Thursday, 8 November 2007
Defence Forces Provisions.
Question 8: To ask the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to concerns expressed by farming organisations regarding the use by the Defence Forces of rations that included Brazilian beef; if he has made representations to the Defence Forces on the decision to use Brazilian beef; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21795/07]
The military authorities have clarified the position regarding the inclusion of Brazilian beef in ration packs supplied to the Defence Forces under contract.
A tender competition for the supply of ration packs to the Defence Forces was advertised in the Official Journal of the European Union and conducted in accordance with national and EU public procurement rules. All quotations received came from companies in the United Kingdom although tenders were sent to a range of companies based in Ireland and the United Kingdom. European Union public procurement rules do not permit product specifications — for any product or component of a product — to identify a particular brand name, supplier or country of origin. As a result of the competition, the contract to supply ration packs to the Defence Forces from January 2007 to December 2008 was awarded to Far Side Marketing, located in Buckinghamshire in the United Kingdom.
Main meals containing beef are included in 25% of all ration packs purchased annually by the Defence Forces. These meals are manufactured by a number of specialist manufacturers in the United Kingdom and Germany. In general, beef from Europe is used. However, in one consignment of pack rations delivered to the Defence Forces in early 2007, the beef-based main meals did contain beef of Brazilian origin, amounting to approximately 500 meals. In this case, the total quantity of beef was approximately 150 kg. To date, 25,000 ration packs have been purchased under the current contract, 6,000 of which contained beef, of which only 500 contained Brazilian beef. Brazil is an EU-approved third country for the purpose of importation of meat products.
The military authorities have assured me that fresh beef consumed by the Defence Forces on a daily basis is sourced in Ireland from local producers. Approximately 93,000 kg of fresh beef, valued at €450,000, is purchased annually by the Defence Forces compared to approximately 1,200 kg of beef, valued at €12,000, in ration packs.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. While health and safety issues do not apply in this case, we realise vigilance is very important in light of the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Surrey. What consultation has the Minister of State's Department had with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and other relevant authorities to ascertain that there is no possibility that the product in question could eventually bring foot and mouth disease into Ireland?
Food safety is of primary importance and, as the Deputy indicated, it is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who has assured me that detailed EU legislation lays down the conditions member states must apply to the production of and trade in products of animal origin, including meat, as well as to imports of these products from third countries. Under this harmonised legislation, a series of health and supervisory requirements are applied in the member states to ensure that animal products are produced to standards that guarantee the safety of food and the protection of human and animal health. The application of these standards in the member states is monitored by the Food and Veterinary Office of the European Union.
It is required that animal products imported from third countries meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in and trade between member states and all meat imports must come from third countries, or areas thereof, approved for export to the Union. Brazil is so approved. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food welcomed the publication by the EU Commission of the report on the Food and Veterinary Office's mission to Brazil. She said it will be very helpful in the overall process of ensuring equivalence and added she is now calling for a discussion on the report within the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. The Minister also noted that a further Food and Veterinary Office mission is taking place this month and stated the Commissioner responsible for health and consumer protection has assured her personally that he will not hesitate to take appropriate protection measures if a product imported from a third country represents a risk to the health of EU consumers, livestock or plants. There is very strong liaison between my Department and that of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on such issues.
I, too, am delighted to hear the Minister of State's response to the effect that we are not importing Brazilian beef for use by the Defence Forces. The IFA DVD on the Brazilian beef market, which was distributed recently, highlighted many of the issues that arise. The use of Brazilian beef by the Defence Forces would be a cause for concern.
I am disappointed that the Fine Gael Private Members' motion of recent weeks was not accepted by the Minister of State's party.
I thank the Deputy for his remarks. We will continue to purchase beef and other foodstuffs for the Defence Forces in line with national and EU procurement legislation. The military authorities assured me that fresh beef consumed by the Defence Forces daily is sourced from local Irish producers.
The issue in question concerns the supply of ration packs to the Defence Forces. The contract was awarded to Far Side Marketing. It is worth noting that no Irish company entered the competition but we would be glad to see them coming forward. We should encourage our producers to become involved in the production of ration packs.
The Minister of State is aware that the IFA has described this particular purchase as a disgrace. It did so in the context of its own visit to Brazil to assess its beef industry. I understand the Minister of State is saying procurement regulations were adhered to and that all the information presently available to the Department suggests there is no danger to animal health. Is he asserting that the situation is monitored constantly by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and that immediate action will be taken if any concerns are flagged to his Department by the monitoring Department?
That is a fair assessment. We must abide by EU procurement legislation and do so as a responsible member state. This matter has been well rehearsed in the media and we know the position of the IFA. The Department will comply with the relevant national and EU food safety legislation designed to ensure that animal products are produced to standards that guarantee the safety of food and the protection of human and animal health. We apply the highest of standards. I took the opportunity today to outline the position of my ministerial colleague, Deputy Mary Coughlan, and we will certainly ensure the House is kept updated on this issue.