The onus of compliance with EU food safety regulations, including traceability requirements, rests in the first instance with food business operators. My Department maintains a permanent presence in approved slaughter plants. Regular visits are made to other Department approved meat plants. The frequency of these inspections in plants other than slaughter plants, which focus primarily on food safety requirements, is determined by a risk assessment, as required under EU legislation, which is conducted for each plant. My Department has been able to reduce the number of inspections at non-slaughter meat plants, where there is no permanent supervisory presence, by moving to a more robust and rigorous targeted system of official controls, based on the risk assessments mentioned above. Official controls and inspections levels are monitored independently by the EU Food and Veterinary Office and by the FSAI under service contract.
Food business operators in Ireland are responsible inter alia for carrying out checks to ensure that their ingredients come from approved plants. In meat plants that operate under the supervision of the Department, official controls are conducted on these checks to verify their effectiveness. An annual audit of imported products is carried out in each Department approved meat plant. Labelling and documentary checks also form part of the routine checks conducted by Department officials.
Under the Department’s National Residue Programme, and including tests on bovine samples carried out by processors, up to 30,000 samples taken at farm and factory level and covering a wide range of food stuffs are tested annually. These tests relate to microbiological and chemical standards, their primary focus being on food safety and are fully in accordance with EU testing requirements. In addition the Product Official Sampling and Testing (POST) programme is a microbiological testing programme on samples taken from Department approved ready-to-eat food, meat product, minced meat and meat preparation plants i.e. added value plants. This is part of the official verification of food safety controls in the plants concerned as provided for in Regulations (EC) 852/2004, 854/2004 and 2073/2005. A total of 1,600 samples are taken annually and the sampling and testing is risk based.
Compliance with existing food safety and food hygiene requirements was not an issue in relation to the mislabelling of meat products uncovered by the recent FSAI survey. It is clear however that the focus of checks henceforth will also need to include food authenticity. The ongoing national programme and recent EU wide programme of DNA testing provides further reassurance to Irish consumers and consumers of Irish food abroad about the authenticity of ingredients in our beef based products.