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Maintaining Confidence in the Food Chain

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food continues to place huge emphasis on safety and quality. Over many years the Department has driven up standards and has contributed to the international recognition of Ireland as a centre of excellence for food production. 

Food Safety Governmental Bodies

There is continued collaboration between Departments and relevant agencies on the development of food safety policy and legislation. The following are the main bodies involved with Food Safety issues in Ireland:

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is a statutory, independent, science based agency dedicated to protecting public health and consumer interests in food safety and hygiene.

Sea Fisheries Protection Authority was established in 2007. It has functions in relation to the enforcement of food safety legislation in respect of fish and fish products.

The Food Safety Promotion Board, now known as Safefood[1]  was established in 1999 to foster and maintain confidence in the food supply on the island of Ireland by working in partnership with others to protect and improve the public's health

At EU level, The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is an independent European agency dedicated to improving consumer confidence by providing independent scientific advice and clear communication on all matters related to food safety.

[1]Safefood (formerly known as FSPB). It's purpose is to foster and maintain confidence in the food supply in the island of Ireland by working in partnership with others to protect and improve the publics' health. 

Animal Health

With food safety in mind, a number of national schemes is in place to ensure the identification and traceability of animals/meat. These systems provide further assurances to consumers of the safety of Irish meat and have benefits in terms of disease control and monitoring. In Ireland, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food operates the control and eradication measures for BSE, Bovine Tuberculosis and Brucellosis. This involves a combination of testing, routine inspections and investigations and mandatory and voluntary reporting and codes of practice. DAFF is also a significant stakeholder and funder of Animal Health Ireland (AHI), established in January 2009, which is an industry-led, not-for-profit partnership between livestock producers, processors, animal health advisers and government. Its remit includes diseases and conditions of cattle that are endemic in Ireland, but which are not currently subject to regulation and coordinated programmes of control. A decreased burden of these diseases in the national cattle herd benefits consumers and the industry by reducing the need for veterinary treatments and by improving the processability of animal products.

There has been a continued improvement in the overall disease situation in recent years as illustrated in Figures 6.7 to 6.9. The incidence of BSE has fallen dramatically in recent years (Figure 6.7) which confirms that the control measures adopted in the mid-nineties were effective in reducing the exposure of cattle born after that time.

Figure6.7 

Ireland is free of Brucellosis in sheep, pigs and cattle. There has been no outbreak of Brucellosis in cattle in Ireland since April 2006 and Ireland obtained Official Brucellosis Free status in July 2009, following which a controlled reduction in Brucellosis testing requirements is being implemented. The main changes made to the testing regime since the attainment of Brucellosis free status are as follows:
 
the age threshold for annual round testing has been increased from 12 to 24 months;
all herds are to be tested every second year in the annual round;
the validity period of the pre-movement test has been increased from 30 days to 60 days;
and the age-limit for the pre-movement test for female animals has been  increased from 12 to 18 months and, in view of the lower risk attached to their movement, to 24 months for bulls.
These changes are estimated to reduce the cost of testing to farmers by approximately €7 million per annum compared with the position prior to the attainment of officially Brucellosis free status.

Figure6.8 

With regard to bovine TB, the incidence of this disease has continued to decline. Herd incidence in 2010 was 4.65% compared with 5.1% in 2009. The number of TB reactors in 2010 was 20,211, which was 3,594 lower than in 2009 (-15%). (Figure 6.9). These disease indicators were the lowest for many years.

Figure6.9 

Total expenditure for the TB and Brucellosis Programmes in 2010 was €40m, 23% lower than in 2009 (€52m). This reduction in expenditure was mainly as a result of a decrease in the number TB reactor numbers, reduced compensation payments arising from lower cattle prices and changes to the Brucellosis testing arrangements.

Veterinary Medicines

Veterinary medicines and vaccines play a crucial role in ensuring that Ireland's animal population, particularly those animal species which are a source of food, remains healthy. A robust and up to date legislative code is in place to ensure that only authorized medicines are used and that the specifications governing their distribution and use are observed. A further important safeguard for consumers is provided by the National Residue Plan under which extensive monitoring of animals and animal products takes place. Tests are carried out for a wide range of substances, including banned products, violative residues of authorized products and environmental contaminants. 

In a typical year, in the region of 25,000 samples are tested. The overall safety of Irish food is demonstrated by the fact that levels of positives have consistently been at very low levels over a number of years (less than 1%). A further reassuring aspect of the results is that there continues to be no evidence of the use of banned substances in food animals in Ireland. 

In the case of each residue breach identified, a consumer risk assessment is carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to evaluate any threat to human health and to assess if food should be withdrawn from the market. In addition, all positive results are followed up to the farm of origin to determine the cause and enforcement action, including a penalty on the farmers Single Farm Payment or legal action, is taken as appropriate.