(Limerick East): A new statutory-based food safety board to replace the present Food Safety Advisory Board was one of the principal recommendations of an Interdepartmental Group on Food Safety Controls. This group was established by the Government in March 1996 and the Government last week reviewed its report and agreed to the establishment of the new food safety board.
The new food safety board will act as an independent guarantor of the safety and hygiene standards for food in Ireland. The new board will operate under my aegis, thereby signifying clearly that food safety is, first and foremost, a public health matter.
The Food Safety Board of Ireland will have a full and wide range of legal powers to ensure compliance by all agencies engaged in food controls with their legal obligations. In effect, its function is to ensure, in the interests of public health and consumer protection, that the best and highest standards of food safety and hygiene are being observed throughout our food industry.
However, the value of the board does not depend solely on the extent of its legal powers. The separate and independent status it will have,vis-à-vis other agencies, will give it its strength and credibility. It will quickly be regarded as an objective, third party guarantor of the safety of our food, whose assessments and reports will be respected both at home and abroad.
The board will have power to determine binding hygiene and safety standards for any sector where none currently exists in national or EU law and its staff will have the right of access to all premises engaged in the food trade. It will have access to all records and documentation and will have powers to seize records as well as products considered unfit for human consumption. In addition, the board will have power to prosecute for failure to observe or enforce prescribed standards of food safety and hygiene. The board will also have authority to publish reports of all its audits and these reports will have a significant influence on the level of compliance with required standards by both agencies and operators.
It is, of course, also true that our food industry will benefit from the reinforcement of consumer confidence which will result from this innovative structural and legal reorganisation of our food control systems.
I hope to introduce the necessary legislation early in 1997 but, recognising the importance of consumer protection in this vital area, the Government has agreed to the establishment of an interim board, the membership of which has already been announced. Its function will be to establish the structures and formulate the work programme to be carried out. I am confident that all the agencies currently responsible for food controls will co-operate with the interim board, pending passage of the necessary legislation.