Thursday, 8 December 2005
Department of Agriculture and Food
Consumers are entitled to and should be provided with full information on foodstuffs. In this context, my Department continues to give considerable attention to food labelling.
Given the complexities involved, with account having to be taken of EU legislation and the Single Market, a food labelling group was established in 2002 to examine the matter in detail. Since then, my Department has pursued assiduously the implementation of the recommendations of the food labelling group. Nineteen of the 21 recommendations, many of which were beyond the remit of my Department and some which were to be activated only after others had been completed, have been addressed. The remaining two recommendations, which relate to aspects of origin labelling, are also being addressed.
Arising from the implementation of the group's recommendations, the enforcement of all food labelling regulations has been centralised in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI. This not only streamlines the enforcement measures but it also provides a one-stop shop for any complaints on mislabelling of food. In addition, the responsibility for food labelling policy, with the exception of fish, has been assigned to the Department of Health and Children and my Department in accordance with another recommendation of the food labelling group. Accordingly, the Department of Health and Children is responsible for general labelling regulations which require information on food labels to be given clearly, accurately and in a language understood by the consumer. My Department is responsible for more detailed legislation on the labelling of specific food products including beef and poultry meat.
I am currently in the process of extending the existing beef labelling laws to require information on the "country of origin" of beef to be provided to all consumers in the restaurant and catering sectors. The various representative bodies including the Irish Hotels Federation, the Restaurants Association of Ireland and the two vintners groups, following discussions with my Department, have all agreed to recommend to their members to provide this information to their customers on a voluntary basis in advance of the mandatory legal requirement. It is expected that the voluntary code will be in place in the near future.
Regarding the labelling of poultry meat, there are EU regulations which provide for the labelling of unprocessed poultry meat at retail level. The regulations require such poultry meat to be labelled with the information regarding class, price, condition, registered number of slaughterhouse or cutting plant; and, where imported from a third country, an indication of country of origin.
There are no specific EU regulations governing the labelling of pigmeat or sheepmeat beyond the general food labelling regulations which do not require "country of origin" information. However, I intend to pursue further the question of labelling of other meats at EU level.
There has also been a lot of concern expressed about products imported into the Community and then processed in some way allowing it to be described as a product of that member state. This is known as "substantial transformation" in the context of European customs regulations. Accordingly, any changes in this regard would have to be made with the agreement of the other member states. My Department is continuing to pursue the matter in the context of a general review of food labelling being conducted by the EU Commission.