Telling porkies? One third of DNA-tested pork 'not sourced in Ireland'

Pigs on pig farm
Image caption The Irish Farmers' Association has created a pig DNA database through which pork products can be traced back to the individual animal

Almost a third of pork meat products tested in an Irish Farmers' Association survey were not of Irish origin, even though they were sold as Irish produce.

The IFA carries out DNA testing on pork as part of its "DNA-certified pig meat traceability programme".

A total of 91 retail pork products were subjected to DNA tests in December and 26 of those checked (29%) were not assigned to the Irish boar database.

The IFA said the "misleading of consumers remains a serious issue".

Its national pigs and pig meat committee chairman, Pat O'Flaherty, said the Republic of Ireland was the "first country in the world" to introduce a nationwide DNA traceability programme for pork.

'Informed choice'

He said boar stud farms on both sides of the Irish border had signed up to the Republic's DNA database.

"We can test any pig meat and tell if the daddy was Irish or not," Mr O'Flaherty said.

The County Kildare-based pig farmer has worked in the industry for 15 years and believes consumers should be given an "informed choice" when buying food, as production standards vary greatly from country to country.

He said the IFA introduced its DNA-certified pig meat traceability programme about two years ago "to stop the blatant misleading of consumers".

Image caption Mr O'Flaherty said food suppliers had a wider responsibility to be honest and transparent with consumers on how and where their food is produced

Its most recent set of tests were carried out at shops in Wexford, Galway, Cork and Cavan.

In every store surveyed, an IFA representative posed as a shopper and asked the salesperson to confirm if the pork products on display were Irish goods.

"Not one butcher admitted that the products were imported," Mr O'Flaherty said.

"We are horrified that fresh pork is being imported into this country. This is a new development and one which the consumer would never expect".

'Labelling fraud'

The IFA has a vested interest in promoting Irish farmers' goods above all others, but Mr O'Flaherty said there is a wider responsibility to be honest and transparent with consumers on how and where their food is produced.

He said there was nothing to stop imported food from being labelled as "produced in Ireland" even if it was only processed or packaged in the Republic, which he felt was misleading to customers who want to buy Irish goods.

He said most Irish consumers knew little or nothing about food production regulations in some of the countries they were unwittingly buying meat from.

Mr O'Flaherty also complained about the lack of prosecutions for food labelling fraud in the Republic of Ireland and said rules must be tightened to promote greater consumer confidence in the food chain.

The BBC asked the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) about the latest pig meat survey results but a spokeswoman said her organisation had no involvement in the IFA's testing process and could not comment on the findings.

'Horsemeat scandal'

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin has called on the European Union to introduced mandatory 'country of origin' labelling for processed meats.

The party's Dublin MEP, Lynn Boylan, was among a group that brought forward a resolution to the EU Parliament last week, calling on the European Commission to propose new food labelling legislation.

"We should not wait for another scandal on the scale of the horsemeat scandal before we act on this issue. Consistent studies have shown that the vast majority of consumers want this labelling," Ms Boylan said.

The parliament voted in favour of the resolution.

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