Dáil debates

Thursday, 8 March 2007

3:00 pm

Photo of Mary UptonMary Upton (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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Question 2: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has held either informal or formal discussions directly with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland or with the Department of Health and Children regarding the implementation of the country of origin labelling of beef at catering level; and if she will make a statement on her views of its implementation to date. [9212/07]

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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The regulations governing the provision of country of origin information on beef in the catering sector were introduced by the Minister for Health and Children. Responsibility for enforcement of the regulations lies with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI.

Officials of my Department have had extensive discussions with the Department of Health and Children and the FSAI during the drafting of the regulations and since the regulations were made. These discussions included aspects relating to enforcement.

There are more than 44,000 food businesses in Ireland of which over 29,000 are in the service sector, which includes caterers. These are inspected on a routine basis by the environmental health officers in the Health Service Executive, HSE, operating under a service contract with the FSAI.

Checks on compliance with the Health (Country of Origin of Beef) Regulations are being incorporated into routine hygiene and food safety inspections by HSE environmental health officers for establishments covered by these regulations.

Photo of Mary UptonMary Upton (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State for the reply. There are 9,000 caterers and that is a fairly substantial number for the FSAI to inspect on what he described as a routine basis. How frequently would they be inspected and how many of those 9,000 would be inspected on an annual basis?

I understand from the reply that checks on compliance with country of origin regulations are incorporated into that routine inspection, but my question really relates to whether persons were found not in compliance with the country of origin labelling at catering level. If persons were found to be in breach of the regulations, has it been necessary to take action against them?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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In response to Deputy Upton's further questions, the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, met the chief executive of the FSAI yesterday and one of the issues that formed their discussion was the implementation of these regulations.

As I may not have made it clear, there are more than 44,000 food businesses in this country of which over 29,000 are in the service sector. I recall reading a reply by the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, to a question tabled by the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, Deputy Pattison, where she outlined that on an annual basis two thirds of those 29,000 food businesses are inspected, and she advised that the number of inspectors and level of inspectors required to implement these regulations is sufficient. As Deputy Upton will be aware, the enforcement of these regulations is a matter for the FSAI, whose parent Department is the Department of Health and Children.

Photo of Mary UptonMary Upton (Dublin South Central, Labour)
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I saw on the website yesterday where seven closure orders were applied against food outlets of one kind or another. I put it to the Minister of State that while it is not his direct responsibility to engage the enforcement people, it is still a significant matter from the point of view of the food, which we either eat or export. What communications would he send to the FSAI and perhaps, more directly, to the Department of Health and Children on the need to increase the number of inspectors?

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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In constant negotiations and discussions between the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Department of Health and Children, we would always raise the need for adequate inspections to ensure that these new regulations are implemented properly. Of course the regulations include consumer rights as well and the consumers have been advised of their right to have the country of origin of beef provided to them by a caterer, and that where the information is not made available they should bring this to the attention of the HSE.

Recently, guidance notes on the implementation of the regulations have been developed by the FSAI for use by their environmental health officers and of course those notes are also being made available to the caterers. It is not a matter of one versus the other. It is an evolving process and we want to ensure that the implementation is done properly and adequately by the people in the industry. The less policing needed in the future, the better.