Horses containing “multiple microchips” are believed to be the cause of a wide-scale Garda investigation into horsemeat processing.

Yesterday morning, Thursday, June 6, the Garda National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, assisted by officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, conducted a search of a number of premises, including farms.

The searches were carried out as part of an investigation into “fraudulent practices” relating to the tampering of identification passports and microchips of horses presented for slaughter, the Gardaí said.

According to John Joe Fitzpatrick, from Shannonside Foods – a horsemeat plant exporting to France – the case appears to arise from the presence of multiple microchips in horses, a practice he described as “fraudulent”.

Speaking to AgriLand, Fitzpatrick acknowledged that it was early in the investigation, and that all the facts were not yet known.

However, he is of the view that this investigation is a follow-on from a recent EU audit of Irish horsemeat plants.

“Everything has to be 100% during these audits. It looks like something transpired there,” he suggested.

Fitzpatrick also highlighted the levels of tight security used in the horse processing sector – particularly when it comes to exportation and trade.

He concluded that this investigation is “massive” for the horsemeat processing sector.

Seven sites were targeted in yesterday morning’s Garda raid, including farms, houses and a commercial premises. The searches took place in counties: Roscommon; Leitrim; Sligo; Westmeath; and Kilkenny.

The investigation was aimed at “offences of deception” pursuant to Section 6 of the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud) Offences Act, 2001.

Food Chain Protection

All equines – horses, ponies and donkeys – born in, or imported into, the EU are required to be identified in accordance with equine identification legislation.

The equine keeper is responsible for ensuring that all equines have the relevant identification documents issued within 12 months from the date of birth of the animal. The consequences for late identification include the automatic exclusion of the animal from the food chain.

All equine animals presented for slaughter for human consumption must also be implanted with a microchip.

Horses or ponies that have ever received certain banned medication or tranquilizers are rendered unsuitable for the human food chain.