Contamination of Meat Products: Discussion with Department of Health and Children and UCD.

On behalf of the committee I welcome the following: the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for health promotion and food safety, Deputy Mary Wallace; Dr. Tony Holohan, chief medical officer at the Department of Health and Children; Dr. Philip Crowley, deputy chief medical officer; Mr. John Keegan, principal officer; Mr. Dave Maguire, assistant principal officer; Ms Siobhán McEvoy, acting chief environmental health officer; and Mr. Alan Reilly from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, who was with us yesterday as well. I am sorry we have no seat in the front for Mr. Reilly.

We are on our third day of hearings and I thank the witnesses for coming today. After the opening statement by the Minister of State, I understand Dr. Tony Holohan will also be making a statement. I suggest we hear both of these statements first and then have questions. Before I call on the witnesses to make their presentations I draw their attention to the fact that members of the committee have absolute privilege but the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses, or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I now invite the Minister of State to make her presentation.

I thank the committee for providing us with the opportunity to outline the public health and food safety considerations with regard to the recent contamination of Irish pork products. I commend the committee on its work as this is its third day of discussion on this matter. I am joined by the following: Dr. Tony Holohan, chief medical officer; Dr. Philip Crowley, deputy chief medical officer; Mr. John Keegan, principal officer; Mr. Dave Maguire, assistant principal officer; Ms Siobhan McEvoy, acting chief environmental health officer; and Mr. Alan Reilly, deputy CEO, Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

I shall begin by explaining the rationale behind Ireland's food safety system. I will then outline the role played by my Department during the incident, the proportionality of our response and the lessons to be learned from this episode. Dr Holohan will then address the committee, following which my colleagues and I will be happy to take questions from members.

Ireland restructured its food safety regime in the wake of various crises that beset the European food industry during the 1990s. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, was established in 1999 and vested with the necessary powers to implement national food safety policy. This allowed the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to concentrate on the formulation of national policy and represent Ireland's interests at international level.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is broadly responsible for food safety policy as it relates to production. It also has responsibility for the enforcement of food safety legislation under a service contract with the FSAI. The Department of Health and Children has broad responsibility for food safety policy in the retail area. This arrangement has worked well, since both Departments bring their expertise to food safety. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a wealth of knowledge in relation to agricultural production, both on the farm and in the factory. The Department of Health and Children primarily focuses on the public health dimension.

I understand the Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has presented a detailed chronology of events to the committee. Therefore, I shall focus on the chronology of events from the point at which my Department became involved. It was first made aware of a possible contamination of pigmeat on Tuesday, 2 December 2008. On 3 December the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food received laboratory confirmation of the presence of marker polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the bread crumb produced by the food recycling plant and in additional pig fat samples. On Thursday, 4 December, a press release was issued by that Department indicating that a number of herds had been restricted following the identification of marker PCBs.

On Friday, 5 December, on foot of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's press release, the Dutch authorities informed the Irish authorities that they were investigating a similar incident involving contaminated pigmeat. At that stage, the Dutch authorities were unaware of the country of origin of the pigmeat.

On Saturday, 6 December, an interdepartmental and agency meeting was convened to assess the emerging situation. This meeting was attended by the relevant Ministers and key officials from the Departments of Agriculture Fisheries and Food and Health and Children and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. The Taoiseach subsequently joined this meeting. At 3.40 p.m. the central science laboratory in York confirmed to the FSAI the presence of dioxins in the pork fat samples sent to the laboratory on 2 December. All present agreed with the FSAI's recommendation that the food industry be required to recall from the market all Irish pork and bacon products from pigs slaughtered in Ireland since 1 September 2008 as a precautionary measure. This date was selected because the first known contaminated pork product had come from a sample taken in France in mid-October. It is important to say that at that stage the country of origin of the product was not known. The congener profile suggested contaminated feed had been consumed in the period shortly before slaughter. In addition, monitoring in the rendering plant in Belgium showed an increase in dioxin levels from mid-September. Again, the country of origin of the product was not known at that stage.

The chief medical officer, CMO, then advised the public and general practitioners that while Irish pork products produced between 1 September 2008 and 7 December should not be consumed, any risk to health arising from the consumption of Irish pork products prior to the product recall was extremely low. At the request of the CMO, an expert group was also convened by the FSAI to provide advice on toxicological and medical issues. This group was in constant consultation with the European Food Safety Authority, EPSA, and the World Health Organization, as well as with counterpart health risk assessors in the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency. The group undertook a risk assessment of potential maximum exposure levels. This assessment was informed by a similar incident which occurred in 1999 in Belgium when dioxin-contaminated feed was introduced to chicken and pig farms.

To allay public fears the FSAI embarked on a course of action to inform and reassure the general public. This included the operation of an advice line, publication of a questions and answers sheet on its website and the issuing of a series of press releases aimed at providing up-to-date information for both consumers and the industry. The authority also issued instructions to assist environmental health officers, EHOs, who had been working with retail outlets on the withdrawal of unsafe products.

On Wednesday, 10 December, the European Food Safety Authority reaffirmed the earlier risk assessment by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland which confirmed a low level of risk associated with the consumption of Irish pork. The EFSA stated: "There is no concern for consumers based on the assumption of exposure over the period of time identified and effective measures have been taken to remove excessive exposure from Irish pork and pork products." This opinion supported the decision to recall all Irish pork and bacon products, thereby reducing the time of exposure to potentially contaminated product, which is an important point.

Following extensive consultations between all the relevant parties, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food issued a trader notice on Wednesday, 10 December to all food business operators at approved meat establishments regarding the resumption of production of pigmeat. This was only possible as a direct consequence of the key decision taken on 6 December to implement a full pork product recall in a timely fashion, thereby assuring the public that all pork products coming back onto the shelves after the issue of the trader notice on 10 December were of the highest quality. The very strong public demand for pork products thereafter in the run-up to the key Christmas market again highlighted public confidence in the decisive actions taken by the public authorities and fully supported by the pig industry and key stakeholder groups.

Results for dioxins in the beef samples were received on Wednesday, 17 December. On Thursday, 18 December, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland indicated the exposure from beef was 300 times lower than that posed by the contamination found in pork. It was confirmed also that of the 120,000 cattle farms in Ireland, only 21 had been identified as having received the implicated animal feed. As a precautionary measure and on the recommendation of the FSAI, a decision was taken to slaughter and remove from the food chain all animals in these 21 herds.

Regarding the proportionality of the Irish response, the decision to recall Irish pork products obviously was the best decision from a health perspective. In the mid to long term it was also the best decision for the industry as it helped to boost consumer confidence in the safety of Irish pork. When making the decision to recall the products, deep consideration was given to its impact upon industry.

The Department has always encouraged the FSAI to adopt a sophisticated approach rather than blunt or indiscriminate law enforcement to achieve legal compliance and to ensure the production of safe food. Consequently, FSAI has always worked to develop an Irish food safety culture based on a commitment to the highest food safety standards across the food sector as well as compliance with the legislation.

As Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children with responsibility for health promotion and food safety, my overriding priority is public health and while the health risks for people exposed in the short term to dioxins did not provide cause for concern, the potential effects of continued high cumulative exposure over time required the precautionary withdrawal of pork products from the market. The high levels of dioxins — between 80 and 200 times above the legal limit — found in the pork products necessitated this course of action. Long-term chronic exposure to dioxins can result in a number of different cancers.

It should be noted also that while no consequential adverse health effects have been reported since the Belgian dioxin scare of 1999, the different response of the Belgian authorities on that occasion resulted in safeguard measures being imposed by the European Commission. These resulted in the removal from the market of all foods of animal origin produced in Belgium in the first six months of that year.

This incident has confirmed the importance of robust and comprehensive food traceability systems to identify and address risks and protect public health. All animal feed and food businesses are required to establish and implement such systems under current legislation. In particular, it is a legal requirement to have a system or set of procedures that allows feed and food businesses to trace one step forward and one step back. This means businesses know who supplied them and who they supplied in turn.

In this instance, the traceability system at farm level enabled the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to identify immediately, from positive samples at slaughter, a farm and a feed supplier and all the customers of that feed supplier. I am aware the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has advised this committee that it is to examine the potential to improve pork traceability further so that in the event of recalls arising in the future, it may be possible to reduce their impact. My Department will provide any assistance required in this regard.

It should be noted that the swift actions and scale of the response by the Irish authorities were welcomed internationally. Domestically, industry representatives welcomed the quick response from the Government, among them the president of the IFA who welcomed the action and the speed with which it was taken. The response of the relevant bodies was both necessary and proportionate but it is important that we examine the incident to identify any lessons to be learned. The work of this committee is very useful in this regard.

One question to be addressed is the designation of country of origin. Under EU law Ireland can be deemed to be the country of origin if a product is processed in part here. I will continue to campaign vigorously to ensure that where a product is derived from animals born, reared or slaughtered in a country other than its country of origin this will be clearly stated on its label.

The Irish authorities' actions were validated by a favourable international and national response. While serious economic losses resulted from the withdrawal of the product the consequences might have been more severe if immediate action had not been taken. The decision by the Government authorities helped to protect the long-term public health and the reputation of the Irish food industry and showed the world that we are serious about food safety. This can only help to instil public confidence in the safety of Irish pigmeat and foodstuffs.

I acknowledge the hard work of the officials in my department and those of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and Bord Bia, abroad, during this incident. I was impressed that so many officials came in at short notice, all day Saturday and Sunday, to man the helpline. When I returned to my local supermarket the shelves had been cleared and I spoke to people who were able to phone a helpline and receive good information from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. There is much negative talk about public servants but on this occasion every one of them deserved our thanks and credit for their work.

I thank the Minister of State. We would like to be associated with her remarks about the officials of all the Departments and agencies involved for their swift action at the time of the scare.

I call on Dr. Tony Holohan, chief medical officer, to make his presentation. I congratulate him on his recent appointment. He came from the frying pan into the fire as he was appointed just before the scare occurred. I wish him luck in his new post.

Dr. Tony Holohan

I thank the Chairman for those remarks and thank him and the committee for inviting me to share the perspective of my office on the recent dioxin contamination in Irish pork products. The Minister of State has introduced my colleague, Dr. Crowley, who worked closely with me on the health aspects of this incident.

I wish to discuss the nature of dioxins and PCBs, the family of chemicals from which they come, the potential impact of dioxins on health, the risk assessment conducted in this incident, the risk communication based on that assessment, and to draw some conclusions from that discussion. I will be happy to answer any questions the committee may have, or to clarify any aspects of my statement as I proceed, or at the end, as the Chairman wishes.

Polychlorinated biphenyls, PCB-compounds, are a group of chemicals previously used extensively for their stability and low flammability as insulating materials in electrical transformers, capacitors and other equipment, and as softeners in plastic products and for many other industrial purposes. More recently the production and use of PCBs have been discontinued in most countries but large amounts remain in electrical equipment, plastic products and the environment. They are also formed during combustion processes, for example, in the incineration of municipal waste and as by-products of industrial processes. PCBs contain small amounts of dioxin impurities, some of which are much more toxic than the main chemicals. Some, notably, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, TCDD, are among the most toxic synthetic compounds known to man. They are very stable against chemical and microbiological degradation and therefore persist in the environment and have the potential for uptake into the food chain through animals and fish. PCBs and dioxins are fat soluble and thus tend to accumulate in tissue lipid and lipidous fat and in the food chain. These factors increase their potential hazards for humans and animals. In the case of cows or other lactating species high levels of dioxins can potentially occur in milk, fat, cream and dairy products such as cheese, in addition to meat. In fish, high levels may be found in fatty tissues such as liver, and consequently in fish liver oils.

It is estimated that up to 90% of human exposure to dioxins results from the consumption of food containing dioxins, mainly foodstuffs of animal origin. Other routes for ingestion of dioxins include inhalation and ingestion of particles directly from the air. The presence of dioxins in food has been a matter of concern internationally for a number of years, particularly since the Belgian dioxin incident in 1999 when industrial transformer oil containing dioxins was included in fat that was being recycled for animal feed, resulting in entry of the contaminants into the human food chain.

Dioxins produce background levels that are stored in body fat. This leads to the so-called body burden, an accumulated level in the body. Short-term exposure to extremely high levels of dioxins, far in excess of what we have seen in this instance, may result in a skin condition known as chloracne, a patchy darkening of the skin. It also leads to altered liver function. Members will recall that this is what occurred when Viktor Yuschenko, President of the Ukraine, was deliberately poisoned in 2004. When he appeared on television, he had a characteristic chloracne appearance which is now resolved.

Chronic exposure over a long period may lead to impairment of the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system and reproductive function. Laboratory exposure of animals to dioxins has resulted in a number of cancers; therefore, the potential to cause cancer has been demonstrated in vitro. In addition, TCDD, which I have mentioned, has been classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. For members’ information, this is a body of the World Health Organisation which classifies all known human carcinogens on a global basis. In Ireland an FSAI study of human breast milk demonstrated that background levels in the population were lower in Ireland than in many of our European neighbours.

To move on to this incident and risk assessment, on Thursday, 4 December, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food identified ten pig sites that had received the suspect feed ingredient from the producer and placed these sites under restriction. The feed was provided for ten farms, accounting for up to 10% of total production of pork and pork products. On Saturday, 6 December, the laboratory test results from a laboratory in York confirmed the presence of dioxins in the animal feed and pork fat samples at levels between 80 and 200 times the maximum levels allowed. As a precautionary measure and in the interests of public health, the FSAI requested that the food industry undertake a general recall of Irish pork products produced from pigs slaughtered in Ireland from 1 September 2008. In tandem with this recall, a rapid alert notice was issued by the FSAI to the European Commission.

The first sample identified by any monitoring programme was from an animal slaughtered and tested in mid-September in France. The monitoring programme in a rendering plant in Belgium also noticed a small increase in dioxin levels in mid-September. It was for these reasons that 1 September was taken as a precautionary date. Subsequent analysis of historical feed samples from the producer showed no presence of indicator PCBs before September 2008.

The initial assessment of the health impact began on Saturday, 6 December and was based on the data available on that day and the work that both my colleague, Dr Crowley, and I undertook in those initial hours examining published evidence in relation to dioxins and health from the World Health Organisation, the Centre for Disease Control in the United States, the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, NIEHS, also in the United States, and the Health Protection Agency in the United Kingdom. We also made contact with the National Poisons Information Centre based at Beaumont Hospital. Its director, Dr. Joe Tracey, provided initial advice on likely health risks, if any, based on the actual exposure levels as we understood them at that stage.

On the same day, Saturday, 6 December, I asked the CEO of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to convene an expert group to advise me on the complex technical, lexicological and medical issues arising. The committee should be aware that such expertise is very limited, even on an international basis. Nevertheless, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland had successfully initiated this process by the following morning, Sunday, 7 December. It met on a number of occasions throughout the incident with new members joining the group as it proceeded.

The full membership of the group included: Dr. lona Pratt, as chair, a toxicologist at the Food Safety Authority of Ireland; Professor Dan Collins, a retired professor of veterinary medicine at University College Dublin; Dr. Dominique Crowley, a specialist in public health medicine with the Health Service Executive; Professor James Heffron, professor of biochemistry at University College Cork; Dr. Kevin Kelleher, assistant national director in population health in the HSE with responsibility for health protection; Dr. Philip Mayne, a consultant paediatric chemical pathologist at the Children's University Hospital, Temple Street; Mr. John O'Brien, chief executive officer of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland; Dr. Brian Redahan, chief specialist in public health of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland; Mr. Alan Reilly, deputy chief executive officer of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, who is present; Ms Christine Tlustos, a toxicologist with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland; Dr. Bill Tormey, consultant chemical pathologist at the faculty of pathology of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland; Dr. Joe Treacy, director of the National Poisons Information Centre at Beaumont Hospital; and Professor Patrick Wall, associate professor of public health at University College Dublin, who will speak to the committee this afternoon.

This group analysed all available evidence on the human health effects of dioxin exposure and advised on the toxicological characteristics of dioxins. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland, as part of that work, carried out an initial assessment of risk to the Irish population. This involved complex mathematical modelling using an analysis of data it had compiled over many years on Irish pork eating habits and an assessment of the maximum potential ingestion utilising the maximum levels of dioxins recorded on the Irish pork samples analysed in the Central Science Laboratory in the United Kingdom — in a sense, a worse case analysis.

This group, and I have mentioned the dearth of expertise on a national basis, also consulted with experts on dioxin. The European Food Safety Authority had a standing committee on dioxins that produced material a number of years ago and this group consulted and plugged into that expertise on a European basis as its work continued.

The European Food Safety Authority undertook its own risk assessment, as the committee heard yesterday, of maximum likely population dioxin exposure using the data supplied to it from the Irish incident. Its risk assessment agreed with the initial risk assessment that had been undertaken by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. It is important to convey that message. The European Food Safety Authority statement on the risks to public health due to the presence of dioxins in pork in Ireland concluded that, having considered various consumption scenarios and assumed the highest contamination level of 200 times recommended maximum, the projected increases in body burden cause "no concern for this single event".

As members are aware, a similar incident occurred in 1999 in Belgium where dioxin contaminated feed was introduced onto chicken and pig farms. The levels of dioxin found in Belgian pig fat was similar to the ones reported in Ireland and the duration of exposure to contaminated produce was slightly longer than the case in this incident. No adverse health effects have been reported in the Belgian population. Studies since then have stated that the levels and duration of exposure were insufficient to increase the dioxin levels in the body.

The Department of Health and Children consulted with the Belgian authorities regarding their management of the dioxin incident in Belgium. Dr. Geert De Poorter, who is the director general of the department laboratories of the Belgian Federal Food Safety Agency, directly informed us that the exposure of the Belgian population was similar and even somewhat greater than in this Irish Incident. He shared with us a number of peer reviewed scientific studies examining the potential population health impact of the Belgian contamination incident. Having reviewed all the evidence on the Belgian incident he was very clear that the impact on public health was negligible. No impact on subsequent infant health or adult health has been discovered.

My office also conducted a teleconference, which took place on 10 December, through the European Union Health Security Committee to brief the appropriate Government health officials in other member states of the European Union and to share with them the risk assessments, the conclusion we had drawn from it and the information we were making available to the Irish public.

A significant element of the management of an incident such as this is effective communication to the public. As a consequence, the media became a very important means of conveying the public health message to individual consumers and their families. The advice issued through the media from the outset was as follows: that Irish pork products produced between 1 September and 7 December 2008 should not be consumed; that any risk that arises to health having consumed Irish pork products prior to the product recall is extremely low; that there is no need for people to seek direct medical advice; that it is not expected that the exposure in this incident will result in symptoms; and that the recall of pork products was to avoid cumulative exposure over a prolonged period of time which could lead to a harmful build up of dioxin in the body.

We also wrote to all general practitioners in Ireland by letter communicating the advice that had been issued to the public, which I have just shared with the committee, to allow GPs to deal with any questions patients may raise with them on a day-to-day basis in the course of consultations if they were concerned.

The Departments of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Health and Children, and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, worked very closely together throughout this incident. We had clearly distinct roles. The primary focus of the Minister and the Department of Health and Children in respect of this incident was to act in the interest of the safety of the public's health. That is what informed our decisions and input.

There was an extremely high level of communication and co-operation between the Departments throughout this episode. Equally, there was a high level of co-ordination involving my office and that of the chief veterinary officer in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. This enabled us to make clear effective decisions and ensure that we achieved a shared view on the steps necessary to safeguard public health.

In considering the question of whether the response to the incident was proportional, it is important to note that limiting the exposure of consumers to contaminated pork by removing all the product from sale was the action that enabled the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, to determine clearly the maximum potential human exposure. As members were informed yesterday, the impact in this regard was estimated as involving, at most, a 10% on the background body burden in this country. On foot of our response to the incident, the EFSA was able to reach its conclusion that there would be an extremely low risk to public health and, as previously stated, declare that there was "no concern for this single event".

It must also be stressed that the dioxin levels discovered in Irish pork products on 6 December were well in excess of maximum legal limits. While the scientific evidence shows that the duration of exposure in this incident poses only an extremely low risk to human health, continued exposure of the population at the levels seen would lead to continued accumulation of these toxic compounds and a further increase in the total body burden among consumers. As Mr. Reilly indicated yesterday, it would also have been illegal.

The management of this incident, including the total recall of pork products, was swift and decisive, and demonstrated to members of the public that their health was our primary concern. It ensured that the Commission, the EFSA and, not least, Irish citizens were confident that all necessary steps were being taken to protect public health from dioxin exposures. The decision to withdraw all Irish pork products was endorsed by international experts such as Professor Hugh Pennington — who is a doyen of food safety and who was prominent in the debate on BSE in the late 1990s and the early part of this century. The promptness of our action resulted in positive international reaction. Members will have seen evidence of the latter in media coverage of the incident in late December. I will be happy to answer any questions members may wish to pose regarding our role in dealing with this incident.

I thank Dr. Holohan for his comprehensive presentation. We will now take questions from members.

I welcome the Minister of State and Dr. Holohan and his colleagues.

The joint committee has been charged with reviewing this incident and drawing conclusions with regard to how it was managed, particularly in the context of the up-front cost of €180 million and other costs that have yet to be determined. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, made an impressive presentation to the committee. Like the FSAI, the Minister of State has a responsibility for food safety. Under the law which established it ten years ago, the FSAI has responsibility for food safety from the farm gate forward. By means of its service contract, it operates in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from the factory gate back to the farm.

Does the Minister of State agree that one of the critical lessons to be learned from this incident is that to ensure effective control of food quality, it is desirable to confer responsibility for food safety to a single agency that would have control, not by virtue of an agency agreement or a service contract agreement with the Department but would have direct control over all aspects of the feed and food chain? To categorise the feed chain as low risk, as the Department did during this incident, given the previous events in Belgium, was a mistake.

I am extremely annoyed that repeatedly it is being said in all the presentations that we have a traceability system that worked. Every presentation to the committee has stated we have a traceability system that works but we clearly have not and were exceptionally lucky because if the dioxin contaminant had been discovered further down the food chain in a rasher, sausage, pudding or ham rather than a pig carcase tested under the residue monitoring programme, we would still be floundering trying to identify the source of the contamination and in a much bigger mess.

A single agency with responsibility and an improved traceability system for pig production are needed. Traceability is sold to the industry as providing the opportunity to recall forensically contaminated product and does not mean having to recall 100% of product when only 10% is contaminated. This system operates for beef and there is no reason it should not be applied to pig production. Continually peddling the line that we have a traceability system that works clearly means nothing has been learned from this debacle. I wish people would wise up to this because that is one of the lessons that needs to be learned. Once a pig passes through the factory gate, it is clearly untraceable within 24 to 48 hours. I am glad Deputy Ned O'Keeffe is present because he has more knowledge of the pig industry than the rest of us but my understanding is a pig's hide is branded and within 48 hours of entering a factory, that is gone and there is no traceability. I am not sure what are the technologies but much improved traceability is needed. While this involves a cost, it is worth paying because the entire industry was afflicted with the problems of 10% of producers. We have witnessed how product recall for beef can work; the same system is needed for the pork sector. Does the Minister of State accept this?

I welcome the Minister of State and her officials. We are quick to knock people sometimes but on this occasion she must be congratulated on the way this incident was handled. People are consistently knocking the way it was handled but where food safety and health standards are concerned, we cannot raise the bar high enough. It is a serious issue and 100% is the mark we must try to achieve in this regard.

I have concerns about traceability. This issue must be examined to lessen the impact of a similar incident in the future. While a significant cost was incurred as a result of the recent incident, there was no other way out. I acknowledge pig producers put in a great deal of time and effort to ensure best practice and standards in the industry. We are all aware of the margin they achieve and the troubles they have experienced during the years. Processors and the Department must work towards a scenario where an incident such as this will not have the same impact.

The industry has fewer than 500 producers, many of whom have large operations and send between 300 and 500 pigs to the factory at a time. Each pig does not have to be tested if sent from the same farm. When they reach the factory, they should be kept separate from other batches of pigs. It was different long ago when five or ten pigs were sent by farmers all over the country. Ensuring the pigs are kept in separate batches as they enter the factory is not rocket science. While we might never achieve 100% in respect of traceability, this would at least help to improve the situation significantly and ensure this does not happen again. While all the experts have told us of the enormous risk from this incident to consumer health, we were forced, in the interests of ensuring confidence in pork products, to withdraw them from the market. I would like if the issue of traceability could be addressed. We must improve our traceability system not alone in respect of pork products, but of all food products. Traceability is important.

Currently pork is being imported to Ireland and leaving here with an Irish stamp on it. This practice must be stopped. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a role to play in this regard. We will be required to work together in addressing this serious issue.

I welcome the Minister of State and Dr. Holohan and his colleagues to the meeting. What we have heard from the Minister of State and Dr. Holohan this morning is very much what we have heard during the past two or three days of hearings on this issue. In that regard, they will understand much of the ground has already been covered.

I agree with what my colleagues had to say in regard to traceability. I was particularly interested in the Minister of State's comment on what she termed were the "lessons to be learned" in respect of country of origin, an issue referred to earlier by Deputy O'Sullivan. The Minister of State, wearing her hat as Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, stated that she will continue to campaign vigorously to ensure that where a product is derived from animals born, reared or slaughtered in a country other than its country of origin, this will be clearly stated on its label. In this regard, what has the Minister of State and her Department done to date? Has the Minister of State put proposals to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and have presentations been made by her Department to that Department? What response has she received?

The Minister of State stated that she will continue to campaign vigorously on this issue. Presumably, that campaign is under way. What efforts or representations has she made to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and what has been the result of those efforts?

I call the Minister of State. Dr. Holohan may respond to any questions relevant to him.

I will first address the points made by Deputy Christy O'Sullivan and I thank him for his appreciation and support for the work we have done.

I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan that we cannot raise the bar high enough in respect of public health and safety, an issue that has been an important feature throughout the process. Deputy O'Sullivan and Deputy Creed raised important issues in regard to traceability. Deputy O'Sullivan made a point in regard to batches of pigs. I do not believe Deputy Creed would agree that we should literally tag every pig in the country in order to identify the difference in value between animals. We must deal with pigs as a batch. This would be an important recommendation going forward. However, the matter is one for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as distinct from the Department of Health and Children.

Deputy Creed expressed concern in regard to the upfront €180 million cost in respect of the recall of products. Traceability was good in that it complied with the law. If within the factory we had been able to do what has been suggested by Deputy O'Sullivan — if batches in the factory had been identifiable — fewer products would have had to be recalled. From the health point of view, once there was a chance that a batch within the factory had come from the farm where animals had been fed with the relevant feedstuff, it was necessary to take out the full day's production. It would have been different if traceability had been more refined. It is our understanding that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is working on that. It was suggested here by the Secretary General of the Department that greater traceability should be implemented and we are all agreed on that. I agree with Deputies Creed and O'Sullivan that traceability should be fine tuned so that we can track each batch of pigs.

With regard to having a single agency dealing with traceability, the issue was that the system in place worked. Generally, when something works, one does not fix it. However, although our system worked, we need to examine it. We are doing that in light of the overall review being conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Deputy Creed mentioned service contracts. These work because the vets are in place and work from the Department and the local authorities. The proof of this is that seven days after we and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food took the difficult decision to recall produce, we were able to stand in a butcher's shop and see people queuing up to buy sausages. We were there with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland tasting sausages and demonstrating they were good to eat again. We could see on the fridge the veterinary certificate from the local authority that traced back through the factories from where the product had come. Therefore, the service contract aspect works. The vets are there in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. They are employed by the Department and by local authorities and it is useful that the FSAI has an over-arching role with regard to the service contracts with those vets. The same is true with regard to the role of the environmental health officers in the HSE and their service contracts. However, the Deputy is right. While our system of recall worked well, despite how well it worked, it is important we look back to see what needs to be changed. We will do that and have commenced a review. We see that as important.

Senator Bradford raised the issue of country of origin and asked what we are doing to ensure this is clear. In 2008 the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food proposed to extend mandatory country of origin labelling to poultry meat, pigmeat and sheep meat. However, that proposal was turned down by the European Union.

I did not hear the Minister of State. Which Department made that proposal?

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The proposal was turned down by the Union, but then the European Commission presented proposals to update harmonising labelling legislation. This proposal is currently being discussed at working group meetings. The proposal makes mandatory presentation of information such as the place of birth, the rearing, the slaughter and country of origin, but only where the country of origin is mentioned on the label. Our interest lies in this labelling aspect of the proposal. The Irish authorities submitted a position paper on the draft EU proposal to the Commissioner on 6 November 2008 in which we pressed for mandatory country of origin labelling on all products. We are working from our food unit in the Department of Health and Children with the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Trevor Sargent, on this. We are working together because we all agree country of origin labelling would be useful. We have seen the success of such labelling in the beef area and would love to see this extended to other meats. However, there is a difficulty in getting the proposal through the European Union.

Could the Minister of State indicate why the European response to our proposal was negative?

That question was raised last week when the Secretary General, Mr. Tom Moran, attended the committee and he said there seems to be a change now that the British are moving in the same direction. Prior to this the British did not seek country of origin labelling. Perhaps now there is more support for it.

We will all continue to work on the issue because we agree it should be introduced.

We are at one on it for ten years, but no progress has been made.

I was attached to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food until last May and country of origin labelling was a concern and was being discussed with our counterparts in the Department of Health and Children. Now that I am in the Department of Health and Children, the Minister of State in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I continue to discuss the issue and feel that between both Departments we are doing everything we can to achieve it. Our shoulders are to the wheel on it and we are committed to it.

Europe is not supportive of it.

Yes, Europe is the issue.

Are there any questions for Dr. Holohan?

I have a question when the Chairman wishes to call me.

Deputy Aylward is next.

I welcome the Minister of State and Dr. Holohan. I thank them for the presentation. I compliment them on their positive action when the issue blew up and the assurance given to consumer in particular. The quick reaction resulted in the confidence of the consumer in buying the products when they were put back on the shelves. What they did, they did properly.

The main point is to establish what we learned from all this. Dr. Holohan's presentation suggests that industrial transformer oil was the source of the contamination in Belgium in 1999. However, we are being told here that it is not proven yet. While I know an investigation is ongoing it is more than likely that transformer oil was the cause of the debacle here from September onwards. Transformer oil was being used by an individual in Carlow. Given what happened in 1999 why was legislation not introduced at European and national level to stop the use of this oil that has high levels of dioxins and PCBs? Why was that overlooked and not taken on board in 1999 when the Belgium Government fell over the fallout from that incident?

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible for testing the feed before it gets to the animal. From what we heard yesterday from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, all samples seem to be well controlled from the carcase stage onwards. However, should we put more resources into the earlier stage of the feed chain? Perhaps we should take samples of what feed is going into the animals to prevent this rather than trying to catch up afterwards.

I wish to speak about the traceability and the batches. I would like to see something similar done as is done with cattle which have traceability down to individual animals. I know it is impossible to identify an individual animal with pigs or fowl because there are too many. However, we should at least be able to identify them down to a farmer. If a farmer sends in 200 pigs in a day and that batch was put down to him or her, that batch could be identified rather than needing to destroy an entire day's kill. As has been said while 10% of the producers were involved, 90% of the product needed to be withdrawn. Some 80% of the product was destroyed that should not have been destroyed if we had some kind of traceability.

The issue of labelling is an old chestnut that we have been discussing for years. I know there is an EU directive to which the Minister of State has already referred. We all have a right to know where the product is produced and its country of origin. The sooner this is done the better. When we buy a piece of pork or bacon — beef is okay — we should know where it originated. I know of people in this country who are importing pork and bacon from Europe which is being repackaged and sold on as Irish pork and bacon, which is not acceptable. The sooner we get our house in order the better. We need to let the people know that what they are buying is not Irish — or vice versa if it is happening abroad with our product also.

I welcome the Minister of State and her officials. I wish Dr. Holohan well in his important job. It is nice to be back here again and be flanked by two major farmers, particularly the Cork farmer on my right. On page 4 of the Minister of State's presentation she referred to "the presence of ... PCBs, in the bread crumb". As other members have said, pork from other countries that is treated with bread crumb in Ireland can be labelled as Irish pork. I can confirm that the pork that was contaminated was Irish. It is worrying that the bread crumb contained PCBs.

There have been three major scares in the agriculture sector over recent years — the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the BSE scare and the recent pork crisis. Is it not time to examine the issue of the recycling of foods to produce animal feed? That seems to be the link between three crises. People would prefer more natural foods to be given to animals, so that the danger in question can be eliminated. There is a major link between the recycling and reprocessing of food and the scares I have mentioned.

The Minister of State's report suggested that the recent pork crisis was caused by something that happened in September. It was not discovered until December, however, which was three months later. Is there room for improvement in that regard? Why did it take so long to discover that PCBs were present in pork?

The Minister of State has argued that the vets in the factories are doing an outstanding job. Their work is often undone by management or other personnel in factories. I have told the Minister of State's colleague, the Minister, Deputy Smith, that I am worried about the manner in which a particular vet has been scapegoated by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as a consequence of the food safety role he has played. I have asked the Minister to examine what has happened in certain factories, but he has not yet taken action. Perhaps the Minister of State, who spoke about the role of vets, will have a word with him. I find it worrying that the work of vets on factory floors is sometimes pushed aside by factory managers, with the knowledge of the Department.

I have two queries for the Minister of State. Is she happy that this country's system of traceability and country of origin labelling will ensure that the Irish taxpayer will not have to pay compensation in respect of pork and bacon products that are not of Irish origin? Is she satisfied that the Irish taxpayer will not be exposed to any liabilities in respect of such products? I would like to ask the Minister of State or the environmental health officer a question about the lessons that can be learned as a result of this episode. I also asked about this matter yesterday. Is it sufficient to check processing units like the one in Carlow once a year?

I thank Deputy Aylward for his positive comments. I can inform him that it is illegal to use the oil he mentioned. As it is the subject of a criminal investigation, I cannot say any more than that. There is no doubt about the fact that it is illegal to use that oil. We are all singing from the same hymn sheet on the subject of labelling, which the Deputy also raised. The Irish health and agriculture authorities are working together to get more member states on board. Sources within the industry were initially concerned about the costs associated with labelling. It is obvious that a similar regime will have to be in place across Europe.

Now that the Minister of State has said that the oil in question is illegal, will legislation be introduced to make sure it can never be used again? Are we going to introduce legislation immediately to ensure this oil can never be used again?

We cannot discuss that because a Garda investigation is ongoing and until such time——

This has nothing to do with the Garda investigation. My question is whether we are going to put legislation in place so that this oil cannot cause problems in the future.

The Minister of State should be allowed to proceed.

Just to clarify, the legislation is in place. That is what has made it illegal. One should not use the oil as it is illegal to use it. Its use in this particular instance is the subject of a criminal investigation. It is clear that the use of the oil was against the law.

Deputy Aylward raised also the issue of traceability of the batch from the farm. From our perspective in working through the matter with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, we would be very supportive of what he said. As I indicated earlier to Deputy Creed, we all agree that a lesson has been learned from this incident and the review by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should cover that.

Deputy Coonan raised concerns about breadcrumb. To clarify, the breadcrumb itself was a high quality food. It was bread that was returned unsold from shops to be recycled. The bread and the breadcrumb were not the issue; it was the process through which the bread was put. The problem arose from the heating of the bread to convert it into breadcrumb.

I will link that point to the one raised by Deputy Tom Sheahan about the annual check on such premises. Before this event the area was considered a low risk one given that it was dealing with bread that was fit for human consumption. I am sure we all can share that view. In the aftermath of the event the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will undertake a review of the entire area. We are all agreed that the recycling of food fit for human consumption and the process it undergoes will be subject to review by the Department. The feed side is inspected by the Department. I think we would all be at one in saying that is another lesson learned.

Deputy Coonan asked why it took three months. It did not take three months. I hope I am answering the question correctly. Does Deputy Coonan mean the period from September to December?

According to the Minister of State, the product in question was identified on 6 September.

That question came up yesterday and it was answered thoroughly by Mr. Reilly.

The indicative test result and the subsequent confirmed test result came through in early December. It was the case that feedstuff was sold in September and fed to pigs on a farm at a certain location but the issue only came to light when the pigs were slaughtered and the test result came through. Immediate action was taken even when the indicative test result became known. Does that satisfy Deputy Coonan? There was no knowledge or test result dating from September.

There was no knowledge of it.

We were told yesterday that it showed up in plants in other European countries from the middle of September onwards.

It showed up in tests by the Dutch authorities.

And in France. That was the reason they went back to 1 September.

When it showed up in Europe they did not know where it came from.

That is the point, Deputy Coonan.

But it could have come from Ireland.

Deputy Coonan is monopolising the meeting. Other members wish to contribute.

It could have come from Ireland or one of five countries. Six countries in total were involved and Ireland probably would have been the country of least concern in regard to dioxins. To be fair, it was only with the swift action of the Irish authorities and the issue of a press release when the matter came to our attention that those countries said they had noticed something similar.

Has it been identified in any other European country since?

No. Interestingly enough, it was the same company that was involved in the European cases. The same company was involved in the Dutch, French and Belgian cases that were using Irish pork in their factories but also using pork from five other countries.

Is the Minister of State happy that the Irish taxpayer will not be——

I am sorry to interrupt, but I must answer another question. There was no recall of non-Irish pork products. We were only involved in the recall of Irish pork products.

Due to a lack of traceability, we cannot tell one from the other.

The issue of pizza toppings was something we had to——

I thank the Minister for State and Dr. Holohan for their presentations. Everyone accepts that the decision taken on 6 December was the right decision. That was proved yesterday, and I congratulate the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I heard on Sky News this morning that Irish pork is back on the menu in Japan, which is a very important market for Ireland. There are 140 million people in Japan, but that country is only 40% self-sufficient in pork. Only for the decision taken on 6 December, we would not be in that position today.

Traceability is an issue and there is no question about that. Unlike beef and lamb, traceability for pork is much more difficult because of the amount of the animal that is used in processing food. Traceability for primary processing should be simple enough, but secondary processing is difficult due to the nature of the animal. Much offal and blood is used and I believe it is physically impossible to have traceability for secondary processing. If we had it on the primary side, that would make a difference.

Some people felt that the discovery of oil came from the packaging that was used. I was told this by somebody in the pig processing industry. The packaging was not taken off the bread that was recycled into animal feed. We were told yesterday that because of the temperatures needed to recycle the food, this scenario was unlikely. Dr. Holohan mentioned incinerator oil. Oil boilers used to generate heat in our homes are outside our houses, so how do the fumes get into the plant? Is it that the heat used in the recycling process is a naked flame? The fumes should not get into any type of food chain, whether it is animal food or food for humans.

I thank the Chairman for allowing so much time for this important issue. What are the regulations governing the use of oil in Ireland? We all buy oil, be it for heating, for the tractor or for the car, but we were never aware of any different legislation for oil products, be it secondary oil, reprocessed oil or whatever. Everybody is asking questions about oil because we buy oil from fairly reputable organisations. In recent times, the major companies have shed their responsibility and have sold to secondary wholesalers. I would like clarification on the oil issue, and not on any investigation. I have a strong suspicion that the oil was bought in good faith.

Deputy Creed made a good point on traceability. Traceability in the pig industry is not worth the paper it is written on. There is more involvement in tagging and documentation as pigs go onto the truck, than there is for baptism in the Holy Roman Catholic Church. Once they are slaughtered at the plant, no one knows where the product goes and it is over.

In the main, I blame Enterprise Ireland for what has happened to the Irish pig industry. The industry is one of tight margins in which only the best and most successful have survived. When secondary processors take over, the product goes to the four winds and no one knows where it goes. Other countries, Denmark and the United States of America in particular, do not have secondary processors at the same level as does Ireland. There should be tighter legislation on both secondary processors and hauliers. While hauliers in the ruminant and bovine sectors all are licensed and have numbers allocated to them, this is not the case for pig hauliers. While I do not wish to classify them as tanglers, a few years ago when the BSE crisis was at its height and difficulties arose, we tightened up on the legislation. There were many discussions in the Oireachtas regarding the bovine and ovine sectors pertaining to cattle, sheep and so on. An effective measure should also be put in place for pig hauliers who trade and sell. There is a unique situation whereby pigs from the southern part of the country travel west of the Shannon to be slaughtered and I would to ask another question on that subject.

The secondary processors are the biggest objectors to the country of origin concept. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has been highly lax because it was charged with responsibility for food labelling in the beef sector but has not done very much. In the ten years since its establishment, all I ever have seen it doing has been to chase after a few Chinese restaurants and to close them down. Its record is highly questionable in this regard. While this might be a matter of funding from the Department of Health and Children, the FSAI should have come clean in this regard and told members where it was going. I have been a member of this joint committee and other Oireachtas committees for many years and beef labelling has been discussed periodically. However, it always has been hard to discern anything happening. I understand the environmental section in the Department of Health and Children is charged with responsibility for labelling. I seek clarification in this regard and while I will accept it if I am wrong, the same applies if I am correct.

The pig industry worldwide is based on substitute feeding. I have visited Brazil and have seen pigs being fed with tonnes of tomatoes, cane sugar and all kinds of other items mixed up together. The Danish industry is based on fish oil and fish by-products, while in Ireland, we were using waste human foods, such as Mars bars, chocolate and so on. As there is only a small quantity of such items in Ireland, they probably are imported. The industry will not survive without substitute feeding and in the area from which I come, dairy products were available.

The Irish pig industry is a small, marginal business providing major employment and good contributions to the Exchequer. However, were we to opt for high-quality feed, consumers would not pay the requisite return and we would finish up without a pig industry. Consequently, we must consider legislation that is simple and that can be policed. The Dutch industry is based to a great extent on substitute feeding, as is the German industry. I cannot comment on the industry in the United Kingdom.

The industry has suffered a great deal in recent years and has contracted substantially, as have all other agricultural commodities. However, I wish to ascertain what information had been built up by the Department in anticipation of the day in which difficulties would arise in the Irish feed and food industry. What did it learn from the Belgian dioxin crisis of ten years ago or the Italian crisis of a number of years ago? A crisis also took place in France. What did the Department learn from it? On what were their dioxins based? Members are aware of the seriousness of the situation.

Traceability is now a slang word and as I noted, it must be tightened up beyond the factory in some manner. There is no point in coming into every pig farmer's yard to chase him or her, put tags on all the pigs' ears or get documentation if the pigs subsequently are loaded onto a truck, brought to a factory and slaughtered at the lairage. Thereafter, the traceability is not worth the paper on which it is written. This is one of the outstanding issues because of the existence of secondary processors. I am aware of secondary processors who were smart and quick enough to change labels when the issue arose. This situation was seen before. The Department took the word of the secondary processors, a large group that works with high margins and is not suited to the Irish industry. The licensing of the area is lax. It all occurs at the farm gate. I do not have enough time to say all of what I wanted.

Grain drying is important at farm level. These questions are not for Dr. Holohan, but farming is a business of tight margins and people are always trying to maximise the use of their farms. My party and others would support them. However, grain is dried with the use of oil at farm level. Will there be regulations in this regard? If so, grain farmers will be put out of business. There is no use in telling me about oil and criminal investigations if I do not know what code of practice or guideline applies to the oil that I buy. We buy heating oil for houses, lubricating oil for tractors and so on.

Scares arise from crises in the world economy. For example, the meat and bonemeal crisis in the UK in the 1970s led to the BSE scare, about which I spoke with Dr. Holohan. It was also brought about by the high price of oil and the simplification of the temperature at which the product was dried. I have not been enthused by the performance in the past ten years.

Perhaps there is enough to digest there. If members have evidence of tags being swapped or changed——

I did not say "tags". I stated that secondary processors changed products' labels on site.

If there is evidence, it should be given to the authorities. If the Minister of State replies, I will then ask other members to ask a few supplementary questions. Is that agreed?

That is acceptable.

To answer Deputy O'Keeffe, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland made its presentation yesterday, but Dr. Holohan, the chief medical officer of the Department of Health and Children, will answer the question on oil because it is of interest to us. We do not know which legislation or regulation governs the matter, as it is not covered by our Department, but we can clarify the situation. The Deputy probably does not want to hear again——

Allow the Minister of State to continue.

There are approximately 150,000 farmers on the island of Ireland. None of them have a clue about what legislation is involved. They just buy oil, just as someone would buy sweets in a shop.

I will bring Deputy O'Keeffe back in during the supplementary questions.

Dr. Holohan will address the oil issue from the Department's perspective in a few minutes. I agree with the Deputy's key comment on traceability being necessary at the point at which pigs from different farms mix at a processing plant. We there must be clearer traceability after pigs leave the farm gate in terms of what occurs within factories, such as the batching and segregation of pigs, and that it should be treated as a batch kill as opposed to a day's kill. We support this suggestion, which is being made across party lines. In fairness to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, it is considering this matter as part of its review of the lessons learned.

Deputy O'Keeffe also raised the question of labelling. When I was in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, we considered the role of the Department of Health and Children in terms of concerns regarding what progress had been made on this issue. Like the Deputy, we were keen to see the extension of labelling to other meats, given its success in respect of beef. When I left for my current Department, it was one of the first questions that I asked officials. We are working hand in hand.

If there is an issue of labelling, it occurs within other European member states, not Ireland. We must get sufficient member states and the industry on board, as the latter in particular had some concerns over labelling costs. It is up to the food business operators to make sure they are producing safe food. We must begin from that understanding. When the smoking ban was introduced, we knew we could not have environmental health officers in every pub every night of the week. It is up to the people running a business to ensure it is run properly. HACCP laws should be in place for the factory stage, whether it be producing the feedstuff or further up the processing line.

I thank Deputy Scanlon for reaffirming his view that the right decision was taken on 6 December. Regarding his congratulations to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, the Japanese market is worth €13 million for 6,000 tonnes of Irish pigmeat. Overall, the pig industry is worth €1.1 billion. We were not shy about that knowledge when we sat down on 6 December to consider the difficult decision facing us. It is great to see the markets returning, as Deputy Scanlon mentioned. He is correct in saying it was a swift and definite action. The key in any action one might take is to determine the facts. We had clear facts on that Saturday afternoon regarding the results from York. We had to decide what the advice should be based on these facts and the advice from the FSAI was very clear. We had to decide what was the appropriate action. We are satisfied, as is Deputy Scanlon and as members have agreed, that the appropriate action was taken on the day. As time passes, from the Irish ham market at Christmas to the Japanese mission by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, we can look back and say that it was very important to take action swiftly. Clearing the shelves was also important, as was the return to the shelves of good products. I thank the Deputy for his comments.

Deputy Scanlon also referred to the impossibility of traceability in the secondary process. I have discussed with Deputy Tom Sheahan the fact that when one gets down to discussing toppings on a pizza, it is very difficult to say from which pig they came. Members are emphasising, as Deputy O'Keeffe did, that we should be able to identify in the factory the relevant batch. That is the key message coming from this meeting.

Deputy Scanlon's last question concerned packaging and whether the wrapping around the sliced pan was contained in the feedstuff. It is our understanding that there was a machine to remove the packaging from the bread.

Dr. Holohan will deal with the matter of fumes at the plant and the oil issue.

Dr. Tony Holohan

I will clarify my understanding of the oil issue. While it is still the subject of a Garda investigation, one way it could have happened was if there was direct heating of the crumb and the fumes were in direct contact with the food. This might explain, theoretically, the high levels from oil and how they got into the feed.

Deputy Ned O'Keeffe has asked about the lessons we have learned from incidents in other countries. In the presentation made by the FSAI yesterday Mr. Alan Reilly reflected on the risk assessment regarding dioxins in the Irish population, given the low levels found in the results of the monitoring of dioxins in feeds and the population. This showed ours were among the lowest levels in the developed world and that we did not have a history of industrialisation which is often associated with dioxin incidents in other jurisdictions. The monitoring arrangements allowed this to be detected. The question is whether they must be reviewed in the light of this incident. Mr. Reilly considered this question. The FSAI will examine the extent to which dioxins pose a risk in the human population and the food supply and the extent to which the issue must be re-examined.

I will allow Deputy O'Keeffe to ask a supplementary question at the end.

I will be brief, even though I have a great interest in this subject. I have spoken on food safety in the Dáil on many occasions. In this and other countries we have had BSE, foot and mouth disease and the television programmes about pigs and chicken. People should know the food they eat is safe. This worries me. There should be an inspectorate for all sections of the food industry, an issue Deputy O'Keeffe has raised. I also agree with him that the FSAI and vets were worried only about the restaurants and suppliers. They did not do their job. Why did the person supplying the feedstuff to a very important industry have no inspector from the Department or the FSAI for ten months or one year? That makes no sense. Are they doing anything about this to ensure it will never happen again? The lesson we must learn from this is that food must be safe. This been a dear lesson for the country and those involved in the industry.

We have a very high incidence of cancer. One can get all the experts one likes to say we do not, but we do. I have always said this. In the west many suffer from cancer. I should not say this because I want to support rural Ireland, farmers and those involved in the food industry, but they have a major responsibility to ensure their product is safe and that people are not eating something that will make them sick.

In case of pig production, BSE and foot and mouth disease much criminal activity took place in some cases, yet I have never seen high profile cases taken against any of the people involved. However, I am open to correction and sure the Minister or the Department will come back to me and say whether I am right or wrong. I have seen cases taken against suppliers. A man brought me in one day and told me the health inspector had hopped up and checked his television for dust. If we were to look at the top of the television in the chamber, we would find dust, no matter how well it has been cleaned. The Department targeted one end but left the most important end free. The people concerned were not inspected often enough. That is wrong and something should happen now. The legislation, resources and money should be put in place to ensure this never happens again.

Ireland has a very good food industry and had a great record all over the world, but it has been damaged. People coming to the west from abroad for the Christmas holiday were very upset reading about this. I watched how the BBC portrayed it on the night and it was not good for this country and the thousands of jobs in the industry. I say to the Minister, his Department and the FSAI that we should have traceability. The only traceability is that of the small man and woman involved in agriculture and the food business. It is easy to trace, target, prosecute and deal with them, but they are not the problem. The big businesses are.

Last year I tabled Dáil questions on abattoirs in County Mayo. I am sorry I did not bring copies today. We have more health inspectors than abattoirs because in the last ten years people got sick and tired of all the inspections and were forced out of business because the Government wanted to have the big suppliers. We have seen what happens with them. When they supply everybody and there is a difficulty, there is a big problem. With small businesses such problems will be small. I hope we never see this again in the case of beef, pigs, sheep or anything else. People are paying and depending on the State to protect them. Those involved in the food business should be open to the inspectorate and ensure the Department has a presence on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis to ensure food is safe. Too many are getting sick and I am beginning to wonder why so many have cancer. I was involved in the bread industry at a time when there was no wrapping and people did not get sick and die. My family and I were in the business once, and plain bread would be put into a shop and taken away the next day because it would not last more than a day. There is now bread that will last three months, as well as milk and meat that will last for the same period. I do not care what anybody says, that cannot and is not right.

Deputy Scanlon raised one of the issues I was going to bring up regarding wrapping, and the plastic used in wrapping bread. Legislation should be put in place so we know what feedstuffs can be fed to pigs or other animals. The use of confectionery, such as Mars bars, has been raised. On one hand we are telling children it is not safe to eat too many sweets and on the other an industry is pouring confectionary into pigs going into the food chain. It does not make sense and something needs to be done.

We need to know what should be fed to pigs and how it should be used. The most important factor is the inspectorate. I was disappointed to read about this; I am sorry it happened and it should not have happened. It has damaged our country and industry and I hope we can come back from it. The inspectorate should operate across the board rather than in just one section.

We should be very proud of the product in this country as we produce very high quality food that is sold all around the world. As a man who has gone with cattle, as well as lambs, down the years to meat factories, I have never in all my life seen the number of vets and inspectors in every meat factory across the country. It is unreal. People may say there are no inspectors out there but many farmers are telling me and others there are too many inspectors.

They are not in the right place.

They are in the factories; there is no use saying they are not, as veterinary inspectors were in every factory I have gone to over the years. I will take a few supplementary questions.

I have a brief question for Mr. Holohan. He identified the September deadline as the date relevant to the recall. He states, "The first sample identified by any monitoring programme was from an animal that was slaughtered and tested in mid September in France." He went on to refer to the rendering plant in Belgium, which identified raised levels of dioxins.

Does the witness believe that if this raised level of dioxins had been notified up the line, either to EFSA or the Commission, for them to disseminate that information to the relevant food safety authorities, we might have had an earlier detection system? If there were raised dioxin levels, although not above the required legal notification level, that should have triggered a rapid alert notification system. We might have had an earlier response.

In today's Irish Farmers Journal, the lead headlines are about labelling. There is an article concerning a farming conference in the UK on labelling. Labelling is necessary here and I hope that both the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would prioritise it. The enterprise committee and this committee have been to the fore in labelling and identification. Nobody in Ireland wants to kill competition but there should be choice.

Bord Bia is one of the most effective promotional organisations in Ireland and does an excellent job with Bord Bia branding and emblems. My information is that after this debacle, when its representatives went to secondary processors to put barcodes on packs with the Bord Bia emblem, the secondary processors bluntly refused to do so. The Chairman might be aware of this. That is an indictment of secondary processors and their behaviour. It is about margins and selling to the consumer what they think will give them the best margin, irrespective of whether the product is Irish.

I blame Enterprise Ireland and I am delighted Deputy Creed is here. The meat division of Enterprise Ireland has much to answer for in what has happened to the pig industry in the past ten or 15 years. There are no major processors packaging today, as it is all done by secondary processors. On my left is Deputy Tom Sheahan, a butcher from Kerry, who sells good quality Irish products. I am not here to do an ad for him but to tell the truth. I am aware even of good Fianna Fáil Ministers and TDs who go into his shops, which is a plus for him. They are all well fed, by the way.

We must look at the secondary processors. There are two large ones in the country who are the biggest problem we have in this area. Enterprise Ireland has failed and it has destroyed the Irish pig industry. I am saying this to the Chairman, Deputy Creed and others who are here. It is about time this committee found a few quid or euro somewhere and travelled to see the Danish and North American industries, where the operation is continuous from the farm gate to the shop. There are two big companies in the USA pork industry, Tyson and Smithfield, as well as others. The plants are called packing plants, not slaughterhouses. The North American industry is well branded and tightly controlled, as I understand it. I have been there and I would encourage five or six of the committee to go and see the place and to come back with some good proposals and meet Enterprise Ireland. It has a major responsibility here but it has failed. Secondary processing is not the way forward.

I have some questions for Dr. Holohan, whom I have met once or twice before. What is the role of the EPA in the oil business and what is the role of the county council? This may not be a suitable question for him but he is probably a jack of all trades in the job he holds. We have many agencies in this country which are overlapping and piggybacking on each other. The EPA does one thing and the county council does something else. It is all confusion. The same thing probably applies in the food industry. I have been saying for ten or 12 years that what this country needs is a co-ordinated food industry. I commend Deputy Creed on often saying the same thing, even though he is in Opposition and we often have arguments. We need a single national agency incorporating the Department of Health and Children, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which has done an excellent job in this area. I commend Mr. Tom Moran on his presentation last week, which was outstanding. The Department has given great leadership in this area at a very difficult time.

There are ten agencies dealing with food in one small country. I know I am repeating myself. There is a reluctance for the State to tackle this. It might result in one fewer Minister of State, but who worries about that? In the food sector we have, among others, Enterprise Ireland; IDA Ireland; Bord Bia, which should be the lead organisation; the Food Safety Authority; the Department of Health and Children; and FÁS, which does food training. There is a whole range of agencies and it is about time they were brought under one umbrella organisation. Leadership is needed. If this was done we would not have half the difficulties we have in the Irish food industry. It is all over the place. I will give another example of the responsibilities of the EPA and the county councils. Carlow County Council has a responsibility in this area in the south east, while the EPA has another responsibility. I do not envy the job of Dr. Holohan, although I wish him well in his position and I have no doubt he will do an excellent job. I met him in a different capacity.

If I have been hard on the witnesses today, it was rightly so. We have seen what happened in the banking system, where they have got away with murder. I was asked yesterday at a meeting here by an influential TD about a certain ham product. I am no expert but I like good quality meat. The question was about whether a certain brand sold in this country was a safe product. I will not name it here, but another day will come. This was also a gimmick by a secondary processor who was importing from Scotland and selling the product as Irish. This is what is going on. There is not much legislation in this regard. We have a lot of legislation but we never define it enough. There is a racket out there, apart from the dioxins. The dioxins have done a good job, in fairness, as they have brought the issue to a head.

I am disappointed with the Minister's statement that the Department was informed that the wrapping was being removed by a machine in a particular business. There is a deficit here. It is not good enough in this day and age. We should have known and we should be able to clarify the issue here today. For the sake of future consumer confidence we should be able to say there is no wrapping, from Mars bars, bread or anything else, going into pig feed. We should clarify this and not merely say we are informed that such is the case. Are we talking about self-regulation whereby this company, or any other one involved, can claim: "Yes, we take the wrappings off by machine"? I would like to know that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food can claim there are no wrappings or anything else getting into feed because its officials have been to a plant and inspected it. Perhaps we should put more resources into this in order that we will be able to say this practice cannot happen

Deputy Creed has stated PCBs were found in pigmeat from unidentified countries in mid-September. At that stage, why did the Dutch authorities, or whoever was involved, not notify the countries supplying the carcases that PCBs had been found? The Minister of State has said it takes time to prove this but PCBs were found in the middle of September. Why did the authorities not issue an alert to every country, stating something was wrong somewhere? Our regime and all the others could then have checked the meat immediately instead of waiting for the random check on 19 November that found the contamination.

Like Deputy O'Keeffe, I know of a company which has been using an Irish name for years. It claims to produce Irish pork and bacon and sells it as an Irish product but all the meat is imported from Holland. I know this for a fact. Eight years ago the company stopped slaughtering Irish pigs and has not sold a single Irish product since. I know this from the company's former meat suppliers and producers. Now all its meat is of foreign origin but sold under an Irish label. Deputy O'Keeffe is right.

What Deputy Aylward said resurrected something from my memory and it relates to what the two previous speakers mentioned. Funding was recently given to small abattoirs and meat premises. I saw one figure, although I will not quote it because people could then find out who was involved. It was awarded to an applicant for a premises with cold rooms but who only deals with imported produce. This is on foot of a grant from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Will the Deputy bring the matter to the attention of departmental officials to see if anything can be done about it? I do not know the relevant rules and regulations but perhaps the Minister of State will have an answer.

I must clarify once again that I do not represent the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food——

The message could be passed along.

In a couple of weeks.

Deputy Aylward raised a point about other countries. It was a fair and reasonable question, to which, obviously, we do not have the answer. With regard to what the Deputy and Deputy O'Keeffe said and how we all consider this matter, it is important to underline that it was a routine test in Ireland that brought the matter to a head. It was the notification by Ireland that brought the other countries involved to realise they were looking at a similar situation. From that point of view, the Irish system worked well.

If there had been notification of a possible problem in September, would we have taken action sooner?

We had no test before that date, nothing to concern us. The minute we had, with the results coming from our own laboratories in a routine test at Backweston, the sample was sent to York. The test takes three days and we took the decision within minutes of receiving the results three days later. The Irish aspect worked. The Deputy's question about the involvement of other countries is reasonable. Deputy O'Keeffe praised the Danish, North American and other systems with regard to traceability and the processing aspects. We would be at one——

I said nothing about processing as such.

——with him with regard to traceability through the factory. That is why I said the question was reasonable but, obviously, it is not one for my Department.

The question was not asked of the officials from the European Food Safety Authority who were here yesterday——

I asked a question but received no answer.

The Deputy must come back to me——

I believe the Chairman stopped me talking.

No, I stopped the Deputy from talking until the end of the debate. The Minister of State should continue.

It is probably a question for the European Commission.

I state again that we wish to clarify the issue of labelling. Deputy O'Keeffe and others have raised the matter and are concerned about it. Labelling should be mandatory across the European Union. That is our position. Also, in respect of competition, we wish to have a level playing field. Working across the European Union is key to achieving success in labelling. Working across the EU is key to success in product labelling. If it is harmonised across the EU there can be no competition issues or no questions arising from the industry. Our work with the other member states will continue in that regard.

Deputy Ring mentioned his concern at what had initially been broadcast on the BBC. Obviously we share his concern. However, the response a few days later from the BBC was excellent. It described the Irish response as impressive. It stated:

And yet the way in which the Irish authorities have been able to identify the dioxin problem, recall product and restrict farms which had received the contaminated feed, was impressive.. consumers may have felt scared initially, but just a few days on and they now know that the food industry has the capacity to deal with this sort of thing..we tell our children that telling the truth is the best policy and that by admitting a failing it's possible then to make a fresh start and for people to know that you have been honest about a problem.

The following final quote is also useful:

That certainly has worked this week for the Irish food industry. Yes, it will take a little time to win back all of the markets lost, but in the end consumer confidence will be strengthened by the forensic capability which has been built into the food industry.

That was the follow on to that.

I would like the Minister of State to reply to my question on food labelling for beef. I more or less said that the Department had done nothing in the past ten years on beef labelling. I asked who had responsibility. Is it the environmental section or what is going on?

Dr. Tony Holohan

I can answer the question about the location of responsibilities in the Department. There is a food unit which is represented by the three officials on my left.

Can Dr. Holohan give an outline of what they are doing?

Do any of the other officials wish to speak?

John Keegan is the relevant principal officer.

Mr. John Keegan

In terms of the labelling, long before this particular incident arose, we were very much to the fore in Europe looking for mandatory food labelling to be extended beyond beef into areas including pork and poultry. We have made our case. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made the case initially in this regard over the past two years. Strictly on the labelling we have taken up the issue. The EU is now considering a new proposal on food customer information. We were advised by the EU that that is the best line for us to take to try to progress the labelling matter generally. We made our submission early in November on food labelling. We have made our view known in terms of our determination to look for mandatory labelling across all products.

Would this be an EU label or a country of origin label?

Mr. John Keegan

Ultimately, it needs to happen across the EU. We need to work with our fellow EU members to persuade them of the benefits of this. It needs to happen across the board. The Minister of State has mentioned that if it does not happen in a harmonised way, it would raise issues concerning the Single Market, which would raise other competition issues with which we would need to deal. It certainly will be country of origin labelling. We want country of origin. That is the key point. The question of substantial transformation has also been raised. We are also very aware of the concerns in that regard. In terms of the labelling provision we are seeking, it is very much focused on country of origin and a clear understanding. For example with regard to livestock if there is a difference between the place of birth, the rearing or slaughter of livestock that all needs to be identified on the label.

I think the Deputy will understand, as would many who have a great understanding of the industry, if it is not done on a mandatory and even-handed basis across all processors and producers it would lead to major competition issues, whereby some countries would proceed with country of origin labelling entailing considerable investment when other countries would not need to comply. That is why we need to persuade our EU colleagues to join us in this regard. To some extent, the latest incident helps us to reinforce the case we are making at European level. We will do that over the next few months under a new EU provision that will help to provide better information to customers. We want customers to be fully informed. As a major exporter of food, we want people to understand that Irish food is of a high quality. Therefore, labelling should include full country of origin detail.

Is Mr. Keegan aware of the shipments into Rotterdam? When food comes into Rotterdam from all parts of the world, it is sent all around Europe. Today's Irish Farmers Journal reports that chicken coming into Rotterdam is being dressed up within the EU with bread crumbs and so on, before being sold as EU produce. Will controls be put in place to stop such activity?

Mr. John Keegan

We are considering various proposals in respect of labelling. We want labelling to set out clearly whether substantial transformation has taken place at the processing stage. In particular, it should state where such transformation has happened. We want it to be mandatory for labelling to state where livestock was born, reared and slaughtered.

Tonnes of South American food produce is shipped into Ireland through Rotterdam. It may be sold as Irish or British produce if some bread crumbs or some ice are shaken on to it. Will regulations be introduced to prevent that from happening?

Even worse, gas flushed meat is sold without a sell-by date even though its seal has been broken.

Mr. John Keegan

I accept the difficulty——

Does the Department send its qualified staff into factories to test the produce of secondary producers for dioxins? It is easy to catch a pig farmer in Drumlish, but many secondary producers here are abusing the system. I will be annoyed if somebody tells me that is not the case. Does the Department get the investigators from its inspectorate to take samples? Are such samples sent to the laboratory in York to be tested?

I suggest that Deputy O'Keeffe and Mr. Keegan should have a private chat and leave the rest of us to continue the meeting.

Mr. John Keegan

There is an obligation on all——

His answers need to be made public.

I ask the Deputy to let Mr. Keegan continue.

Mr. John Keegan

I accept that there is an obligation on all food producers and processors to ensure their food is safe. I understand that the issue the Deputy has raised — substantial transformation — is a separate one. It is a difficult term to define. Its interpretation varies across states. There seems to be an onus on producers to determine whether substantial transformation has taken place. I accept that these issues are wider than the labelling issue. They will have to be dealt with by several Departments, including the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I am not an expert on this matter.

I have a greater focus on country of origin labelling, which is something we are pressing for in the public health division of the Department of Health and Children. The Deputy's question relates to the matter of substantial transformation. He is concerned about the exact origin of certain produce. I accept that it is an issue. It is not fully dealt with under the heading of labelling. The two issues are dealt with separately, to some extent. When some pork products are sliced, they are deemed to be bacon products. I can see how a rasher on the pan is deemed to be different from a larger chunk of bacon. Genetically, it is the same meat. I acknowledge that certain difficulties with definitions need to be examined, but my focus is mainly on country of origin labelling. I am responsible for ensuring that information is available to allow customers to make informed choices about the food they eat. That is the process we are working on in the Department of Health and Children.

I beg the pardon of the Chair——

Some of the Deputy's issues can be taken up with the Minister and the officials when they are here in a couple of weeks.

We have the expertise here. Were any dioxin tests carried out on the 800 tonnes of Chilean bacon that came into Ireland last year? Is there any record of dioxin tests being carried out on that product?

Mr. John Keegan

Again, there is a division here.

I want a straight answer to the question.

Deputy O'Keeffe should allow Mr. Keegan to answer.

Mr. John Keegan

The testing is not a function that is carried out by the Department of Health and Children in terms of food safety. The testing is carried out under the national testing programme, which is overseen by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, so I do not have an answer to that question.

Will Mr. Keegan get that information, as to whether the testing was carried out, and send it back to the committee Chairman?

Mr. John Keegan

I will certainly ask.

If Mr. Keegan does not do that he——

Please, Deputy. The clerk to the committee will get that information for us. Is that agreed? Agreed.

We have not answered an outstanding question from Deputy Ring about feedstuff. I will return to that in a moment. Dr. Holohan has a couple of other outstanding questions to answer.

Dr. Tony Holohan

I wish to pick up on something Deputy Ring said about cancer. It gives me an opportunity to contextualise some of the considerations. I wish to look at the issue of food, food safety and what we eat from the point of view of its impact on public health, which is the perspective I said I would take at the outset.

In this country, by and large, food is safe. There is not a substantial impact on the total experience of population health from unsafe food. What is of much more concern to me and my colleague, Dr. Crowley, is what we, as individuals, do with food, how we eat, how much we eat of the wrong stuff and the fact that salt is a component at levels that are too high. The proportion of cancer that can be attributed to exposure to known carcinogens through food and general experiences in the environment is very small, significantly less than 1% in comparison to the other impacts of food, and the way we eat food in our diet on causation of cancer, which is thought to contribute to approximately 10% of the total burden of cancer. That pales into insignificance when compared to something like smoking. I wished to put the matter into context.

We should not lose sight of the fact that if food and health are part of our consideration, that it is the way we eat the food, the amounts we eat and the impact that has on our health that are of far more concern than food safety in a country like Ireland where, by and large, food is quite safe. That is not to in any way negate the fact that the exposure we have had to a substance that should not have been in the food chain, namely, dioxin, is a significant issue. Action has been taken to remove that and lessons must be learned so that we can ensure we continually strengthen the process of inspection that gives us the ability to assure ourselves that our food continues to be as safe as it has been.

Deputy Ring inquired about the lessons learned and, specifically, about the inspection of the feedstuff premises and the fact that it was inspected once a year at that time. Earlier we clarified that because the raw material was bread that had been fit for human consumption that it was considered to be low risk, but under the heading of lessons learned there will be changes to the 2009 inspection programme in that regard. Feed and grain drying operations will be a higher risk even if they relate to the recycling of food that was fit for human consumption. That will be reflected in the inspection and sampling regime and the number of samples analysed for PCBs will be increased also.

I again thank the Minister, Dr. Holohan, and his officials for coming before the committee. I thank them for their comprehensive presentations and answering members' questions.

Sitting suspended at 12.35 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

On behalf of the committee, I welcome Professor Patrick Wall, associate professor of public health, UCD, and I thank him for accepting our invitation. It is not the first time he has attended our meetings and we are very glad to have him.

Before I call on Professor Wall to make his presentation, I draw his attention to the fact that members of the committee have absolute privilege but the same privilege does not apply to witnesses appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of the long-standing practice that they should not comment, criticise or make a charge against a person outside the Houses or identify him or her by name. I invite Professor Hall to make his presentation.

Dr. Patrick Wall

I thank the Chairman and the members for the invitation to speak to the committee about this incident. My formal role in the management of the incident was as a member of the expert advisory committee convened under the auspices of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, to advise the chief medical officer. I was chief executive officer of the FSAI between 1998 and 2002. As the first CEO, I contributed to setting up the authority as a science-based consumer protection agency. It was created in the aftermath of BSE when consumer confidence was damaged in respect of the safety of beef, the regulatory process and the industry's commitment to produce safe food.

I was a member of the management board of the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, since its inception in 2002. Between June 2006 and June 2008 I was the chairperson of its board. This was a period when EFSA became fully operational in the areas of risk assessment and risk management. The BSE crisis and the Belgian dioxin crisis were two of several factors that precipitated a reform in EU food law and the creation of EFSA.

As members heard yesterday from the EFSA representative, that authority is engaged in risk assessment and risk communication but not in risk management. I am not employed by any of the competent authorities and my role in this matter was as a volunteer.

As this is the third day of the committee's deliberations and because members are now familiar with the chronology of events, I do not propose to repeat what they have heard from previous speakers. I will focus instead on some key points, make a few suggestions and try to answer any questions members may have.

With regard to risk communication, an additional task I attempted was to assist the chief medical officer and the authorities in communicating the details of the incident to the public. We tried to explain to the public why the Irish authorities took the action they did. This was not easy. Trying to reassure the public there was no need for them to worry if they had eaten pork products containing identified dioxin levels while at the same time telling them it would not be ideal to continue eating these products was challenging. With the intense media coverage in Ireland, Irish consumers, while unhappy and angry with the situation, quickly understood that although it is illegal to have these chemicals in food, continuous exposure over a prolonged period would be required to develop adverse health effects. Several Irish journalists managed to convey the concept that toxicity relates to bio-accumulation and body burden. In Ireland, people understood it was because of deficiencies in our traceability systems that a total rather than a focused recall was necessary.

However, many people were angry that so much good food had to be destroyed and that taxpayers' money that might have been spent in the health and education sectors was now being diverted to prop up the agrifood industry. Other Irish consumers questioned the morality of wasting all this good food when a third of the world's population is starving.

In other jurisdictions where the incident was not a major national issue, the same media coverage was not devoted to explaining exactly what these findings meant in terms of human health. Although there was a tsunami of coverage in many member states about toxins in pork, the writers did not offer the same detail in explaining this complex issue and in showing that continuous exposure is needed to develop an adverse health effect. As a result, confidence in Irish pork products suffered.

However, the decisive action taken by the Irish authorities, coupled with the risk assessment by the EFSA and the associated communications from both the EFSA and the European Commission, helped allay the fears of anxious and confused consumers and international purchasers of Irish pork products throughout the EU and further afield. Therefore, although we were in a position to try to reassure Irish citizens, we did not succeed in reassuring citizens in other countries until European agencies got into the ring and tried to explain the situation to them.

Regarding the proportionality of the response, there have been many questions as to why we pushed the nuclear button. In 1999 the Government in Belgium faced a very similar situation when livestock feed was contaminated with dioxins. It did not ignore the situation. It took an active decision that the risk was minuscule and did not warrant alarming the public. It thought that was a rational decision to take.

However, subsequently the information leaked out and the politicians and authorities were heavily criticised for concealing these facts from the public. The Minister for Agriculture was forced to resign, then the Minister for Health and finally the whole Government fell. They were accused of concealing information from the public and wholesale panic ensued regarding the safety of all Belgian food.

The argument was that industry and profit had been put before public health. Belgian chicken, poultry and dairy products were withdrawn and the US banned certain categories of food from the entire EU. Even Belgian chocolates were withdrawn globally because they could have contained milk from cows that ate the contaminated feed. There was no proper risk assessment done at that time, the situation got completely out of control and the incident dragged on for many months and caused huge financial and reputational damage to the Belgian food industry.

The Irish Government took the opposite approach and went public as soon as it was made aware there were dioxins in a subset of pork output. By ordering a total recall in this instance ongoing exposure was stopped and public health was no longer being put at risk. As already described to the committee by other speakers the inability to identify contaminated product in the marketplace made a more selective and less costly recall impossible.

Based on the total diet survey undertaken in Ireland by the FSAI, the initial rapid risk assessment by it concluded that given a total recall of pork products, adverse human health effects were not likely. A subsequent risk assessment by the EFSA was not that different in its conclusion from the initial Irish one.

Irish pigmeat and fat from Irish pigs is exported to the EU and further afield. One food processor in Belgium which provides pig fat to the manufacturing industry noticed an increase in PCBs in composite finished product containing pig fat from several member states since September. The September date is interesting. People wonder why we focus on September. It is because it is when the problem first appeared. The processor was trying to identity which country the contaminated fat had come from.

Although the level of PCB in the finished product had not exceeded the maximum legal limit it had crept up from a baseline of zero and this is what caused alarm. France and the Netherlands had also identified PCBs in products they suspected had come from Ireland and once Ireland shared its initial findings with them it confirmed their suspicions. The authorities in those countries would have alerted the EU public if Ireland had not done so.

On the basis of the emerging findings in other member states and results from Ireland it is likely the Commission would have introduced safeguard measures to restrict the export of pork and pork products from Ireland, pending investigations of the situation. These measures would have been similar to those introduced during the Belgian crisis. The Irish Government had to take decisive action or controls would have been imposed upon it.

It would not have been an option for Irish authorities to leave illegal contaminated product on the marketplace. Exposure of consumers to potentially contaminated product was limited by the total recall and destruction of the pigs that had consumed the contaminated ration. Due to the shelf life of processed pork products it was theoretically possible that had the problem not been identified and decisive action taken consumers could have been exposed to contaminated product for much longer periods, which would increase the likelihood of adverse health effects.

Regarding delays by other member states in identifying the source of the contamination, dates in September and October were mentioned as being when other member states identified problems. This incident highlights that Ireland is not alone in experiencing difficulty in tracing pork products. Processing product in large manufacturing facilities in all member states, with co-mingling and blending of raw material from several countries, makes traceability challenging. This contributed to delays in Dutch, Belgian and French food businesses identifying from which member state the PCB-contaminated material had come from. The level of PCB in food is an indicator of the amount of industrial pollutants in the food chain or environment. Ireland has no heavy no industry and no waste incinerators and would be not be considered as a member state having a high risk of PCBs in the food supply.

There is an ongoing surveillance system of Irish dairy cattle undertaken on behalf of the EPA in Cork that has confirmed extremely low levels of approximately one-tenth of the acceptable statutory limit of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in milk. This emphasises Ireland's low incidence of PCB in the food chains. The implicated food businesses in the other member states were testing raw ingredients from their suppliers attempting to identify the source of the contamination. I imagine because of the history of the low PCBs in our food chain the intensity of sampling of raw ingredients from Ireland may have been low or non-existent so they did not suspect that we were the source of the problem. The investigation and activities undertaken by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were swift and thorough from the first positive identification of a pig through the national residue monitoring programme to the subsequent identification of the mill producing the contaminated feed, the restriction of all the farms that received the contaminated ration, and the supervision of the recall and destruction of the suspect product and implicated livestock. The initial sample was taken on 19 November and the decision based on the risk assessment of the FSAI to require the food industry to recall all products was taken on 6 December. People have commented on the delays but compared with other similar international incidents this response was extremely rapid.

On 8 December the results became available from samples taken from cattle on 11 of the beef farms where the contaminated rations had been fed. Traces of PCB were found in fat from animals on three of the farms. Most of the cattle that had eaten the ration were still alive on the farms which were now restricted and would not be sent for slaughter. Approximately 3,000 cattle that may have eaten the ration had been slaughtered since 1 September. Beef is not cured like ham or smoked like bacon and a large proportion of it works rapidly through the food chain and is consumed within a fortnight. Due to the BSE crisis there is a legal requirement for much more comprehensive traceability of beef than pork, and carcass quarters and prime cuts are very ease to trace. The destination of most of the other carcass components can be ascertained. The industry quickly moved to detain all easily identifiable output from the 21 implicated farms still in the supply chain. The Department confirmed that of the 120,000 cattle farmers in Ireland only 21 had received the contaminated feed and the FSAI concluded that there was no concern for public health and the actions taken were appropriate. It was suggested that rather than destroy all these cattle each one be tested and any found clear of dioxin be allowed into the food chain. The cost of doing the full dioxin test however is over €1,000 which is more than the animals were worth so this would not have been economically feasible.

While traceability is a component of every food safety management system it is not in itself a guarantee of safety, for example, the recycler at the centre of this incident had good traceability systems to identify his suppliers of raw ingredients and his customers. The traceability system in pork products is not as comprehensive as many believed it to be especially once pig meat enters the processing sector and becomes sausages and processed meats, liquid fat and some hams. Traceability to the processor on the day of production was possible but not all the way back to the individual farm. There is more complete traceability in small operations and artisan production.

The legal requirement is basic and people were compliant. It is possible to have much more elaborate traceability systems but it is challenging when there is commingling and blending of products from many sources and countries. Comprehensive traceability systems exist in other sectors but to track all ingredients would require a major review of how meat is processed and involve associated costs. The onus should be on industry to develop traceability systems proportionate to the risk associated with their products and processes so that if recalls are necessary they can be managed effectively.

Some people have raised the issue of recycling in connection with this incident. Waste from the human food chain must be dealt with. In this incident the problem was not feeding recycled bread and confectionery to animals but feeding contaminated recycled bread and confectionery. The alternatives to recycling in a regulated plant with strict controls are rendering, which is more costly, or delivering waste directly to farmers which is more risky. Handling waste in a cost-effective manner is key to managing overheads aggressively to maintain the competitiveness of the Irish food industry. Feeding waste containing meat is banned because of the risk of foot and mouth disease but feeding other waste human food to pigs is common practice in many jurisdictions.

Investigations into the cause of the incident continue and it is the subject of a Garda inquiry. One early hypothesis was that the dioxin like compounds may have originated from plastic wrappings that may have remained on the product during processing. This was discounted as the temperature of the process was not high enough to generate dioxins from plastic.

There was a similar incident with dioxin contamination of pork from Chile last year and the problem was not identified by the Chilean authorities. It was identified by Korea which notified the international authorities and the Chileans were sanctioned. The source of the problem was a copper additive which had come from recycled electrical cables. When the copper was being extracted from the electrical cables, it heated up and melted the plastic. In that case the temperatures were much higher. The source of the problem in our case appears to be oil used to fuel a drying machine. The operator had been using recycled vegetable oil and changed to recycled mineral oil. However, it appears that the recycled mineral oil was contaminated with transformer oil. The Rikilt laboratory, one of the referent laboratories in Holland, confirmed that the congener profile of the PCBs in pork fat suggested the source was transformer oil and was able to do this fairly early.

The performance of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in this crisis demonstrated the benefits of having an independent agency focused on consumer protection with the trust and confidence of citizens, operating in an open and transparent fashion. Over the course of the first two days of the incident it dealt with more than 10,000 calls to its helpline, regularly updated its website and kept the media apprised of developments. As one of the first EU national independent food safety agencies created in response to the BSE crisis, the FSAI has been a model for the agencies created in many other member states and countries outside the European Union and assisted many of them in their start-up phases. Therefore, a good relationship has been built between the FSAI and the competent authorities in other jurisdictions and with DG SANCO and the EFSA. This has proved invaluable in instilling confidence in the approaches being taken in Ireland to manage the incident and help reassure other authorities. The FSAI is represented on the EFSA emerging risk working groups which aim to anticipate future threats in order that preventive actions can be taken.

In the light of the role of the FSAI in this incident, there is something we need to consider. Perhaps the decision in the last budget to amalgamate the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the Irish Medicines Board and the Office of Tobacco Control should be reviewed to ensure their visibility, brand, consumer protection focus, international connections and reputation are not lost. We have something that is special which is a model for other member states. It proved its worth in this case. Consumers can see that this is an agency which puts their interests above all else. It had no role in negotiating compensation packages for the industry or in protecting industry. Its role was to protect consumers' health.

Risk categorisation of food and feed businesses is a key area being discussed by the committee. Businesses should be categorised on the basis of five factors: the hazards associated with the raw ingredients; the hazards associated with their process; the hazards associated with their finished products; their food safety controls and management capabilities; and finally and importantly, the consequences of a major non-compliance. We should treat equal risks along the food chain with the same attention from the national inspectorate. However, this is not the case. Inspection frequency and intensity varies across the food chain, ranging from some businesses having a permanent presence of inspectors to others being inspected annually or even less frequently. Some of the discrepancy results from legal requirements. However, it behoves us to look at how we deploy our national inspectorate to deliver the most benefits in terms of consumer protection and protection of the industry.

There is a move by the competent authorities from inspecting premises to auditing their food safety management systems. The latter satisfies the authorities that the food business has procedures in place to produce safe food on an ongoing basis, whereas the former just gives a snapshot of how things are on the day of the visit. This move needs to be accelerated to ensure the activities of the national inspectorate are adding maximum value. People talk about how many times a premises was inspected. One good systems audit can be much more effective than numerous inspections.

The food chain is only as secure as its weakest link. There should be no gaps in the continuum of supervision from mills to the point of sale to consumers. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has responsibility for the national inspectorate through service contracts from the farm gate forward. Animal feed controls and animal health and animal welfare controls on the farm are undertaken by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Although these controls are not carried out under service contracts with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, this does not make them in any way inferior. The legal requirements are that member states shall ensure efficient controls are carried out regularly on a risk basis and with appropriate frequency so as to achieve the objective of Regulation 882/2004, taking account of identified risks associated with animals, feed or food, feed or food businesses, the use of feed or food or — this is an important one — any processed material, substance, activity or operation that may influence feed or food safety, animal health or animal welfare.

Regulation 853/2004 stipulates that food business operators operating slaughterhouses must, as appropriate, request and receive, check and act upon food chain information which must accompany the livestock. That has not been transposed in Ireland but the exact information to be included must be agreed nationally by the industry and the competent authorities but should contain details of any diseases on the holdings, the result of any tests for zoonotic agents or residues and could also include details of the rations fed or any other information deemed relevant. The official veterinarian is to verify that animals are not slaughtered unless the slaughterhouse operator has been provided with and checked relevant food chain information.

On support for Ireland the food island, this incident was a disaster for Ireland the food island and the lessons must be learned. The recall was costly and disruptive for many international purchasers of Irish product, particularly those in the added value sector, and relationships and alliances that took years to build have been damaged. Several companies overseas had Ireland as their sole supplier and the consequence of this dioxin incident has caused them to review the position with negative commercial consequences for many Irish businesses.

Although the decisive action of the Irish authorities minimised the damage to the reputation of Ireland and was praised by the competent authorities in other jurisdictions and the Commission, serious reputational damage has been done to Ireland's image as the clean, green food island. If one keys "Irish pork" into any of the Internet search engines, one will get a litany of stories about this dioxin incident that we will have to live with for years to come.

Repairing the damage to the valuable market sectors will not be achieved by marketing campaigns by Bord Bia alone. We must be able to demonstrate that we have the animal health status and robust food safety management and control systems to support any claims we make about the safety and quality of our products.

This is an important point. Primary responsibility for producing safe food rests with the food business operators and they must be aggressive in the pursuit of high standards. If the legal requirement is the pass level in the examination, conscientious food business should be on the honours paper.

Our food businesses are constantly changing their scale, processes and the associated risk profile. The competent authorities must also adapt and be in continuous improvement mode to ensure we have an infrastructure in place to protect both consumers and support the Irish food industry. We must be proactive rather than reactive to anticipate problems and take preventive action, and we must constantly update our surveillance mechanisms and move from passive to active, sentinel and targeted surveillance to provide us with good epidemiological data to ensure we know where we stand.

Effective surveillance is necessary to establish the priority areas for attention, monitor trends, detect and delineate outbreaks, identify emerging pathogens and evaluate our interventions to ensure they are working, whether they are biosecurity initiatives, vaccination programmes, new hygiene regimens or whatever.

Absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence. If we are accused of a problem in the international arena, we must have evidence to defend ourselves. We need data to support any claims we make about levels of pathogens or chemical contaminants in our supply chain.

On the chemical front, using animals to monitor the environment can generate useful data. A novel animal health surveillance scheme operated by Cork County Council on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency could be examined to determine if it has applications for other areas of the country. It is demonstrating levels of dioxins well below the maximum statutory levels permitted in marketable milk for human consumption, much lower in comparison with other European countries. When people challenge us about our dioxin levels, we have data from that Cork study to show them. We need to strengthen our reference laboratory facilities for both forensic microbiology and chemical analysis to support our surveillance initiative.

The next crisis will not be another dioxin crisis but related to microbes. Standardisation of fingerprinting pathogens and the development at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, which links together the reference laboratories, the epidemiologists and the disease detectives, means the facility now exists to track microbes causing human illness or identified in food or feed through the EU food chain and further afield to the site of production. If someone becomes ill anywhere in Europe, that bug can be fingerprinted and it could be tracked back to us. In the past, Ireland could export product that would never be tracked back to us if it was contaminated but we now have this facility.

In summer 2008 a pan-European outbreak of salmonella agona originated in Ireland. That highlighted several deficiencies in our controls and laboratory capability. In 2006, during the cryptosporidiosis outbreak associated with the public water supply in Galway, the samples had to be sent abroad for definitive identification of pathogens, which is far from satisfactory. In Ireland, we need to develop and maintain a database of definitively typed isolates identified in feed, livestock food and humans in order to facilitate investigations of outbreaks, the tracking of pathogens through the food chain and the provision of comprehensive surveillance data.

We cannot afford a repeat of this dioxin crisis or the emergence of a similar one. The likelihood is that the next such crisis will be caused by a zoonotic agent. It is crucial, therefore, that we ensure the health status of our livestock is the best in Europe. There is data which shows that there is plenty of room for improvement. For example, the recent survey carried out by the EFSA demonstrates that there is a significant problem with salmonella in the national pig herd. There was an outbreak of listeriosis in Canada last summer during which 22 people died. It would be naive to think that such an outbreak could not happen in Ireland. Similarly, there were several outbreaks of VTEC in the US in recent times. This is a pathogen to which Irish people are also exposed.

I suggest that a multidisciplinary horizon scanning group be convened. The membership of this group should comprise industry representatives — including the primary producers — forensic microbiologists and toxicologists, animal and public health specialists and food scientists. This would ensure that Ireland will be in the vanguard when it comes to animal health and food safety standards. If we are serious with regard to marketing Ireland as "the food island", we should ensure we put in place an infrastructure to support our food industry that is second to none. All sectors of the food industry must play their part and exercise their responsibility to produce safe food and protect their brands and reputations. In addition, the competent authorities must ensure that official controls are risk-based and proactive.

I thank the Chairman and members for the opportunity to address them. I will endeavour to answer any questions they may wish to put.

I thank Dr. Wall for his comprehensive presentation. We will now take questions from members.

I welcome Dr. Wall and thank him for his presentation. Given that this is a complex scientific issue, Dr. Wall's presentation, in its written form, is both readable and understandable.

Dr. Wall's experience is unique in some respects, particularly when one considers that he was previously involved with the EFSA and the FSAI. Will he indicate whether he believes it would have been possible to raise the alarm at an earlier point in respect of this matter? I appreciate his point that, by international standards, the response period — from 19 November to 6 December — was quite short. The dioxin contamination was identified at levels below the legal requirement for notification. However, starting from a zero baseline, some tests indicated that a spike occurred in September. In the context of lessons to be learned, is there a legal responsibility on member states, where contamination is identified, to notify the EFSA or DG SANCO in order that individual member states which might be the source of such contamination can address their systems and discover whether it might be possible to deal with matters of this nature much more rapidly and prevent fully fledged crises from emerging? The dioxin contamination that took place here was under the notifiable limits. In the context of the rapid alert system, is there a lesson to be learned?

The FSAI operates from the factory gate forward. Given that it operates on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food under a service contract, it is not directly responsible for what happens between the farm and the factory gate. I do not intend any reflection on the individuals who might have been involved in the Department's monitoring programme. However, will Dr. Wall indicate whether there is a case to be made for a single agency having sole responsibility for the animal feed and food chains? Such an agency would be in a position to determine the number and type of tests that should take place. At present, a multiplicity of agencies — the FSAI, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Agency and others — are responsible for particular aspects of food safety. Is one of the lessons to be learned that there should be a single agency with overall responsibility in this area?

Does Dr. Wall wish to reply to members individually or would he prefer that the questions be banked?

Dr. Patrick Wall

I have no preference.

In that event, we will take members' questions in banks of three.

I welcome Dr. Wall and thank him for his presentation. This presentation sets us on the road to addressing our problems. Dr. Wall stated, in concluding his contribution, that primary responsibility for producing good food rests with food processors. That is helpful, although I always believed that to be the case. As far as pig and beef producers are concerned, the high standards in place are working well. The problem arises at the processing level. As Dr. Wall stated, the processing of feed and what goes into it must be addressed. That is one of the shortfalls. He pointed out ways to address that and we must seriously examine this issue because it is costing an arm and a leg. If we can progress this issue, it will benefit us down the road and perhaps we can recoup the losses incurred down the years.

Deputy Creed referred to the number of people involved and the prospect of tidying up the system in order that fewer people are involved in the food safety chain. Five people have responsibility for the roll-out of the safety standards. Perhaps we will have to examine tidying that up and, at the end of the day, we hope we will be in a better position to resolve it if a similar incident occurs down the road before major difficulties arise.

Dr. Patrick Wall

I refer to Deputy Creed's question about fat which, because it was below the legal limit, there was no way it would be notified to anybody. It was an in house industry issue and a threshold must be set above which one must notify. Had it exceeded the legal limit, it would have been notified. The legal level for fat is 4 picograms per gram. A picogram is one part per trillion. It is a low level and when one notifies the rapid alert system, something is set in motion that cannot be stopped. People must be careful and, therefore, if it was below the legal level, it was below the legal level in the fat.

With regard to the French issue and the pork loin, that was in-house in the company. It had one loin over the legal limit. Workers probably could have notified that sooner but they were trying to identify where it came from and garner more information. When the sample was taken, it was not processed. Sometimes samples are taken and they are batched before they are analysed. There was a delay between taking the sample and submitting it for analysis. Routine sampling takes place and samples are not rushed through. They are batched.

The Deputy asked whether this could have been picked up earlier but this was an Irish problem and the onus was on us to pick it up. The last thing one would want is for someone else to pick it up before us and flag it. We would have been on the back foot if someone came knocking on our door to tell us we had a problem and we replied, "What problem?"

It does not matter who is responsible for the controls once they are implemented well. There cannot be gaps in the continuum in the national inspectorate. The FSAI does not employ any people from the farm gate onwards, as it operates through service contracts. It would not be difficult to audit the entire process to make sure everything is in order and there are no gaps. It is not a criticism of anybody to say that we need to audit the processes and to focus continually on improving them. We must address issues such as whether the inspectorate is changing as risks change and whether we are modernising the techniques we use. The issue of fingerprinting bugs is relatively new. We need to be on top of our game all the time.

One can have one conductor in an orchestra but obviously we need somebody to call for the ball and to co-ordinate matters. On whether all people must be employed in one agency, the answer is "No". That type of contract arrangement worked well for the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. There are, however, better ways to do this. I assume the joint committee will consider ways of addressing this issue to ensure there are no gaps. All in all, the system is not bad. We have many islands of excellence. There is no point having a food chain in which there is one weak link when all others are robust. A weak link will result in a crack in the chain.

Deputy O'Sullivan spoke about uneven enforcement and said that farms are regulated to the nth degree while other areas are not regulated at all. That is the point I made. We need to have risk-based enforcement and to do a type of hazard analysis of the food chain to identify the highest risks. This is from where we will get the biggest bang for our buck in terms of consumer protection and protection of the industry. We need to examine constantly the food chain. There is an inspectorate in place. Currently, the spotlight is on the public sector and the cost in that regard. The onus is on us to ensure that the inspectorate's activities are cost effective. We need to question everything we are doing and to determine whether there are other areas to which our resource could be better allocated.

I welcome Dr. Wall to the meeting this afternoon and wish him well.

Farmers are fairly heavily regulated. My first question relates to secondary processors, an issue on which I have strong views. Many of the international companies importing into this country are secondary processors for whom margins and profit are important. This may be one reason they do not purchase Irish products. Perhaps Dr. Wall will outline how this issue could be addressed.

Food worldwide has been controversial in recent years. Approximately 1,800 tonnes of Brazilian beef and Chilean pork was imported into Ireland last year. What measures are in place or, what investigation has been undertaken, in terms of spot-checks and so on, of the dioxin levels of these foods? Foods come from different parts of the world and animal produce brings with it different diseases and so on. There has been a huge influx of South American imports into Europe and Ireland, many of which come in through Rotterdam, are dressed up and sold on as European food.

There is a tendency worldwide for food to be labelled in respect of country of origin. An article I read on the Internet this afternoon states that the secretary of the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Mr. Hilary Benn, has called for clearer food labelling rules. He states that supermarkets and food companies should give shoppers clearer information on the origin of their food. There is a tendency worldwide to stall this.

Many believe that North America produces the safest food in the world under regulation by the United States Department of Agriculture which is moving towards the introduction of food labelling and country of origin and hopes to incorporate Canada in this regard. Another article I read on the Internet today relates to the announcement by the USDA of its intention to introduce food labelling and country of origin. While the tendency worldwide is to introduce these measures we remain on the back foot. We are a small producing country that produces high quality food. It is the primary produce that suffers all the time. Perhaps Dr. Wall will respond to my comments.

Dr. Patrick Wall

This is a huge issue. Within the European Union, we are constantly raising the bar for our producers and processors. We can make them non-competitive and have their market share replaced by products brought into the EU. It is crucial that standards of product coming into the EU meet or are equivalent to EU standards. The EU Food and Veterinary Office located in Enfield, County Meath is supposed to audit the controls of any country importing products into the EU to ensure its standards are equivalent. It has a staff of 300 to audit the world.

This is a huge issue. I do not have the answers on why we are the way we are. Deputy O'Keeffe's point is that we should have equivalent standards and should police the products coming into Ireland. However, after this incident, when we have scored a spectacular own-goal, it is hard for us to make the case that the standards should be driven higher elsewhere. It is an issue, however, that should be raised constantly.

Much of what comes in is re-exported.

Dr. Patrick Wall

That is a second issue and I was going to get to it. Once product is brought into the European Union or Ireland and a further process is carried out on it, it can leave Ireland with an Irish stamp on it. If, for example, a chicken is brought in from Brazil and a chicken Kiev is made from that, it can leave Ireland as an Irish chicken Kiev. There is a need for better labelling in that area so that consumers are not misled. Many consumers do not mind from where their product comes, as long as it is safe. However, when we do not know from where a product comes and do not have good traceability, it is hard to ensure good standards apply.

There are two main issues involved. First, equivalent standards must apply on the global stage, because we now live in a global village. It is difficult for us in Ireland to say we are anti other countries when we want our products to be allowed into all the other markets. However, at the same time there must be a level playing field for fair competition for our producers.

I thank Deputy P. J. Sheehan for allowing me take his place at this meeting. I am aware the committee has discussed this issue at three previous meetings and that it is coming towards the end of its deliberations. I also thank Dr. Wall not just for his presentation today, but for the ongoing work he is doing in this area. He is one of the people who came across on television and radio during the crisis in a strong and reasonable manner and who played a major role in calming things down.

As a Deputy based in a constituency where poultry was the major interest, but where serious pig production also takes place, I have for years had an interest in the issue of traceability and have tried to get something done about the marketing of produce to ensure people know exactly from where it comes. I was shocked to find out that the whole pig industry was affected when the problem arose on nine farms. It is difficult to explain how in this day and age we could not have had better traceability on the product. However, there is no point in crying over spilt milk and we must learn from this. The decision was made to recall all pork produce and Dr. Wall and many others have said that was the right decision in the situation. We must move forward now and ensure that if a similar problem arises, we will not need a recall on such a wide scale.

I was in London the weekend of the crisis and when I turned on the television in my room I heard on the BBC that Irish produce was being recalled in approximately 25 countries. CNN and all the other international stations had the same story. Ireland was getting the headlines for all the wrong reasons. As a person who was involved in the Irish Livestock and Meat Board for seven years, I realised the damage this would cause, not just to the pig sector, but to the whole food sector. For that reason, we must learn from this and move forward.

I am somewhat sceptical about the comment that one good system audit should be sufficient.

Dr. Patrick Wall

I meant that one good systems audit is better than several bad inspections.

Yes, but when one considers the scrutiny under which primary producers operate and the number of regulations with which they must comply, it is difficult to understand why suppliers to the sector should not be audited more frequently. I ask Dr. Wall to tell us what we can learn from this crisis. How can we strengthen our structures to ensure we have a better structure in place? How too can we persuade our European colleagues to go down the road of labelling? France and Holland follow through on this in their own way. However, for a country that is both a major exporter and importer, Ireland does not appear to have come to grips with this issue. I am more familiar with the poultry sector than the pig sector and the volume of imports in the former is enormous. Grove Turkeys has been closed down, with the loss of hundreds of jobs that provided a massive income for my county, due to food labelling or the lack thereof. While I thank Dr. Wall for his work, he should comment on what can be learned from this and how to move forward.

I welcome Professor Wall before the joint committee and compliment him on his sound advice to everyone concerned during the fallout of this crisis. He was well received over the airwaves by farmers and processors and his expertise is widely recognised. As members have been discussing this issue for three days, his presentation contains much that has been covered previously into which I do not wish to go. The most important point for the future is we must learn from the mistakes we made. I missed most of Professor Wall's presentation because I was otherwise involved. I note he seeks the recategorisation of food and feed businesses and the putting in place of a better system. Members have spoken several times on the issue that although PCBs were detected in Belgium last September, our system did not find out until a random test was undertaken on 19 November. How can this be improved?

I refer to food processing and the recycling of human food. Should we be placing greater emphasis on animal feed? We appear to have a good standard in respect of testing meat and the finished product such as carcasses etc. I note Professor Wall supports the recycling of human food and states it is better done under supervision. No inspection had been carried out on the County Carlow site for a year and a half before this event occurred, although another one was due in November 2008. However, I was informed by representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that it does not test the feed in such facilities. It examines cleanliness, how the process is handled and so on but does not take a test of the food. Should this be done more often or more regularly?

On foot of the establishment of several boards and agencies, many people appear to be in charge of food safety and consumption. Would it be better to amalgamate them and bring them under one roof or to have greater co-operation among them? I again compliment Professor Wall on the stand he took during the crisis of last December.

Dr. Patrick Wall

I will answer both Deputies together. First, as for the stand I took, the situation was very difficult and I simply was trying to calm it a little. I entered the ring because I wear a green jersey and I was trying to help, which was not easy. The Irish media gave a much more in-depth coverage of the issues. We were in much more troubled waters abroad because the media there did not spend as much time on the story, as it was not as great an issue for them. Consequently, it suited them to have a more sensational story that amplified the risk and which gave rise to headlines such as "Toxic Irish Pork". One must compliment Irish journalists on their ability to get more mileage out of the story and to devote more airtime to it. As a result, Irish citizens were able to comprehend it.

On the issue raised by Deputies Crawford and Aylward regarding the risks associated with the premises, if it took five systems audits per year, so be it. However, inspections and audits should be proportional to the risks and I refer to the list of risk categorisation I provided to members. In this situation, can one state that a business is low risk when it managed to bring Ireland, the food island, to its knees at a cost of €200 million in compensation and perhaps more, as the total cost to the industry has not been incurred? One cannot and therefore the number and intensity of inspections must be proportionate to the risk.

The reason I raised this issue is that at the time of the first BSE outbreak in 1989, this Parliament introduced laws that were never enforced until BSE subsequently hit. We also must learn lessons in this regard.

The Deputy should allow Dr. Wall to proceed.

Dr. Patrick Wall

We had a tsunami of coverage and the damage was done. As for Deputy Crawford's point, I was very sad to see Ireland associated with dioxins. Our image was as a green island, but the Irish dioxin crisis will be a case study for the next 20 years, having replaced the Belgian dioxin crisis. We took the right decision, but it was a sad situation in which to find ourselves. No one should receive accolades for that mess. We did a disastrous job by allowing it to occur in the first instance.

Co-ordination in ensuring that there are no gaps in the inspection continuum is important, but we must remember that the industry has a responsibility to produce safe food. Shoddy operators in any sector cannot be tolerated, as a single operator could bring a sector down. The legal requirement for the production of safe food lies with the industry. One can blame the inspectorate for causing a problem, but the industry knows more about its sector than anyone and much of it knows where the sector's strengths and weaknesses are. Industry representatives will appear before the committee, but we must push them to get onto the honours paper and to drive standards upwards.

Deputy Crawford made his points about labelling well. The playing field is not level and our industry will not survive if it tries to compete against countries with different standards, economies of scale and environmental legislation than ours. Unless that issue is fixed, we will be facing into troubled waters.

We have been told by Mr. Moran of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and, yesterday, by Mr. Reilly of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, of how our numerous requests made to Brussels for a better labelling system have been rejected time and time again. What is the reason for this?

Dr. Patrick Wall

Sometimes when something goes wrong, we blame Brussels. It is the reason for the "No" vote on the Lisbon treaty. Sometimes, we must look to ourselves. I am not sure that everything we do is good and everything Brussels does is bad.

That is what we have been told.

Dr. Patrick Wall

I am sure that there is a way around the issue. If Deputy Crawford claims that other countries have found a resolution, I am sure that there will be a resolution for us. As a food exporting country, we are in a difficult situation because we want access to everyone else's market. There must be a better way. If we do not rectify the situation, we will have no poultry or pig industry.

I welcome Dr. Wall and thank him for his work on this project and his other work over the years. I am content with what he has said and the general tone of his presentation. I appreciate that he cannot give politicised answers, but his comment on the need to review the amalgamation of the FSAI, the Irish Medicines Board and the Office of Tobacco Control was interesting. Appropriately, the role of the FSAI was in our face during the media's handling of the most recent crisis. It came across as competent, independent and helpful in dealing with the public's concerns and fears. Given Dr. Wall's claim that the proposed amalgamation may be unhelpful, should the committee be concerned about it?

Dr. Patrick Wall

It is something that we should examine. The FSAI has a track record of ten years and the public knows it. It is a consumer protection agency that has no remit to protect the industry and does not need to negotiate compensation packages or so on. When it says something, it does so on behalf of the consumer. We need an agency that consumers can trust in a crisis situation or for crisis communications, but we also need it to communicate issues such as the risks and benefits associated with genetically modified organisms, nanotechnology, diet-related diseases and so on.

We have spent ten years building an agency and a brand. When the FSAI stated that there was no risk associated with Irish beef, consumers accepted it. If someone from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made the same statement, it would not have been as acceptable because people would have expected such a statement from the Department. As I have highlighted, the FSAI has been a model agency for several member states, which shows a great deal of respect for it. The relationship it has built up and the contacts that it has helped in this situation. The FSAI contacted the competent authorities and the food safety agencies in the other member states who wondered what we should do about this. Many of them took the same line as the FSAI and reassured their citizens accordingly. It would be a pity to throw that all away.

Does Dr. Wall feel that some sort of an amalgamation and the granting of duties in other agencies within its remit mean we are going down the road of throwing it all away? It seems to be working well enough. Should we leave well enough alone?

Dr. Patrick Wall

That is a good point. There are many things not working well in the country. These should be resolved first.

I welcome Professor Wall. Listening to him has been a breath of fresh air. During the crisis he was a reassuring voice. I am interested in his comments about one good systems audit being better than many inspections. Some of the farmers I meet are overwhelmed by inspections. We have also seen the number of inspections at the plant in Carlow.

What lessons can we learn from this? Can there be amalgamation of some organisations? Perhaps I should ask the committee to find out the number of inspectors and the ratio of inspectors to farmers. There is a major diminution in the number of farmers yet we still have the same layers of inspectors. It is costly and when it goes wrong, very few are able to take the blame.

I add my voice to the concerns over traceability and proper labelling. Meat is being imported and our meat is being exported. It is being sent abroad as Irish meat but it is not Irish meat at all. Consumers are buying meat labelled as Irish and this is a joke. It should have been stopped long ago. I do not know what Bord Bia is doing about it but it is not acceptable. We have much tidying up to do. I hope it can be done and it is a pity we do not have more people like Professor Wall dealing with this. He is honest and frank and tells it as it is.

I refer to when the system in Europe first identified elevated dioxin levels. A witness from the FSAI, Dr. Heppner, appeared before the committee yesterday as the risk assessor rather than risk manager but there is a 27 member constituent advisory board. If the system had indicated there was a problem and could narrow it to six countries and these could have been notified so they could have been looking for it. Everything we have heard over the past few days goes back to traceability and one food authority monitoring all aspects of the food chain.

Dr. Wall referred to the audit and the inspectors. It is too late for many of the abattoirs in this country because they bore overhead costs of veterinary inspections and departmental officials to the extent that they could not compete with the bigger plants. People have left the sector. Some plants operated a proper auditing system but it was insufficient to satisfy the Department's rules and regulations. If there was a proper auditing system, coupled with proper accessibility and quality assurance, and if some costs were transferred instead of the draconian inspection system that pertains in meat processing and primary processing, one could have a proper traceability system for very little extra cost. It must be done, that is the one lesson from this episode. If we are a case study in the future, the one lesson would be that public health must be protected. In order to protect the industry, the damage can be minimised. There will be incidents again that will bite us from where we do not know. Traceability is the concept that is appearing all the time. I would like to hear comments on the idea of the audit compared to the inspection. It may be that a good audit and random spot-checks by a flying squad or whatever can do the same job. Most of these are, or will be, compliant.

Dr. Patrick Wall

Deputies Mattie McGrath and Doyle spoke about the single systems audit. One systems audit is better than several inspections. Two or three systems audits are better than one systems audit. The number of audits should be proportional to the risk. Deputy Doyle made the point about having a hit squad that could descend anywhere at any time, like Eliot Ness in "The Untouchables", and that is what we need. We do not need permanent inspectors. It behoves us to examine what we are doing in the inspection service to ensure it adds value. Ticking a box to say we have done an inspection will not help us if it does not pick up the risks and hazards. The risk profile with many of the industries has changed so we need to constantly update what we are doing.

We talk much about traceability but it is very difficult when one gets down to a bottle of liquid oil that came from pig fat from three different member states or a single salami that contains pig fat from one member state and pig meat from three member states. That traceability is difficult. It is easy with primary cuts. We could have had better traceability to enable us to trace back to an hour's production rather than a whole day. We have better traceability with cattle because a bovine animal is worth so much more money compared to a pig and many more pigs are put in and processed per day. The industry people know what they can achieve. There are models in other sectors, whether computer parts, medical devices, aeroplane parts or whatever. There are all kinds of technology including radio frequency identifiers, bar codes and GIS systems that can give much better traceability. It comes at a cost, so traceability must be proportional to the risk. If we had better traceability maybe we could have done a more limited recall and it would not have cost the €20 million in compensation, nor would we have had to destroy 40,000 tonnes of good food, only a proportion of which was possibly contaminated.

Labelling is a very challenging issue. As we live in a Single Market, the principle of which is free movement of goods, we need labels compatible with this free movement. The consumer should not be misled. If other member states have resolved the issue there must be a solution. We cannot keep talking about this; we need to resolve it while we still have a poultry and pig industry.

Professor Wall has answered my supplementary question.

The case is sub judice and we cannot say much about it, but we know from this morning’s presentation that in the Belgian case in 1999, transformer oil put into the feed caused the furore. Ministers had to resign and a Government fell over it. However, ten years later, the same thing has happened. In his presentation, Professor Wall said the oil was used to fuel a drying machine and the person had been using recycled vegetable oil and changed to recycled mineral oil that was contaminated with transformer oil. That tells a story. Although it happened ten years ago in Belgium we face the same circumstances. This morning the Minister told us legislation is in place but enforcement to ensure this oil was not used was lacking. Why did that person change from recycled vegetable oil to mineral oil? This is where the contamination arose. This is part of the reason this happened and €200 million has gone down the drain.

Professor Wall has already answered the question on traceability and labelling but I want to make a comment and I want him to reply. I know one company that sold Irish pork and bacon in the south east and had a plant where it killed many pigs per week. However, eight years ago it gave up killing Irish pigs and now imports all its product from outside but still sells that pork and bacon as Irish. Everybody who buys the produce in the south east thinks it comes from that plant and is Irish. That is wrong. That is pulling the wool over consumers' eyes and it is not right, but I do not know how it can be overcome. Pork is being sold under an Irish label, even though it is not sourced in Ireland but in Holland.

We voted against the Lisbon treaty, but I recognise the importance of the Single Market and EU legislation to Ireland. It is the behaviour of the processing industry and secondary processors that is causing the problem. Enterprise Ireland encouraged secondary processing because it created jobs. However, these jobs have now cost us €200 million. The food industry in Ireland needs to be looked at in a serious light. There is abuse by secondary processors in mixing all sorts of things in their products. I support the views of Deputies Aylward and Creed. Everybody around the table is conscious of the facts. I learned from a television programme I watched last night that a turkey growing farm in Monaghan was to close because it could not compete with imports. Irish turkey is safer and more natural than imported turkey, but the bottom line is profit margins. Nobody is saying anything about this, although it is clearly an issue that affects farmers. The multiples are guilty in many ways also. We saw the behaviour of Tesco in the past few weeks in terms of its stance on compensation. Many others are involved, apart from the unfortunate farmers who are the primary producers.

Will Dr. Wall explain how feed was contaminated with oil? I do not know exactly how this happened. We all know about heating and drying facilities. If one is heating one's house, the burner outside heats the water that passes through the radiators and heats the house. Laundries and so on have such facilities. I am aware there is a criminal issue and do not want to compromise anybody in any way. However, I want to know how the oil was implicated in the contamination. If the burner had been properly protected, there would not have been an issue. The other aspect is that it went on for so long and no one noticed. What went wrong, given that inspectors from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who inspected the plant would be supplied with state-of-the-art technology?

I join my colleagues in congratulating Dr. Wall for his role during the contamination crisis. He played a fundamental and important role and inspired confidence by the manner in which he responded to the issue.

I listened with interest to the comments made in the past couple of days. I very much support what Dr. Wall has stated. This was a disaster for Ireland, the food island, and lessons must be learned. I note, as Dr. Wall said, that the recall was costly and disruptive. Will he tell the committee what the total cost was?

It will be a hard fought battle to get back shelf space that Irish products enjoyed up to this. What does Dr. Wall believe can be done to assist export companies and companies operating overseas in this regard?

Dr. Wall referred to a multidisciplinary horizon scanning group. Will he give us a little more information on how he envisages that operating?

We were told yesterday that the cost to Belgium was €2.5 billion.

Dr. Patrick Wall

Deputy Aylward referred to the incident in Belgium. Only a fool does not learn from his or her own mistakes. Could we have learned from what happened in Belgium? The Belgian incident was not the same as ours. All animal feed has oil added directly to it. It is usually vegetable oil but in the case of Belgium they added industrial oil instead of vegetable oil directly to the feed. As Deputy O'Keeffe highlighted, in the Irish case the contamination occurred as a result of using the oil in a dryer to dry the mix. The exhaust fumes from the dryer——

It achieved the same results.

Dr. Patrick Wall

It was a different method but the same result. The exhaust fumes from the dryer must have been allowed to blow over the feed and contaminate it. This is the subject of an ongoing police inquiry but I suppose it would be appropriate for somebody who has been in the plant or the owner of the plant to come before the committee to outline what went on in the plant.

Deputy Aylward raised the question of the Irish brand being put on product abroad. Many cases were highlighted during the incident including Irish hampers being exported to America that did not need to be recalled because there was no Irish product in them or the full Irish breakfast not having any Irish product. That is misleading the consumer to try to con them into thinking they are getting the full Irish breakfast. There is nothing Irish in it but the recipe is Irish. That is stretching it and it is sharp marketing practice.

Dr. Patrick Wall

I would call it sharp marketing practices, and nobody can be proud of that. Deputy O'Keeffe raised many questions. He knows all the answers and he——

I must admit I am not as expert as Dr. Wall.

We might bring him before the committee some day.

Dr. Patrick Wall

Interrogate him.

I gather the eggs in that Irish breakfast in New York were from Thailand.

Dr. Patrick Wall

They were Irish eggs.

No. They were eggs from the Far East.

We are moving away from the point.

We are just talking about what is going on.

Dr. Patrick Wall

Deputy Doyle and Deputy O'Keeffe referred to the challenge facing the Irish industry. Our feed, energy, labour and waste disposal costs are higher than those in other countries. Our industry is facing a major challenge. If unfair advantages are being taken they need to be addressed but some aspects will be difficult to fix in the current global marketplace.

Regarding my contribution, many people tried to calm the situation. I was one of many involved.

On the question about the cost of the incident, I am not sure about the cost. The industry representatives will come before the committee but they say that many of the companies they do business with had to withdraw finished product such as pizzas, processed meals, salamis or whatever where the Irish ingredient was only a small component. They had to bear the cost of the whole product being withdrawn. They then had the cost of the contingency supply for their final customers, which they are trying to recoup from Irish companies. Some Irish companies cannot afford to pay them. I do not know what will be the cost of that. The Irish companies will give that information to the committee but major damage has been done and I am sure there will be litigation in the future.

On the issue of horizon scanning and examining the issues, something will go wrong in many countries and then it happens here. We must learn from the mistakes made in other jurisdictions in the global village and be more prepared here. As a food exporting country we must have the best animal health status, the best food safety management systems and the best standards. In that way we can reassure companies that if they buy product in Ireland, their reputation and their brands are safer with us because we have gold plated standards. Unfortunately, we are now facing this problem and we will have to work much harder to convince people to do business in Ireland. People do not have to eat Irish food on the global stage. We want them to eat Irish food because we have safe, high quality products but we also have an infrastructure in place to support it. Our infrastructure is not the best in Europe but it should be.

Deputy Creed wants to ask another supplementary question.

To return to the point about a single agency, I understand seafood safety is solely the remit of the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. Does that make sense——

Dr. Patrick Wall

The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority has a service contract with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, or it used to have one. Responsibility for the food chain is extremely fragmented. Many different agencies are responsible for various parts of it. They are like horses wearing blinkers — they consider only the part of the food chain over which they have control. As a result, gaps have emerged. The idea behind the service contract with the FSAI was to ensure that there would be no gaps and that agencies' activities would dovetail. Although the agencies focused on their own areas of responsibility, they were contracted to the FSAI which was charged with auditing those contracts in the context of the level and standard of service provided and also in terms of ensuring that the baton would be passed from agency to agency.

To return to Dr. Wall's point regarding an audit of systems as opposed to the frequency of inspections, I am not familiar with the contents of the service contract involving the FSAI and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Agency or that involving it and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Do these contracts deal in detail with the level of inspections that must be conducted? Do they indicate whether it should be an audit regime or an inspection regime? If a single authority had responsibility for the various issues, could it decide to change its systems? With regard to the operation of slaughtering plants, there is a veterinary inspection regime in place at all times. This is different from a system under which audits might take place less frequently. The industry bears the cost of the inspection regime to which I refer.

Do the service contracts deal with these matters in such detail? Contracting agencies have a responsibility to ensure that what happens within their areas of remit is above board. However, do the service contracts deal in detail with the level of inspections to be carried out, the audit requirements, etc.?

Dr. Patrick Wall

The contracts deal with such matters in some detail and stipulate what is required. On the issue of a permanent presence in some sectors and not in others, certain aspects of this are, unfortunately, mandated by law.

Is the system outdated?

Dr. Patrick Wall

Yes. Many member states are examining their official controls. There is no point in having controls in place merely because the law stipulates that this should be the case, particularly if such controls are not adding value. There is a degree of flexibility. However, some of the permanent presence to which the Deputy refers is mandated in legislation. We should review the entire system in order to ensure that inspectors are doing the majority of their work in the areas of greatest risk. The latter is not the case at present.

Dr. Wall stated that even though we may believe otherwise, we are not the best in Europe in the context of the infrastructure of food safety. If there is a pyramid of food safety in the EU, what is Ireland's position on it? In view of the fact that we place so much emphasis on regulation and control, I would have thought Ireland would be at the top of such a pyramid. Why does Dr. Wall feel comfortable in stating that Ireland is not the best in Europe as far as food safety is concerned? Is there a clear marking system which shows the country that is the best in this regard and which identifies Ireland's position?

Dr. Patrick Wall

No, but some countries have initiatives which Ireland does not have in place. We should cherry-pick certain aspects of other member states' control systems, laboratory infrastructure surveillance systems, animal health systems, etc., in order that we might be the best. There are some areas where Ireland comes out on top but there are others in respect of which we are inclined to believe our own propaganda to the effect that we are the best.

To which areas is Dr. Wall referring?

Dr. Patrick Wall

There is room for improvement in the area of animal health status. We are not the best in that regard. Given that it is an island and protected by the seas and oceans which surround it, Ireland should have the best animal health status in Europe and should be a source of animals of high genetic merit. However, that is not the case.

The surveillance systems used to fingerprint and definitively type various bugs are extremely advanced in some member states. However, those in place here are not as advanced. I am concerned because products from Ireland that are contaminated and shipped abroad can be traced back here as a result of the surveillance systems that are in place elsewhere. In the past we could export contaminated products and they could not be traced back to us. Not only are certain states now in a position to trace products, they can also trace the bugs that give rise to contamination. The surveillance systems to which I refer were able to link last summer's outbreak of salmonella agona to a production facility in Ireland.

Is Dr. Wall prepared to hazard a guess as to Ireland's current position on Europe's food safety league table?

Dr. Patrick Wall

I would not like the Senator to say where we are in the league table but we were well down in aspects while in other aspects we were further up. There was plenty of room for improvement.

I agree with Deputy Creed about the single agency. A departmental investigation established the problem and the FSAI then became involved. A single agency in this area is necessary. This is a small country and I question the laboratory facilities available because a sample had to be sent abroad. Such facilities should be upgraded in a big way. We have heard a great deal about investment in the laboratory at Backweston but that has not been made. However, a single agency is the way forward and nobody could disagree with Deputy Creed on that issue. I agree with much of what he has said in this regard. Dr. Wall has reiterated what I have been saying. We are an island surrounded by water. I never understood the high incidence of bovine and other animal diseases. The abuse of imports is unbelievable and we sheltered behind the Single Market on that. I recall a time when the country was free of disease and there was a quarantine on Spike Island. Everything is in place now.

More than 50% of pork product sold in Ireland is imported. Reference was made to €200 million. When the Belgian crisis emerged, that hit many Irish wholesalers hard as well as multiples.

Dr. Wall comes across very much as a practical rather than an academic person. Substitute feeding is a feature of the pig industry worldwide. Ireland has a high cost industry and it has survived the Single Market and so on. Dutch pigs are fed significant volumes of bread, chocolate, recycled materials and so on. The Danish industry is based on substantial volumes of fish oil and fish offal and it exports a good quality product. Tomatoes and sugar cane are fed to pigs in Brazil and I am suspicious about what is done in Chile. Ireland has the best substitute feed of any country. We have a small population and, therefore, we do not generate much waste. We have dairy product for pig feed as well as bread and we might import Mars bars from the UK, which would be nice and sweet.

There are other substitutes for pig feed but we will have no industry if there is high grain level in pig feed. People did not realise the value of the industry and I compliment Deputy Creed on his handling of the issue. The way he handled it was outstanding for an Opposition spokesperson. Many people admired his stand to save the industry. The industry is worth a significant amount to the State. Everyone handled the issue well but the Opposition always goes for the short circuit.

The industry is important to retain jobs in rural areas. Deputy Joe Carey informed me earlier that there are six pig units in County Clare. They are major employers in rural areas and they will be with us when Dell is gone. Approximately 500 people are employed on pig farms in north Cork and another 500 were employed in processing.

Professor Wall referred to areas requiring improvement and the need for additional animal health inspectors. Will he elaborate on that? He has vast experience, knowledge and understanding of food safety, animal health and food production. Could systems that are obsolete be refocused and repositioned to examine emerging trends in food production or animal health?

For some time I followed the TB eradication programme with interest, where I noticed vast sums of money were spent on a yearly basis, but to no great benefit with regard to the numbers of animals being affected by TB. On a recent visit to a farm, I was surprised to hear the farmer explain his cattle had been tested over a period of months, but although they had lesions on their necks and were taken away and slaughtered, he received letters to say the animals were clear. As someone who does not have significant knowledge of farming, it struck me that we spend millions of euro on eradication programmes only to identify animals that are later deemed clear and then mix these animals with ones that have been diagnosed with TB. I understand too that one truck moves from farmyard to farmyard collecting these animals, but that truck could be carrying contamination into those other farms. It strikes me that our procedures do not add up.

We might discuss this issue or investigate it at some later stage.

We do not need any investigation but we do need a pragmatic approach. Can Dr. Wall tell us whether anybody ever rings the bell and calls time on systems like this that were put in place in the past? Does anybody ever suggest it is time to change the methodology and refocus on other areas?

I will restate the obvious. With regard to food, there are two jurisdictions on this island and we need harmonisation. Should we consider adopting any procedure pertaining in the other part of this island straight away? Does it have any procedure that is better than ours? Dr. Wall said there are positives and negatives in both areas.

Dr. Patrick Wall

I will try to answer those questions. We could get hung up on the issue of a single agency. In Ireland we have different people looking after different parts of the food chain. What we want is a team approach. If everyone works as part of a team, we can ensure the whole food chain is covered without gaps. We are not in a position to create a revolution in how we do things. We want to ensure that what we have operates in a cost effective manner.

We need our own laboratory capabilities to support proper, intensive surveillance. Currently we have to outsource some tests and that is expensive and can result in delays. However, in this instance, where we had to use the Central Science Laboratory in York, the technicians came in and worked on the Saturday. We would not have received the result any quicker if we had done it ourselves. Laboratories here have a relationship with the Central Science Laboratory in York and with the Rikilt laboratory in Holland, where they have an expertise we do not have yet. We need to develop testing facilities in Ireland so that we can do more testing and no longer have to outsource it.

Is it personnel or offices we need?

Dr. Patrick Wall

We have a good big building in Backweston.

Have we personnel with the expertise to do the testing?

Dr. Patrick Wall

There is no shortage of brain power in Ireland.

I informed the Deputy the other day that the premises in question will open within the next month.

Dr. Patrick Wall

That will be for dioxins, but we need another one for fingerprinting of bugs. We need to ramp up what we are doing. Senator Callely raised the point about procedures initiated 50 years ago. Clearly, some of these procedures are no longer appropriate. We need to modernise what we are doing. Science is continually evolving and we need to ensure we use the latest scientific methodologies in our inspectorate and controls. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has a veterinary inspection service. I lecture to veterinary students in UCD. They are some of the top students in the country. We have a phenomenal amount of brain power in the veterinary service in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the question is whether we are getting the maximum out of it with the latest scientific developments. Members of the committee can talk to them. I am sure they are capable of much more. We should always try to find a better way of doing things. We do things the way we do because, on the basis of the knowledge we have available, this is the procedure we put in place, but it would be daft for us to rest on our laurels. Therefore, the Deputy's point is well taken. We need to constantly push the boundaries back. Ireland, the food island, should be at the frontiers of science.

Do we not have a State laboratory facility and good human laboratories in hospitals, etc?

Dr. Patrick Wall

There is always room for improvement.

I thought disease control in this country was very good, considering how we dealt with the elimination of brucellosis and TB, the BSE crisis and the foot and mouth disease outbreak. We may be falling down on dioxins in food, but I thought we had a very good disease control system in place. As a farmer, it has cost me thousands in testing cattle for years.

Dr. Patrick Wall

There are more diseases than brucellosis and TB.

I know there are.

Those are very simple ones. What about BVD and IBR in cattle?

Dr. Patrick Wall

We have plenty of diseases we need to eliminate. I do not say that in criticism of Ireland. As a food island and a green island, we should be up there as the Rolls Royce. People should look up to us and say, "Wow." They should not be shocked when they think of us. Unfortunately, we needed to do this. It is a pity we did not have this inquiry before the dioxin issue arose and rev ourselves up to step up a gear. It is like snakes and ladders and now we are well down. We have considerable work to do to restore credibility. Even when we demand changes at EU level and want it to label imported products because they are shoddy, they will chuck this back at us for the foreseeable future.

What about the North?

Dr. Patrick Wall

The Deputy asked whether there was anything in the North that we could copy. As a good Free Stater, I would say there is very little.

It may be mutually beneficial.

Dr. Patrick Wall

This is an island. When we talk about Ireland, the food island, Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland farmers would both benefit. Have they got structures in place up there? It is much of a muchness. There would be considerable synergy if we worked together from an animal health point of view. Everybody is shopping in Newry now. Is that not the way it is?

Even Dr. Paisley called for that years ago.

Dr. Patrick Wall

As the song goes, we are surrounded by water. Ireland, the food island, includes all of us. The rising tide will lift all boats. There is no point in us introducing disease control initiatives if they do not do similar things in the North and vice versa. We would be pushing an open door in that regard. There is considerable duplication, but that is a discussion for another day.

On behalf of the committee, I thank Dr. Wall for coming to make his very comprehensive presentation and answer the questions raised. It was a pleasure listening to him.

The joint committee adjourned at 4.10 p.m. until 11 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 January 2009.