Dáil debates

Thursday, 8 November 2007

5:00 pm

Photo of Martin FerrisMartin Ferris (Kerry North, Sinn Fein)
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Over the past several years, Deputies from all parties have expressed concerns about the importation of Brazilian beef into the EU. I have heard the issue being raised by Members from all sides of the House. The rules and regulations applicable to Brazilian beef are inadequate in comparison to EU-originated products. There is a complete absence of individual traceability and growth hormones are freely used. Early last year, the IFA travelled to Brazil, where they produced a video on what they encountered. Although it was rubbished in some quarters, the latest reports vindicate many of its claims. In addition, Brazil uses vaccination to counteract the problem of foot and mouth disease.

The long awaited Food and Veterinary Office report was published yesterday. The report is disturbing because the number of animals on two out of nine holdings visited did not match the number on the database, highlighting a lack of routine checks to verify cattle numbers and individual identification. More animals were listed on the database than were present on the farm. The quality of the ear tags used was inadequate, individual tags were illegible in many instances and a high percentage were missing or lost. As a consequence, the reliability of the 90-day residency policy used by the EU to implement regionalisation is totally undermined. In one meat plant an animal was declared ineligible for the EU, yet its meat formed part of a consignment destined to the Community. That is a serious breach of procedures.

The report also found shortcomings in the vaccination procedure and stated that no routine controls had been carried out by competent authorities on holdings in some states to ensure proper vaccination. The consequence of this exposure is herd immunity might not be sufficient to protect against foot and mouth disease. It was observed that the foot and mouth virus continues to circulate in parts of the Matto Grasso. The Food and Veterinary Office noted the absence of a programme to monitor the efficiency of the vaccination in 2007, which jeopardises the future certification of beef. The report confirms all the concerns which have been expressed by the IFA, ICMSA and health and safety experts. The matter is ongoing because agents of the office are still in Brazil and will produce further reports.

News broke this morning of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Commissioner Kyprianou's home country of Cyprus. We are told that the strain of the virus in Cyprus is the same as that found in Britain earlier this year, as well as the prevalent strain in Brazil.

Questions arise in respect of the support of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the importation of Brazilian beef, which is opposed by most people in the industry other than the barons who want to make a killing from it. Everybody who genuinely has this country's interests at heart opposes importing the beef. How long can the Minister continue to support the importation of beef which is finding its way into our food chain without being displayed as Brazilian? One can buy beef in any hotel or restaurant without knowing its origin. From a health and safety perspective and because of the irregularities in implementing the regulations, which are already uneven, I urge the Minister to oppose the importation of Brazilian beef into the EU.

Photo of Mary WallaceMary Wallace (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Meath East, Fianna Fail)
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On the origin of beef sold in hotels and restaurants, customers are entitled to ask why country of origin information is not on the menu. If more consumers asked that question, the situation would improve. We all need to play our part in that regard. The conditions for trade in animal products with third countries follow the principles established under agreements of the World Trade Organisation and the International Organisation for Animal Health. The European Commission is mandated to negotiate these on behalf of the European Community and, through its food and veterinary office, to monitor the compliance of third countries it has approved for trade with the EU. This approval is on the basis that the Commission considers the third country's controls offer an equivalent level of guarantee for the protection of human and animal health to those operated within the community. Where there are risks to public or to animal health in the community, arising from disease outbreaks in approved third countries, safeguard measures are invoked restricting or banning imports from the affected country or region until the risk has been eliminated.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Mary Coughlan, welcomed the publication by the European Commission of the report of the food and veterinary office mission to Brazil. The Minister said that this report will be very helpful in the overall process of ensuring equivalence. She added that she was 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. She said that Commissioner Kyprianou, who is responsible for health and consumer protection, has personally assured her 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.

Following from its mission to Brazil this month it is vital that the food and veterinary reports on its findings at the earliest possible date and that the European Commission will take whatever action is necessary to protect the interests of EU consumers and producers. The Minister has consistently pointed out to the Commission and to her colleagues in the Council of Ministers that produce imported from third countries must meet standards that are equivalent to those required of community producers. In this context she has been in regular contact with Commissioner Kyprianou. The Commissioner has assured her that the Commission will not hesitate to take action if a product imported from a third country represents a risk for EU consumers, livestock or plants.

I note the Deputy's concern regarding the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Cyprus. The controls, based on EU regulations, which were applied in the case of the UK outbreak, confined the disease to a limited area. Similar measures have been adopted for Cyprus and it is hoped that the outbreak will be restricted and controlled. The Commission and the Cypriot Government are awaiting typing test results from the World Reference Laboratory to identify the specific strain of Type O virus involved in the outbreak in Cyprus.