Written answers

Thursday, 17 February 2005

Department of Agriculture and Food

Meat Imports

5:00 pm

Photo of Ned O'KeeffeNed O'Keeffe (Cork East, Fianna Fail)
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Question 121: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food the quantities of beef, pig-meat and poultry meat being imported from South America and other third countries; if some of the third country meats are coming into the EU and then being re-shipped here; the quantity of such meats; the quantities of Chilean or Brazilian pig meat that is being used by southern processors and sold under their brand names as Irish; the action she will take to have this product identified on the processors packaging; her views on whether this is misleading for the consumer and gives a bad image to Irish meat; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5452/05]

Photo of Mary CoughlanMary Coughlan (Minister, Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs; Minister, Department of Agriculture and Food; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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In the EU there is legislation requiring that all our meat products, for export, within the EU or to third countries must be produced in approved establishments supervised by official veterinarians. Under EU harmonised rules the import of meat into the European Union may only take place from third countries where similar rules apply, that is, from establishments in those countries which are approved by the European Commission and which are subject to veterinary audits by the EU's food and veterinary office. On import into the EU these products must be presented at approved border inspection posts where they are subject to the checks laid down in these harmonised rules to ensure compliance with EU standards in respect of animal and public health. They must be accompanied by veterinary health certification from the authorities in the country of export. Having passed these controls, the meat is regarded as being in free circulation within the EU.

As regards to the specific countries mentioned by the Deputy, Brazil is approved to export only bovine and poultry meats to the EU. It is not approved to export porcine meats. Chile is approved to export all of these three types of meats to the EU.

The Central Statistics Office is responsible for the collection of statistics in relation to imports of meat and meat preparations. The following tables have been prepared from data supplied by that office and include the figures requested by the Deputy.

The information available for imports from member states of the European Union does not differentiate between imports originating in the EU country and those originating from third countries that may already be in free circulation within the community.

Under the single market there is free circulation of goods within the EU but there are uniform EU-wide controls on the production and trade in meat and meat products such as pigmeat. Under community law it is a requirement that the meat has been sourced from an approved establishment, whether that is a slaughterhouse, cutting plant or cold store. It must also be accompanied to its destination by a commercial document or health certificate that bears the identity of the establishment from which it has been despatched.

The volume of pig

The importance to the consumer of being in a position to make food consumption choices which best suit their circumstances and preferences is a vital element in today's market. An appropriate labelling system is a key element in this respect. The primacy of the consumer was recognised with the appointment in my Department of the consumer liaison panel, established in 2002. Acting on a recommendation from that panel, the food labelling group was also established in June 2002. That group reported in December of that year with a number of recommendations.

One of these recommendations was that information on the origin of fresh, chilled and frozen sheep meat, pig meat and poultry meat sold in retail outlets, pre-packaged or otherwise, should be declared.

I am happy to report that at the beginning of 2004, two regulations in relation to the labelling of poultry meat were introduced. The first of these regulations requires poultry meat, loose and pre-packaged, originating in a country outside the EU to bear an indication of the country of origin when offered for sale in a retail premises. The second requires information regarding class, price per unit weight, condition and slaughterhouse details in respect of loose poultry meat, that is, non-prepackaged, to be provided to the consumer.

In the beef sector, the EU beef labelling regulations which were introduced in 2000 require operators involved in the marketing of beef to label their product with a reference code to enable the beef to be traced back to the animal or group of animals from which it was derived; the approval number of the slaughterhouse and the country in which it is located; the approval number of the de-boning hall and the country in which it is located; and an indication of the origin of the animal from which the beef was derived.

For the purpose of these regulations, marketing means all aspects of beef production and marketing up to and including retail sale. These labelling requirements, which are compulsory in all member states, apply to the marketing of beef within the community, regardless of whether that beef was produced within the community or in a third country. Where beef is imported in to the community from a third country and not all the above details are available, that beef must, at a minimum, be labelled as "Origin: non-EC", along with an indication of the third country in which slaughter took place.

My Department and the Department of Health and Children are examining the legislative measures necessary to extend similar regulations to sheep meat and pig meat. Both Departments are also exploring the necessary measures for extending the requirement to indicate the origin of all meat in the food service sector.

In relation to the tables, the following points should be noted. In certain cases the record of import may include the re-import of Irish products that were originally the subject of an export from this country. The information available for imports from member states of the European Union, EU, does not differentiate between imports originating in the EU country and those originating from third countries that may already be in free circulation within the community.

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