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Irish food safety system condemned after pork dioxin scandal

By Rory Harrington , 29-May-2009

The current system for monitoring and tracing Irish pork is inadequate and should be overhauled urgently, a highly critical report from the country’s Parliament has said.

The body’s agriculture committee delivered its damning verdict on Ireland’s food safety systems in the wake of the dioxin contamination of Irish pork products at the end of last year which cost the domestic industry EUR 100 million, according to the Irish Association of Pigmeat Processors.

Committee Chairman Johnny Brady TD said the Irish pigmeat industry was hugely important. In 2007, 188,000 tonnes of pigmeat were produced valued at EUR 368 million, while the industry employed 7,000 people.

“It is because of this significance that the Committee decided to undertake this investigation into the dioxin contamination incident, with a view to identifying lessons for the future," he said.

 

System ineffective

 

The report declared that the present traceability regime operating for Irish pork products was simply not working. It said an effective traceability system would have been able to ensure only contaminated meat was recalled after dioxin-tainted animal feed was given to pigs on just 10 of Ireland’s 500 pig farms. Instead, the “absence of an effective traceability scheme necessitated a 100 per cent recall of product for a 10 per cent contamination rate”, said the group.

 

A committee statement said: “The present system for monitoring and tracing Irish pork products is ineffective and significant changes are required in order to avoid a repeat of the total recall of Irish pork products.”

 

Government rethink needed

 

In a wide-ranging review, the committee urged the government to rethink its proposal to amalgamate the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) with the Irish Medicines Board and the Office of Tobacco Control amid fears the merger “could endanger the reputation and focus of the organization”.

 

The current arrangement of numerous agencies responsible for food safety operating under service level agreements with the FSAI was dismissed as “not satisfactory” by the members, who also called for the remit of FSAI to be extended to cover both animal feed and food.

 

It also condemned as “unacceptable” that the food recycling centre owned by Millstream Recycling, the firm at the centre of the contamination incident, was not inspected at all in 2008. It is believed the contamination was caused by the use of improper oil to power the drying process in production of animal feed.

 

However, the committee said it was particularly concerned that even if the plant had been inspected the problem would not have been discovered because HACCP programmes have not included oil contamination as a potential hazard, and there are no EU regulations requiring the sampling of oil used in feed processing.

 

“The Committee is at a loss to understand this, and would urge the rectification of the situation as a matter of urgency”, said the report.

 

Members also condemned some retailers who have attempted to seek compensation from producers for loss of profit as well as cost of products recalled.

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