Tuesday, 23 November 2004
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. O’Dowd: I thank the Chair for selecting this matter for discussion. When I realised what time this would be dealt with I thought that perhaps I would be live on “Oireachtas Report”. I do not know whether that is the case, but if it is I say “hello” to all the people watching.
This is a very serious issue. It was the subject of a story in the Drogheda Independent recently on foot of a court case which is proceeding in Dublin. It was also covered in The Sunday Tribune as a lead story last Sunday week and also last Sunday. I understand that there are legal proceedings in train and that the Minister cannot comment on those.
Let me make it clear that I am not asking him to comment. However, I would like him to reassure the public that everything is in order. I have spoken to the Assistant Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture and food, Mr. Tom Moran. I have also met the chief veterinary officer of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and a senior inspector in the Department of Agriculture and Food. I am satisfied that they are making every effort to clarify the position. There is one final step that must be taken and that is that the Minister for Agriculture and Food must commission an independent report into all of the allegations that have been made. It should be an independent assessment and it should be done as quickly as possible. If that is done it will clarify the issue for everybody concerned.
I thank the Department of Agriculture and Food for meeting me and explaining the intricacies of the situation. My concern and that of the public, notwithstanding everything we have been told, is to have an independent risk assessment of the situation. I urge the Minister to have that carried out immediately.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. B. Smith): My Department and two other defendants are currently being sued in the High Court by a company in Drogheda which had been contracted by one of the defendants, but not by my Department, to store tallow derived from specified risk material. The plaintiff alleges that it was unaware of the nature of the tallow put into storage at its premises. The specific allegation to which the Deputy referred is based on a statement made in the course of the case by a former employee of the company. My Department does not accept this allegation. I will not comment on the specifics of the case, other than to state that my Department and the other two defendants are vigorously defending their position in court. I will, however, make some general comments on tallow and any health risks that might or might not be associated with it.
Tallow is a by-product of the meat slaughter industry. Rendering of animal by-products, including tallow, takes place in nine rendering plants in the State, which are all approved by my Department under European Union legislation. The standards applied are set in line with best EU practice, which itself is based on the latest scientific knowledge. The overarching EU BSE controls, including the rendering process criteria and the approved disposal methods for animal by-products are regularly reviewed by the EU scientific steering committee. This committee, which is the main advisory body to the EU Commission on BSE, regularly reports to the Community institutions on developments in this area. The EU Food and Veterinary Office also audits, on an ongoing basis, the implementation of EU legislation by member states.
The rendering process prescribed in EU legislation is essentially a series of moisture and fat reduction steps that transform the by-products into meat, bonemeal and tallow. Meat and bonemeal is a solid dry substance whereas tallow is oil. My Department in line with EU legislation regulates storage, handling, transport and export for destruction of these products.
The role of meat and bonemeal in the development of BSE in animals is well established. It is accepted that the vast majority of BSE cases have been caused by the consumption by cattle of contaminated animal feed. It has never been demonstrated that tallow is a cause of BSE. Any risk that might arise with tallow relates to the presence of protein in that product. From February 1997, Ireland, as part of its national BSE control measures, introduced arrangements for removal and destruction of specified risk materials. Part of this system was the designation of a specific rendering plant to process this material. The resultant SRM meat, bonemeal and tallow could only be sent out of the country for incineration.
Risk assessments carried out on SRM tallow have demonstrated that there is negligible risk associated with it in the event of its being consumed by cattle. In the case of consumption by humans, due primarily to the species barrier any risk potential would be further significantly reduced. Any health risks associated with animal by-products, including tallow, are the subject of regular consultation between my Department and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. I stress that these products do not go into the human or animal food chain and are disposed of by incineration or co-incineration.
Numerous inaccurate statements have been made recently in regard to BSE. The best approach to dealing with a subject such as BSE is to concentrate on what is known to be sound and agreed scientific fact. I have set out the facts on this and hope what I have said puts the Deputy’s mind at ease.
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