Dáil debates

Thursday, 26 November 2009

3:00 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Question 5: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has received the findings of an analysis undertaken by his Department into samples of chicken fillets imported during the summer of 2009; the actions he intends to take on foot of such findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43828/09]

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin North, Green Party)
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My Department had analyses conducted at the Irish Equine Centre on ten batches of imported poultry this year. This was specifically in the context of the gas flushing of poultry meat.

The results of these analyses are presently being assessed. Further, more detailed, information has been sought from the testing laboratory in order to provide a fuller picture of the microbiological status of these samples. If any follow-up action is needed, such as bringing any unsatisfactory results to the attention of competent authorities in exporting countries and asking that they take corrective action, this will be taken.

My Department is currently liaising with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, in particular in regard to any action that needs to be taken at retail level when handling gas-flushed poultry.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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It could be said with some justification that the pork dioxin scare came up and bit us from behind. The Minister of State mentioned ten samples. He should bear in mind that in response to a previous parliamentary question on 17 November he said he was not aware of any testing on imported poultry meat having been carried out at the Department's laboratory. The response to a parliament question submitted by Deputy Creed a day later stated that the Department had analyses conducted on samples of imported poultry meat this year. It was the same response as that given here.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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He is covering up something.

4:00 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Something is amiss. If this turns out to be a health issue and the bacterial counts of these samples are proved to be in excess of what is humanly safe, the Minister of State is complicit in covering up results by saying he has sought further more detailed information. If we should be aware of the preliminary findings, surely the Minister of State and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland have a duty to bring this to our attention and to suspend the activity.

At peak 4 million chicken fillets are imported into this country each week. It is the most popular food the Irish housewife buys for her family. It is considered to be low fat and safe. If it is not fit, they have a right to know.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin North, Green Party)
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I share the annoyance of Deputy Doyle in that I had hoped these tests would have been carried out more quickly. However, I am not a microbiologist and I do not know if the Deputy is one. We are taking the best advice available to us from the Irish Equine Centre. It has been contracted by the Department because it has the capability to carry out the tests to a standard that would give us the clout to take the action the Deputy is seeking, if that is warranted. For that reason, I have pressed this matter when I have been asked this question. I am advised the results will be concluded by next week at which point the issue will be taken up.

There is an interesting lacuna in legal terms in that the use by date must be displayed on a product, but the law does not specify the duration of the shelf life of a product. Normally, Irish processors apply a seven-day or eight-day shelf life to their products but with the use of gas-flushed technology, products can have a much longer shelf life. A shelf life of up to two or three weeks may be permissible on the basis of microbiological evidence.

I take Deputy Doyle's point that this is a serious matter but I do not want to overstate it. It is a matter that must be followed up with action, but it can only be action taken on the basis of comprehensive testing, the results of which we have to await. We will have those next week.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister of State confirm that those findings will be published? On the issue of the shelf life of products, what the Minister of State said is all very fine, if one knows the slaughter date. The evidence is that chicken fillets are gas-flushed on the seventh day of shelf life of the product. Immediately the seal is broken on the wrapping of a product, the product is out of date.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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That is key to this issue. We do not know the slaughter date of such products, nor their country of origin.

Why did we get two different answers on this issue last week? The FSAI convened a meeting of the suppliers and the retailers on this issue last April. It said it had no legal power to ban such a practice. The caveat here is that the retailer should have a scientifically valid way of setting use by dates. They were given two months to report back with a scientifically valid way of setting use by dates but that still has not happened.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin North, Green Party)
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What the Deputy has said is so significant that I suggest he table a separate question on it. In the meantime, I will examine the matter. The Deputy has asked a question that warrants a specific separate answer. It is a question that needs a comprehensive answer but I cannot give him such an answer now.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Will the findings be published?

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin North, Green Party)
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I do not have that information, but I hope they will be. The issue warrants being made public information.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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The consumer has the right to that information.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Dublin North, Green Party)
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I agree with the Deputy on that, but I have to take advice on that based on laboratory findings and the legislation in place. I expect that in terms of public health, it is a matter of public interest and people should have the information. I look forward to considering the information as soon as possible.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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We should have learned a lesson from the pork dioxin crisis.