Fodder Crisis

Questions (183)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

183. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if arising from the experience of the past two years where poor weather conditions have affected the production of adequate animal fodder, any particular initiatives are likely to focus on production methods most likely to succeed in the event of poor weather conditions in the coming season with particular reference to husbandry and animal feed production methods; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21791/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

As the situation stands Teagasc is dispensing substantial amounts of technical/nutritional information in terms of fodder needs on farms arising from the difficult weather situation prevailing from summer 2012. Teagasc advisors are working with farmers on the ground to provide advice as to how to stretch existing fodder supplies and are available to support farmers in need of assistance.

Farm organisations are also working at a local level with farmers, disseminating information through text messages, advising farmers with surplus fodder to make it available on a commercial basis to their neighbours who have fodder shortages and sourcing fodder abroad. The Irish Diary Board, IFA and agri-businesses launched more than €3m of extra fodder aid for farmers this week. The co-ops have also agreed to consider the introduction of interest free credit, within limits, to farmers for the purchase of fertiliser, limited to the month of May. A number of co-ops have confirmed participation in this initiative. This is aimed at ensuring farmers are supported in driving grass production in the months ahead providing fodder for next winter. Grass is the cheapest fodder source on all farms. In this regard I have asked Teagasc’s advisory service to prioritise advice to farmers in the period ahead.

While access to fodder is a priority, grass growth in the months ahead will be the key to ensuring that this problem is overcome. I have been in regular contact with the banks, co-ops and feed merchants and I have urged the greatest degree of flexibility, co–operation and support for farmers at this challenging time given the difficult conditions being experienced by many farmers. Both banks and co-ops have asked farmers to contact them to discuss the terms that are available and have indicated that they will show flexibility on the basis that the longer term outlook for farming is positive and prices are strong across most areas.

Animal Welfare Issues

Questions (184)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

184. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent to which poultry and pig producers have been in a position to comply with animal welfare directives requiring extra housing accommodation for sow and poultry units; if the local authorities have been in a position to facilitate the expeditious process of applications; the extent to which he has received any communication from the various regions in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21792/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I am aware of the difficulties which have been faced by a small number of pig producers in obtaining planning permission for the investment works which are required to be carried out on their farms in order to meet the new EU animal welfare standards which came into effect for the sector on 1 January 2013. In order to assist such farmers, I extended the closing-date for receipt of applications under the TAMS Sow Welfare Scheme on three occasions, with a final date for receipt of applications of Friday, 3 May 2013. In the case of the TAMS Poultry Welfare Scheme, the closing-date for receipt of applications was 12 August 2011. My Department maintains regular contact with the relevant local authorities in regard to issues which arise in relation to planning permission for the construction of animal housing which is required in order to comply with the new EU animal welfare standards concerned.

Animal Welfare Issues

Questions (185)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

185. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if his attention has been drawn to the fact that his Department will not accept certification by an appropriate planning professional to the effect that some accommodation developments required for compliance with animal welfare legislation are largely in accord the respective planning applications as is normally the practice where a slight variation with plans submitted occurs; if a means can be found to resolve such issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21793/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I assume the Deputy refers to the terms of both the TAMS Sow Welfare and Poultry Welfare Schemes. Under the terms of both Schemes, each grant application must be accompanied by either full planning permission or a declaration of exemption issued by the relevant local authority. Where a small variation occurs between the approved dimensions and the completed structure, the applicant is required to get confirmation from the relevant local authority that the completed structure is in compliance with the terms and conditions of the planning permission. As both Schemes are now closed for applications, I have no plans to amend with retroactive effect the provisions of either Scheme.

Beef Industry Irregularities

Questions (186)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

186. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he is satisfied that all the issues that arose culminating in the inclusion of horsemeat in beef burgers have been resolved satisfactorily to the satisfaction of his Department and that of the European Union, in this country and throughout the EU; if he is satisfied that the various procedures in place are being strictly observed in the spirit of the letter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21794/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

The report on ‘Equine DNA and Mislabelling of Processed Beef Investigation’ which I released on 14 March 2013 sets out a range of actions being taken in relation to this issue at both national and EU level. These include a programme of DNA testing of beef products and testing of horse meat for the presence of phenylbutazone. Meat traders/agents will be required to register as food business operators. Controls relating to horse identification are being strengthened and my Department is taking responsibility for the supervision of all horse abattoirs in Ireland.

The report clearly detailed the outcome of the comprehensive investigation which involved my Department’s special investigation unit and the Garda authorities. Information in relation to activities by traders and other intermediaries in the supply chain outside of the jurisdiction has been passed to Europol and other Member States to facilitate continuing investigations in other Member States. The Irish authorities remain fully open to assisting any other Member State or entity with regard to ongoing investigations in other jurisdictions and will continue to do so in a transparent manner, as has been the practice throughout the equine DNA investigation.

On 16 April results were published of the EU wide testing programme for equine DNA in beef products and phenylbutazone (bute) in horse carcases. The results showed that, across the EU, there were 4,144 tests under the equine DNA programme of which 193 were positive. In Ireland, all of the results of the 50 DNA tests on Irish beef products under the EU programme were negative. In addition there were 7,951 tests reported for equine DNA carried out by food business operators across the EU, of which 110 were positive. Under the Irish national DNA testing regime the results of 2185 DNA tests published by the FSAI to date showed only a small number of positives (32 representing 9 products), all of which were published previously and related to products withdrawn from the market.

In relation to the EU programme for bute testing there were 16 positives from 3,115 tests. In Ireland of the 840 tests carried out on horse carcases for bute, only one was positive. The carcase concerned was destroyed and the case is under investigation.

The EU Commission is also pursuing an action plan over the remainder of 2013 and into 2014 which includes specific actions and measures on the following basic elements: fighting food fraud, testing programmes, horse passports, official controls and origin labelling. It is important that controls in this area are strengthened on a pan European basis, not just at national level, and as stated in the report some of the measures envisaged will require legislative change at EU level. The fact that our control regime here uncovered this problem shows our commitment to maintaining the worldwide reputation of Irish food. Ireland will continue to show leadership on this issue, both nationally and in Europe.

Food Labelling

Questions (187, 188, 190)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

187. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he is satisfied regarding the adequacy and accuracy of food and food-product labelling with particular reference to full traceability to country and location of origin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21795/13]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

188. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he is satisfied regarding the adequacy and frequency of checks and inspections in respect of food and food-product labelling here and throughout the European Union with particular reference to the need to preserve the integrity of the food industry and recognise its importance to this economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21796/13]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

190. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he is satisfied regarding the adequacy and veracity of food-labelling indicating country of origin, husbandry, hygiene and production in the food industry here and throughout the European Union. [21798/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 187, 188 and 190 together.

As the Deputy will be aware the Minister for Health has overall responsibility for the general food labelling legislation and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has overall responsibility for enforcement of food labelling regulations. In this context the new EU food information regulations Food Information for the Consumer (FIC) Regulation (1169/2011EC) were adopted by the Council of Health Ministers in December 2011. The Principle of the Food Labelling Directive is that the consumer shall rightly expect not to be misled by inaccurate labelling and must have confidence in knowing what they are eating. The FIC extend explicit compulsory origin labelling requirements to meats other than beef, with the detailed rules to be adopted in implementing acts by 13 December 2013, following an impact assessment by the Commission.

The FIC regulation also adopts rules on compulsory labelling where the origin or place of provenance of a food is given and where it is not the same as its primary ingredient. Insofar as meat as an ingredient is concerned, these rules are subject to the adoption of implementing acts, which must take account of an impact assessment to be carried out by the Commission. As a result of the recent incidents of horsemeat being discovered in beef burgers and other beef products the Commission have now agreed to bring forward their work on this aspect of the regulation to September this year.

General Beef labelling Rules

Country of origin labelling was initially implemented in respect of beef and certain beef products. In general, all fresh, frozen or minced beef marketed in the EU (with the exception of offal) is subject to a mandatory system of origin traceability and origin labelling. The purpose of these rules is to ensure that beef on sale can be traced back to the animal or group of animals from which it came.

There are two elements to the beef labelling regime which apply to all parts of the supply chain: the compulsory system, which requires food business operators to label their beef products (unless cooked or processed) with certain prescribed information up to and including the point of sale to the consumer; and the voluntary system, which covers any other labelling claim that processors or retailers wish to make concerning the origin, characteristics or production methods of the beef they are supplying. The claims made on product labels, marketing material or point of sale notices must be clear and cannot be misleading.

Formed meat

Also in the FIC regulation (Annex VI) in the case of meat products, meat preparations which may give the impression that they are made of a whole piece of meat, but actually consist of different pieces combined together by other ingredients, including food additives and food enzymes or by other means, shall bear the words “formed meat” on the label.

Food Safety Standards Regulation

Questions (189)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

189. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent to which regular monitoring of meat processing plants is carried out to ensure compliance with regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21797/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

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.