Dáil debates

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Other Questions

Food Safety Standards.

3:00 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Question 9: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she is satisfied that all beef, lamb or pig meat imported into Ireland is compliant with the standards of hygiene, husbandry and traceability applicable here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [9133/07]

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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Meat imported from an EU source must come from an approved establishment and be accompanied to its destination with a commercial document or a health certificate signed by an official veterinarian of the competent authority of the member state of origin. In the case of importation from third countries, meat or meat products must originate in a country approved by the EU for trade in such products, have been produced in an approved establishment and be accompanied by a health certificate in accordance with the provisions of Community legislation and must be presented for inspection at an EU approved border inspection post.

Checks are carried out by the EU food and veterinary office to ensure that EU requirements are complied with and I am satisfied the Department of Agriculture and Food and other State agencies have a system in place to ensure that all food imported into this country complies with national and EU regulations. The Minister has been in regular contact with Commissioner Kyprianou on the issue of meat imports and he has assured her 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 to the health of EC consumers or livestock. At a visit to the Oireachtas in September 2006, a representative of the Commission gave the same assurance to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture and Food.

In the matter of beef imports from Brazil, which have been subject to much public comment, the EU food and veterinary office has over the past four years carried out inspections in that country and published its findings with regard to its evaluation of certain matters. These include the animal health and public health control systems and traceability and certification procedures in place, in particular relating to foot and mouth disease; and control of residues and contaminants in live animals and animal products, including controls on veterinary medical products.

These reports have commented on the structure, organisation and tasks of the Brazilian competent authorities to guarantee that food exported from that country is safe. The food and veterinary office has listed recommendations to these authorities to address deficiencies found in the course of the audits. The Commission has also undertaken follow-up visits and, in regard to beef, these show that the Brazilian authorities are continuing to make improvements.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Alongside safeguard measures introduced by the Commission to control imports because of the outbreak of foot and mouth in certain regions, actions have been taken against Brazil because of poor performance on residue levels in eggs and egg products, milk and milk products, pig meat, ovine and caprine meat and honey.

The Commission has confirmed to my Department that corrective action plans to implement the various recommendations have been received. Following its assessment, the Commission has deemed the residue measures relating to beef, horse meat and aquaculture to be acceptable and that there is no risk from legally imported beef from Brazil. It has been confirmed that a further FVO inspection on residues in Brazil is being planned for the first quarter of 2007 to verify the implementation of the corrective measures. The FVO have also scheduled another animal and public health mission to Brazil for the early part of next year.

I have taken every opportunity to remind the Commission of the importance of having the same standards, particularly relating to all exporting countries, including Brazil, and my Department will continue to closely monitor the position.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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I have two points.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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I ask the Deputy to be brief because his colleagues are offering.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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In light of the concerns raised regarding third country imports, does this not leave Ireland and any other member states reprocessing and repackaging product as coming from their own country in a vulnerable position regarding potential disease outbreaks?

An amount of this third country product goes into the catering trade. In light of the poor compliance currently evident, with less than a quarter having labelling in place, will the Minister of State ensure that environmental health officers will be given sufficient resources? Will the Department of Health and Children ensure that training and resources are provided to environmental health officers to enforce the regulations signed by the Minister? Law without enforcement is pointless.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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We discussed Deputy Naughten's latter point in detail earlier in reply to Deputy Upton's question. The Minister for Health and Children outlined to the House in a reply to Deputies Naughten and Pattison that she was satisfied adequate resources are being provided to ensure environmental health officers can carry out the necessary inspection process. As we noted earlier, two thirds of the 29,000 catering establishments in this country are visited and inspected on an annual basis.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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Labelling is not checked.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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We want to ensure enforcement of regulations that were supported by all sides in this House, and into which there was much work put by the Department of Agriculture and Food, the Department of Health and Children and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. We want to see the best positive results from those regulations. We will ensure they will be complied with when implemented.

In my initial reply I stated there is detailed European Union legislation laying down conditions for the import of food from third countries. I mentioned earlier approved establishments, health certificates and border inspection posts, all of which are in place to ensure food imported from outside the European Union meets the standard set by the food and veterinary office.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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Is the Minister happy with the standards?

Photo of Mary CoughlanMary Coughlan (Minister, Department of Agriculture and Food; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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Yes.

Photo of Brendan SmithBrendan Smith (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Cavan-Monaghan, Fianna Fail)
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The European Union has developed its own systems of traceability and animal welfare. The International Office for Animal Diseases sets the veterinary standards for international trade, usually the standards adopted by the World Trade Organisation.

The Minister, Deputy Coughlan, at every forum available to her, has outlined clearly and in particular in the context of the WTO talks that we have additional costs in production because of the very high standards we set. She has indicated we should not be disadvantaged in international trade by having in place a very strong regulatory framework which ensures the food produced in this country is of the utmost and highest standard, of which we can be very proud.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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That concludes Question Time.

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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There is a minute left.

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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We were late starting.