Tuesday, 27 June 2006
Dáil Eireann Debate
35. Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on the enforcement of the food labelling laws; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [23647/06]
Mr. B. Smith: The enforcement of food labelling regulations is centralised in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, which ensures that the appropriate controls are carried out by the relevant official agencies. The official agencies include the Health Service Executive, my Department, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs and the local authorities.
My Department is in touch with officials of the FSAI on an ongoing basis and regular meetings are held to discuss a wide range of issues. Any issues that arise in the enforcement of food legislation, including enforcement of labelling legislation, are discussed where necessary, in this context. For instance, during the drafting of the recently made country of origin labelling regulations extending requirements in this area to the catering sector, my Department had extensive consultations with the FSAI including a number of meetings on the specific issues arising and in particular regarding the enforcement provisions in the legislation.
Mr. Naughten: I have raised this issue with the Minister of State before regarding the 92 food businesses surveyed by the FSAI in 2004. During that survey it was found that consumers were regularly being misled on the country of origin of beef, chicken and salmon. Salmon is not relevant to this debate. South American beef was being labelled and marketed as Irish. Belgian chicken was being labelled as produced in Ireland. In one fifth of shops and supermarkets the information on loose and packaged beef was inadequate to meet the beef labelling regulations. That issue was brought to the attention of the Department of Agriculture and Food almost 18 months ago. What steps have been taken to ensure that type of abuse no longer happens and that when the FSAI completes the subsequent study it was supposed to complete last year and which will be done this year, these anomalies will not arise again?
Mr. B. Smith: As Deputy Naughten knows, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act 1998 contains the enforcement provisions the FSAI can implement, including enforcement orders and improvement notices and orders. The FSAI was established under that legislation and is a statutory, independent body whose job is to protect food hygiene and safety for consumers. It does that well. The specific issues the Deputy raised are matters for the FSAI and do not come under the Department of Agriculture and Food. I thought the Deputy’s question would relate to the welcome measure introduced on 3 July on the country of origin of beef. Deputies Naughten and Upton and many Members on this side of the House consistently raise the need for these measures to be implemented. We are glad that the necessary primary legislation was put through by the Department of Health and Children.
Mr. B. Smith: We appreciate the work and interest of the Tánaiste in that regard. People in general are concerned about labelling, as surveys have shown. The Minister has raised at European level the need for further advances in this area. We have made advances on beef and the regulations will be in place from 3 July. The Minister has also raised with the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection the need to make progress on labelling, particularly of poultry, and on substantial transformation which has been regularly raised here.
In recent weeks the Commission has been reviewing food labelling. We told the public, different organisations and individual Members of the Oireachtas that they should contribute their views to this consultative process. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, also issued an invitation to groups or individuals to submit their views.
It is significant that the Commission has accepted the need to review this legislation. We would like to achieve substantive progress at European level on more safeguard mechanisms for food labelling and transparency etc. Legislation passed by these Houses earlier this year included the provision that we can extend our labelling from beef to the other meats, such as sheep and pig meat, and to poultry. We have been extremely active in the area of labelling.
The labelling group report published at the end of December 2002 contained 21 major recommendations, 19 of which have been implemented before the new regulations on labelling of beef are introduced. The remaining ones relate to the country of origin of other meats too. There has been substantial progress in this area. We continue to push hard at European level for further advances, particularly in respect of substantial transformation and the inclusion of poultry and other meats in the context of labelling.
Mr. Crawford: I welcome the agreement on beef labelling but the meat that most seriously needs labelling is poultry. When will that be brought into force? The information given to the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food suggested that very little progress was being made. Poultry producers and consumers are anxious about this because they have no idea where poultry meat comes from, what label it wears and what changes of label are being made on boxes brought in here.
Mr. B. Smith: The Minister consistently raises substantial transformation at the Council of Ministers meeting and at meetings with the Agriculture Commissioner and with Commissioner Kyprianou as well. Yesterday a week ago she raised it at the most recent meeting of the Council of Ministers. It is of interest to the producer, the processor and the consumer.
We have put forward our concerns on this issue very strongly and identified the areas where we believe it needs to be addressed. We hope progress will also be made on the basis of the recent consultative document produced by the Commission. We will keep this issue at the top of the agenda.
Dr. Upton: While I welcome the progress being made for 3 July, it is long overdue. Scarcely a week goes by without some issue arising about labelling, lack of it, or mis-labelling on foods. For example, a couple of weeks ago it was found that Irish honey contained honey from China. The best way to establish the origin of a carton of eggs is to take a peek at the underside of the carton and if one can interpret the code number one will know whether it comes from Ireland, the Czech Republic, Germany, or wherever.
The Food Safety Authority lacks resources to ensure that all Irish products can be guaranteed to be what they should be and that the labelling is adequate. I urge the Minister of State to ensure those facilities are provided to the Food Safety Authority, in so far as he is involved in that decision.
Mr. Naughten: I accept the Minister of State’s point about labelling but the Food Safety Authority has highlighted the Department’s failure to police and licence the legislation. What is the Minister of State doing to ensure the current legislation is enforced?
Mr. B. Smith: The enforcement of food labelling regulations is centralised in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland which ensures that the appropriate controls are carried out by the relevant official agencies.
In response to Deputy Upton, the FSAI stated that in a survey of 20 randomly selected Irish honeys sourced from various manufacturers four were found not to be Irish. The FSAI is working with the various people involved with the retailers to ensure the affected products are removed from sale. It will apply the sanctions appropriate to this issue.
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