Food labelling to inform consumers of the properties of pre-packaged food is governed by EU rules. The most important labelling rule is that the consumer should not be misled. The Minister for Health has overall responsibility for the general food labelling legislation. New EU food information regulations have extended the explicit compulsory origin labelling requirements to meats other than beef which already has that provision. The positive news for food producers and consumers in Ireland is that we will be extending next year through the European Union a country of origin requirement in the labelling of other meats, including fresh, chilled or frozen meat of swine, sheep, goats or poultry. Implementing rules were adopted on 13 December 2013 under Regulation 1337/2013 and will be applicable from 1 April 2015.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland, or FSAI, has overall responsibility under the aegis of the Minister for Health for the enforcement of food safety and labelling requirements in Ireland. It carries out its remit through service contracts with my Department and other agencies, including the Health Service Executive, or HSE. We have a whole series of inspection roles in factories, food service organisations and on farms. The horsemeat crisis last year was a good example of the effectiveness of our regime when a European fraud problem was exposed in Ireland first where we had the systems to do so. My Department has a presence at practically every level and works on a contractual basis and in partnership with the FSAI in most of those areas.
It is not a surprise that Ireland has probably the most stringent food safety regulations in the European Union because we export so much of the food we produce. Reputation for us is everything. We must protect the consumer and the reputation of our food industry and we are doing everything we can to ensure we do so as professionally and comprehensively as we can.
Additional information not given on the floor of the House
Inspections to ensure compliance with traceability and labelling legislation are carried out by a variety of inspection services provided by these agencies under the aforementioned contracts. In traceability, EU food hygiene regulations stipulate, among other things, that there should be "one up, one down" traceability at each point along the food chain and I am satisfied that food business operators in this country generally meet that standard. The onus of compliance with EU food safety regulations, including traceability requirements, rests in the first instance with food business operators. My Department maintains a permanent presence in approved slaughter plants. Regular visits are made to other Department-approved meat plants. The frequency of these inspections in plants other than slaughter plants, which focus primarily on food safety requirements, is determined by a risk assessment, as required under EU legislation, which is conducted for each plant. My Department has been able to reduce the number of inspections at non-slaughter meat plants, where there is no permanent supervisory presence, by moving to a more robust and rigorous targeted system of official controls, based on the risk assessments mentioned above.
Official controls and inspections levels are monitored independently by the EU Food and Veterinary Office and by the FSAI under service contract. Food business operators in Ireland are responsible inter alia for carrying out checks to ensure that their ingredients come from approved plants. In meat plants that operate under the supervision of the Department, official controls are conducted on these checks to verify their effectiveness. An annual audit of products, including imported products, is carried out in all cold stores approved by my Department. Labelling and documentary checks also form part of the routine checks conducted by Department officials. I assure the Deputy that in so far as my Department is concerned, I am fully committed to ensuring that all of the necessary labelling and traceability controls are deployed fully and effectively.