Thursday, 8 December 2005
Question 5: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she is satisfied with the traceability systems that are applied to Brazilian beef; the way in which she is satisfied that beef producers here are not compromised due to the extensive traceability systems demanded of beef produced here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38645/05]
As a member of the EU and the World Trade Organisation, WTO, Ireland is in a position to avail of opportunities for trade that are essential for the development of our open economy. Membership of these organisations also brings reciprocal trade obligations. The principle is that imported animal products meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in, and trade between, member states. All such imports must come from third countries or areas of third countries that have been approved for export to the EU.
Irish farmers are required to ensure that their production systems and farm practices fully comply with a wide range of EU directives on important matters including traceability, animal health and welfare and consumer protection.
I fully support the policy that animal products imported into the EU from third countries meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in, and trade between, EU member states. In this context I wrote to the Commissioner Kyprianou concerning the sanitary rules applying to the import of livestock products, especially beef, into the European Union. In his reply the Commissioner outlined that, with respect to traceability and controls of residues of veterinary medicines, the purpose of EU legislation is not to impose on exporting third countries a system of guarantees that is equal to the EU system, but that the exporting country provides guarantees that are equivalent to the standards applied in the EU.
The Commissioner indicated his service is committed to protect the health of European consumers and European livestock. It has regularly carried out inspections in Brazil also with respect to the points of concern raised in my letter and has taken appropriate measures whenever necessary. He indicates the Commission's adoption of restrictive measures in relation to the finding of residues of unauthorised substances in poultry meat and the quick and proportionate protective measures applied to imports of beef, as a result of the recent outbreaks of foot and mouth disease, FMD, in Brazil, demonstrate the Commission's primary objective of maintaining the high sanitary status of the Community and respecting the EU commitment under the WTO agreement on sanitary and phytosanitary measures.
In regard to the operation of EU controls on exports in Brazil the Commissioner indicated that an FVO inspection to evaluate animal health and public health control systems, traceability and certification procedures in place in that country has recently been carried out. Following consultation with the Brazilian competent authorities on its findings, which is not yet complete, the FVO will issue a report. The Commissioner has assured me that the Commission will not hesitate to take the appropriate protection measures if a product, imported from a third country or produced in the domestic market represents a risk for the health of EC consumers, livestock or plants.
As the Minister is aware, there is concern in the beef industry in regard to the amount of imports from Brazil specifically. Questions have been highlighted in regard to the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease which have alerted us to the fact that there may be underlying problems in countries such as Brazil of which we are unaware. Given that the Minister said regular inspections are carried out by the FVO, what is the frequency of those inspections? What percentage of the factories from which we purchase beef are tested and how regularly are those tests carried out? On the issue of labelling we can no longer have a choice. That is the key issue from a consumer point of view. There is a beef industry problem but there is a consumer perception that the consumer is disadvantaged and has no idea of the origin of that product at catering level.
I wholeheartedly agree on the issue of labelling. Our colleagues in the Seanad are involved in drafting legislation that will hopefully be introduced in this House at the beginning of the next term so we can introduce law on the issue of labelling. We all agree on the necessity of labelling.
The FVO carried out a number of audits and inspections between 2001 and 2004 on production and export controls and on residue controls operated by the Brazilian competent authorities. The audits were taken in compliance with the provisions of EU legislation on food hygiene and health conditions for the productions and placing on the market of certain products intended for human consumption and in accordance with the conditions under which Brazil has been approved by the EU to trade in certain animal products.
As I indicated, a recent investigation was carried out by the FVO. I instigated a letter to the Commissioner on the basis of the concerns expressed. Many recommendations were made to the Commission from the FVO arising from those. Reviews were carried out on action plans submitted by the Brazilians and consideration of further control measures in light of assurances received. I await the outcome of the FVO report. Hopefully it will be available soon so we can see if our concerns have been addressed.