Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Questions (198)

Bernard Durkan


198. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the extent to which he remains satisfied regarding the reliability of labelling and traceability structures throughout the food industry with particular reference to imports from third countries; the average number of checks or tests carried out in 2018 and 2019; the way in which this compares with previous years; the number of cases detected which indicate a failure to meet the required standards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49445/19]

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Written answers (Question to Agriculture)

Food products placed on the marketplace are covered by a range of legislation designed to ensure that products supplied to consumers are of the highest safety standards.  My Department plays a part in the enforcement of this legislation along with other Government departments and State Agencies such as the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) and the Health Service Executive. The FSAI is the body responsible for enforcement of regulations governing traceability, labelling and provision of food information to customers.

Primary responsibility under EU law for the safety and traceability of food placed on the market lies with food business operators. The role of National Competent Agencies is to verify compliance with this requirement. This is done via a combination of inspecting establishments and auditing the food safety management systems which operators have in place. These controls are applied at different stages in the food supply chain. Regulation (EC) No. 178 of 2002 sets out the general principles and requirements of EU food law and stipulates that food business operators must, at all stages of production, processing and distribution within their business, ensure food law requirements are satisfied. In regard to traceability, the regulations require that food business operators have what is referred to as the ‘one step forward, one step backward’ traceability system. There are additional requirements for certain fishery and aquaculture products under the Control Regulation (Regulation 1224/2009 and Implementing Regulation 404/2011) from first sale to subsequent stages of production, processing and distribution up to retail.  

My Department has a permanent veterinary presence at all of its approved slaughter plants. Controls at plants only engaged in secondary processing are carried out at a frequency based on an annual risk assessment. An annual audit of imported products is carried out in each Department-approved plant, including checks on physical identity, labelling and documentary checks.

Extra veterinary checks are carried out on selected consignments of foods imported into DAFM-approved establishments from other EU Member States or from Third Countries outside the EU. These checks include, physical checks of product condition, checks of accompanying documentation and checks of labelling and health markings.

The import of products of animal origin from third countries is governed by a comprehensive and robust legislative framework laid down at EU level, controlled by Member States in the first instance, and audited by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Health and Food Safety (formally the FVO), to ensure compliance with all of the relevant food safety standards. The legislation imposes health and supervisory requirements designed to ensure that imported products meet standards equivalent to those required for production and trade between Member States. Border Inspection Posts are operated by my Department. Import control procedures on products of animal and fish origin are highly prescriptive and strictly audited by the Commission to ensure compliance. Inspection reports are published on the Directorate General for Health and Food Safety’s website.

I am satisfied that the controls and checks in place and enforced by my Department ensure that Irish consumers are protected and correctly informed when they purchase and consume food products. Checks for products of animal origin numbered 2,858 in 2018 and 2,898 to date in 2019. All consignments are documentary and identity checked and physical checks, including sampling of products, are carried out according to European regulations. 

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has service contracts in place with the official agencies performing official controls, to verify compliance with the extensive requirements of food labelling legislation, in these establishments.  The FSAI reports in detail on the number of inspections and checks carried out, and non-compliance findings.