Thursday, 22 November 2007
Food Safety Standards.
Question 1: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of the contents of the recently published report by the EU Food and Veterinary Office on animal health controls and public health controls in Brazil, she will support the call for an immediate ban on Brazilian beef imports to the EU. [30261/07]
Conditions for trade in animal products with third countries follow the principles laid down under agreements of the World Trade Organisation and the international organisation for animal health. The European Commission is mandated to negotiate these conditions on behalf of the European Union and, through its Food and Veterinary Office, FVO, monitor the compliance of third countries it has approved for trade with the Union. Where there are risks to public or animal health in the Community, arising from disease outbreaks in approved third countries, safeguard measures are invoked banning or restricting imports from the affected country or regions.
I publicly welcomed the publication of the latest FVO report by the European Commission. The report should be very helpful in the overall process of ensuring equivalence. My Department has requested the EU authorities to arrange for a discussion of this report at the EU Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health. A further mission to Brazil is being arranged for this month by the FVO. It is vital that the FVO report on its findings at the earliest possible date and that the European Commission take whatever action is necessary to protect the interests of EU consumers and producers.
I have consistently pointed out to the Commissioner and my colleagues in the Council of Ministers that produce imported from third countries must meet standards equivalent to those required of Community producers. In this context, I have been in regular contact with the Commissioner who has assured me 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 invite the Minister to prize herself from the fence on this matter. It is as simple as this — if she is not with us, she is against us, meaning Irish beef producers and consumers. Those with responsibility at European level must be informed and the debate must be led at a political level. Does the Minister find the report worrying, particularly that the Brazilian state veterinary service had no systematic audit system in place for animal health and that no criteria for such an audit had been established? I ask this in respect of the need to ensure a level playing pitch for Irish food producers and the beef sector and to ensure safety for consumers. This is the case, notwithstanding that the issue had been flagged in a previous Food and Veterinary Office report. Is it not worrying for consumers that cold stores in ports dealing with beef destined for Europe were not audited and that there was a lack of adequately trained staff in the state veterinary service? The list of findings against the state authorities in respect of requirements clearly outlined in previous reports is startling. Will the Minister become an advocate for change in order that we can speak to DG SANCO and Commissioner Kyprianou, with whom the Minister deals regularly? Must we put up with a situation where the Brazilians are continually given another chance to get their house in order?
The Deputy may not want to listen but it is time the truth was told in the House. I sent additional unpublished information, made available to me by the Irish Farmers Journal, to the Commissioner. I followed up the matter on a number of occasions. I met the Commissioner officially at every meeting of the Council, where I have expressed reservations and asked that 25 recommendations made in the FVO report issued in March be implemented. A further mission has been undertaken, while the Commissioner met the Brazilian authorities and the Minister. I gave an undertaking to speak to the Commissioner again once he had received the report on the outcome of the mission. I was the only Minister in the European Union to express concerns on this issue and will continue to do so until I am satisfied with the outcome and the message is given by the Commissioner.
That is not a matter for me, but for the European Commission. The Commissioner is charged with responsibility for the health of people in the European Union. He is the competent authority.
It is not the purpose of the report to make a recommendation, but to outline the facts clearly. There is a list as long as my arm of the shortcomings of the Brazilian authorities. The Minister can run but she cannot hide on this matter. Is she with us or against us in leading a campaign for a ban? While she may clamour to get onside with the IFA, she stated this was a trade issue, not a public health issue. The FVO finds that it is a public health issue.
The FVO made 25 recommendations. I am the only Minister who has given political credence to the report and will continue to do so. The Commissioner will make a determination on the basis of the risk assessment. Although he has stated there are shortcomings, he has not taken that decision. Until such time as the risk assessment advises otherwise, he will not make it. However, I will be pursuing the matter vigorously with all concerned.