Written Answers. - Food Safety Standards.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

42 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress which is being made on the implementation of the recommendations of the food labelling group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19016/03]

Pat Breen

Question:

52 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures he has taken to improve the labelling of food products since 1 May 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18905/03]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 42 and 52 together.

In July 2002, I established a group to examine the whole food labelling issue. The group reported in December 2002 making a series of recommendations. I accepted the recommendations and set up an interdepartmental agency group to progress implementation of the recommendations. This group includes representatives from my Department, the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Food Safety Promotion Board.

I am very pleased at the progress in the implementation of the recommendations of the group in the six months since the report was presented to me. Two main issues emanated from the recommendations of the labelling group. They are centralising enforcement in one agency and the definition of origin. In relation to centralisation of enforcement, the position is that the Tánaiste and the Minister for Health and Children recently agreed to the transfer of responsibility for general food labelling from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to the Department of Health and Children. This move provides the opportunity to centralise the enforcement of all labelling regulations in the FSAI, which comes under the aegis of the Department of Health and Children.

On the question of definition of origin, there was full agreement within the food labelling group that consumers have a right to information on the origin of the meat they cook in their homes or eat out. While the group could not agree on how origin should be defined, there was unanimous agreement that further research was necessary to establish consumers' wishes in this area. I asked the consumer liaison panel to devise a strategy for consumer research on this issue. Following receipt of that strategy I provided funding for the research and the consumer liaison panel has sought tenders to carry it out. I expect that the research will commence shortly.
In addition to those already mentioned, the group made a number of other very useful recommendations. I will briefly summarise progress on these. The food labelling group recognised the concerns of consumers that there needed to be clearer information on labels in relation to allergens. New EU legislation on this issue is at an advanced stage. I am hopeful that this will be in place within the year. I have requested the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment to incorporate a module of food safety-labelling-consumer issues into the primary and secondary school curricula.
The group's recommendation in relation to informing the consumer of the price per weight unit was addressed in legislation brought in by the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment in March. The labelling group emphasised the responsibility of the food sector to produce safe food and to provide on all food and drink labels information that is clear, accurate and easy to read. I expect the Food and Drinks Industry of Ireland of IBEC to issue a guide to industry on this within the next couple of weeks.
The report of the food labelling group recognised that there is confusion about the term "substantial transformation" as used when defining the origin of a food product. I have arranged to have the food labelling report referred to the European Commission and have sought clarification from the Commission on a definition of this term. It must be remembered that food labelling is a particularly complicated and broad based area. My primary aim is to protect consumer interest and to ensure that the consumer is properly informed. Ireland is a major exporter of food and food products and indeed there are also considerable imports, so it is imperative that the same standards are applied to the labelling of foods in every sector and that there is a level playing field for the food industry at all levels.