wash its hands of all responsibility at this stage.
“Responsibility for accepting animals for processing rests with the plant operator irrespective of the presence of government veterinary officials at the site,” said the FSA.
In the meantime DARD has called for the incident to be viewed in perspective.
“While this was an unfortunate incident, it involved a single animal out of 68,113 which have been successfully checked and slaughtered in NI since the over-30-month rule changed on 7 November 2005.”