Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Questions (951, 953, 958, 960, 961)

Denis Naughten

Question:

951. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if mechanical grading machines' tolerance for fat class is at least 88% of the predictions should be within one sub-class of the reference panel score; if more modern grading machines can provide a more accurate assessment of fat class; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12749/19]

View answer

Denis Naughten

Question:

953. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to increase the frequency of inspections of mechanical grading machines in view of the identification of the failure by his Department on 21 occasions in the past two years; if he will require the compilation of daily reports on the operation of the equipment and reports of the machines miscalculating grades as is required by his UK counterpart; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12772/19]

View answer

Denis Naughten

Question:

958. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if UK compliance standards as outlined during the second Topical Issue matter of 6 March 2019 are applied to mechanical grading machines operated in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12777/19]

View answer

Denis Naughten

Question:

960. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to Parliamentary Question Nos. 535 to 537 of 12 February 2019, the figures for 2015, 2016 and to date in 2019, respectively for the number of machines found to be operating outside the approved tolerance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12767/19]

View answer

Denis Naughten

Question:

961. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine further to the second Topical Issue matter of 6 March 2019, the number of inspections in the 23 plants with mechanical grading and in the nine plants without mechanical grading, respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12768/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 951, 953, 958, 960 and 961 together.

Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2017/1182 lays down the guidelines for authorisation of an automated grading method for beef. It specifies the conditions and minimum requirements for authorisation. It states that to estimate the performance of the automated grading method, the results of the automated grading method shall, for each validated carcass, be compared to the median of the results of the jury. The resulting accuracy of the grading by automated grading methods is established by using a system of points.

With a view to authorisation, the automated grading methods should achieve at least 60 % of the maximum number of points for both conformation and fat cover. There is no mention of 88% accuracy in the legislation.

Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2017/1184 of 20 April 2017 governs the monitoring of carcase classification, carcase presentation and weighing. In 2016, my Department conducted approximately 600 unannounced, on-the-spot inspections in 32 factories on classification. In 2015, there were approximately 550 inspections conducted. In 2018, my Department conducted almost 550 unannounced, on-the-spot inspections. The controls applied in Ireland are significantly in excess of those required under EU Law.

To look at mechanical versus manual, in 2018 there were 412 inspections conducted in the 23 Mechanical plants and 136 conducted in the 9 manual plants. This is an average of 17 inspections per factory per year across all inspections, which significantly exceeds the legal minimum requirement of 8 inspections per year.

There were 11 instances in 2016 and 5 instances in 2015 when factories were instructed to revert to manual classification when a machine was found to be working outside of tolerance by my inspectors. To date in 2019, 1 machine has been placed in test mode. Machines operating outside of tolerance are required to be serviced, and the calibration is checked by staff from my Department before mechanical grading recommences.

The EU legislation specifies how on-the-spot checks shall be carried out in all slaughterhouses applying compulsory carcase classification. According to this legislation, on-the-spot checks shall be performed in all slaughterhouses which slaughter 150 or more bovine animals per week at least twice every three months. The legislation stipulates that each on-the-spot check shall relate to at least 40 carcasses selected at random.

In the UK and in Northern Ireland, it is individual factories, not the competent authority, who conduct performance checks on the mechanical classification machines on a daily basis.

Regarding new technologies, my Department is supervising an industry-led trial which is examining the latest technology in terms of cameras and lights for use in the mechanical classification system. The trial is examining the effectiveness of using digital cameras and LED lights as part of the carcase classification system. This trial is at an advanced stage and I intend to publish a report of the trial from an independent expert supervising the trial in due course.

Subject to confirmation of effectiveness, the Department would expect the industry move to implement this technology in due course though this is a commercial decision. The Department is satisfied that the existing system is compliant with the relevant EU Regulations.