"Free trade has to be safe trade," said Dr Patrick Wall, chief executive of the Irish Food Safety Authority commenting on a new agreement in Ireland that aims to tighten up food safety procedures for imported foodstuffs of non-animal origin from third countries.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) confirmed on Wednesday that it has formalised an agreement with the customs and excise service of the Office of the Revenue Commissioners.
In effect, the agreement enables custom officials to work with the FSAI and the health board Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) on matters relating to the inspection of non-animal foodstuffs from third countries upon entry into Ireland.
Custom officers at all Irish ports will be able to prevent the release of the products onto the market if the products are a serious and immediate risk to public health, not accompanied by the correct documentation, or not labelled in compliance with food legislation.
Dr Patrick Wall, chief executive, FSAI commented: "The FSAI is continually seeking an enhancement of food safety standards from Irish food businesses, it would be inequitable and unfair if our demands for high standards makes them uncompetitive and they lose their market share to products from abroad which have not met the same exacting standards.
Ports and airports are important to ensure that every product entering the member states from outside the EU complies with all the relevant EU legislation. They are the gateways to the EU single market and if consumers are to be confident in all food, irrespective of its source, then the ports and airports must all function effectively and have thorough monitoring and inspection procedures."
Speaking at the announcement, Revenue Commissioner Josephine Feehily, said: "There is a very good working relationship and co-operation between Customs Officers and EHOs at local level regarding the importation of non-animal food products into Ireland from non-EU countries. I am pleased that this Memorandum of Understanding has achieved a clear definition of the roles and responsibilities of both parties."
Dr Wall concluded by stating that Ireland operates in the Single Market, but a level playing field is required if the Single Market is to function effectively.
"Free trade has to be safe trade and consumers' health cannot be compromised. Today's announcement is a part of the process to safeguard consumers' health and allow free trade to continue but with checks in place to prevent unsafe imported foodstuffs entering the country. Illegal and criminal activity will not be tolerated," said Dr Wall.