Gardai raid seven sites in swoop over 'sophisticated' food fraud
Gardai are investigating if horse meat unfit for human consumption was processed in Ireland before being exported to continental markets in a sophisticated fraud.
While it is understood the meat did not end up in the food chain here, it could be months before this is confirmed.
Detectives from several garda units carried out searches as part of a major probe into horse meat fraud.
Seven premises across five counties were searched yes- terday as part of the investigation.
Farms, private homes and commercial premises were searched.
It relates to the possibility that horses that were slaughtered and should have been destroyed may have been processed for export abroad for human consumption.
It is not believed the "unfit" horse meat has been sold on the Irish market, but it is feared it has been distributed to continental Europe where it is commonly consumed.
The investigation, led by the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation (NBCI), has been ongoing since around 2017.
The suspected fraud is not believed to be orchestrated by a criminal gang, though the alleged fraud has been described as "well-organised".
Gardai suspect false passports and microchips were supplied for horses that have been deemed unfit to be slaughtered for food.
The fraudulent documents then purport to show the ani-mals have been certified for slaughter before they illegally enter the food chain.
Gardai searched sites in Roscommon, Leitrim, Sligo, Westmeath and Kilkenny yesterday, along with officials from the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
No arrests were made as the investigation is in its "evidence-gathering" stage.
The searches were led by the NBCI, which was supported by the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB), the garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau and garda National Cyber Crime Bureau.
According to the Department of Agriculture in a statement issued yesterday, all slaughterhouses whose meat is destined for human consumption must meet the detailed requirements set out in EU food-safety regulations.
It also said no horses can be slaughtered unless there is a record of them on the department's central equine database, and all horses at slaughter plants undergo ante-mortem examination to ensure they are fit for slaughter.
The operation follows a major crackdown on illegal horse meat by Europol in 2017.
Spanish police, along with Europol investigators, dismantled an organised crime group that was trading horse meat in Europe that was unfit for human consumption.
The operation was carried out in co-ordination with Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland and the UK.
In Spain, 65 people were arrested and charged with crimes including animal abuse, document forgery, perverting the course of justice, crimes against public health, money laundering and being part of a criminal organisation.