Review of the year: Horsemeat, schmallenberg disease

FEBRUARY: The beginning of February saw Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney battling with the challenge that was the horsemeat crisis.

It was apparent from the outset that he wanted total transparency in the way that the matter was handled. And it was this approach, more than anything else, which actually saved the day for the redmeat sector.

At an investigational level the hunt was on to find the source of the horsemeat that had actually been included in beefburgers.  Experts, particularly UCD’s Professor Patrick Wall, were rolled out to deal with the media’s food safety related inquiries. And, there’s no doubt that he played an absolute blinder in this regard.

However, as the days past it was becoming obvious that the horsemeat issue was fast becoming a good news story for the Irish beef industry.

In the first instance, it brought home the stark message to the buying pubic that cheap food is exactly that – in other words, quality comes at a price. Moreover, it also forced the supermarkets to review their buying practises. Before the end of the month most of the UK multiples had committed to giving fresh food from Britain and Ireland an absolute priority. In other words, they wanted to shorten the length of the food chain. And this is a commitment that they should not be allowed to row back from.

The month of February brought home the message that pandemic disease does not respect national borders. In the South of the country large numbers of sheep farmers were confronted with the horrors of schmallenberg disease. Pulling deformed and dead lambs out of ewes is a heart breaking job, made all the worse by the sense of helplessness that accompanies the reality that the problem was caused by factors over which farmers have no direct control.

In the space of days numerous flockowners knew that the Schmallenberg virus had decimated any hopes they had of making a profit from their sheep enterprises in 2013. And once they had gotten over that shock, their thoughts turned to the issue of how they could protect their animals from the ravages of the disease in the future.

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