Thursday, 29 January 2004

Questions (85)

Róisín Shortall


82 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the protections in place to ensure that imported meat from outside the EU is screened for health risks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2571/04]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Agriculture and Food)

Under Community law it is a requirement that imported meat from outside the EU has been sourced from an approved establishment, whether that is a slaughterhouse, cutting plant or cold store. It must also be accompanied to its destination by a commercial document or health certificate that bears the identity of the establishment from which the beef has been despatched.

Under EU harmonised rules, imports into the European Union from third countries must have been sourced in premises and in countries which are approved by the European Commission's Food and Veterinary Office, FVO. This office carries out inspections to ensure that only establishments that meet hygiene and health standards equivalent to those operating within the EU are approved. The evaluation of third countries is on the following basis: there are systems in place for the rapid detection, reporting and confirmation of list A diseases of the Office International des Epizooties, OIE; there is access to laboratory facilities that allow detection and confirmation to take place; there are animal disease control systems in place whose operation and outcome must be recorded and demonstrable, e.g. registration of holdings, animal identification and movement controls; there are operational contingency plans for the control of and/or the eradication of OIE list diseases; and that the import policy in the country, including its controls, as well as the animal health situation in neighbouring countries have been assessed as acceptable.

Where the FVO is not satisfied that public health requirements are being met by an approved establishment in a third country, the establishment may be removed from the EU approved list. If outbreaks of animal diseases occur in a third country, approval to export to the EU is suspended for the infected regions of the country, or the whole country, as appropriate, until the disease risk has been eliminated.

Meat being imported into the European Community may only enter through a border inspection post, BIP, that has been approved by the FVO. That office also carries out monitoring and inspection of each member state's BIPs to ensure that the facilities and procedures for import of animal products into Europe, provided under harmonised EU legislation, are being correctly applied. In Ireland, the border inspection posts approved for administering checks on direct imports of meat from third countries are Dublin Port and Shannon Airport and these posts are staffed by officials from my Department.

In addition, importers must be registered with my Department. They must give advance notice of the arrival of meat. Imported meat must be accompanied by the appropriate commercial documentation which shows country and approval number of the establishment of production as well as a health certificate which conforms to the models set down in EU legislation. The meat must also be appropriately labelled. All consignments undergo a documentary and identity check and physical checks are carried out at frequencies laid down in EU law. Where required, sampling for laboratory analysis for the purposes of safeguarding human and animal health is carried out. Once imported, meat has met all the required conditions it is released for free circulation within the community. Copies of the BIP clearance document and the health certificate must accompany the consignment to its declared destination.

Imports failing to comply with these veterinary control checks may be detained for further examination. If non-compliance is established they are returned to the exporting country or destroyed.