O’REILLY WELCOMES MINISTER COVENY’S IMMEDIATE ACTION TO REASSURE CONSUMERS FOLLOWING FSAI SURVEY OF BEEF BURGERS

Fine Gael TD for Cavan and Monaghan, Deputy Joe O’Reilly, welcomed the statement from Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney TD, that on receipt of the information from the FSAI, his Department immediately commenced an investigation to determine the source of the equine products found in beef burgers.

‘I welcome Minister Coveney’s reassurement that there is no food safety risk here in the consumption of any of these burgers and that he has taken the necessary intervention to ensure that our national standards and quality of our Beef products are upheld’ stated the Deputy.
‘I am proud of all our local food processing industries and I fully recognise what an important and vital part that they play in the Cavan and Monaghan region, in terms of quality employment and the pivotal role they play in the local economy. I welcome the news that senior management of the industries involved have stated that they are going to isolate, withdraw and replace all suspect products and launch a full investigation into the matter’ explained the Deputy.

‘Minister Coveney has also said that there is no evidence currently available to suggest that this particular finding is anything other than an isolated case and that his officials will establish the position quickly in order to reassure consumers and retailers’ concluded Deputy O’Reilly.

Ends

Full text of Minister Coveney’s Speech in the Dail this afternoon

As the House is aware, the findings of Laboratory tests, provided by the FSAI to my Department on 14 January, revealed the presence of non beef DNA in some beef products. This generally involved trace or minute amounts of porcine or equine DNA with the exception of one burger which had a high level of equine DNA.
My Department works under service contract to the FSAI in relation to food safety matters and as was the case in previous incidents both are working closely together to address this particular incident. The FSAI and the Department operate as part of a coherent multi layered food safety control system designed to ensure the highest standards of food safety. The Department and FSAI work closely together in ensuring the safety of Irish food, in accordance with the requirements of strict EU and national regulatory requirements. The system is totally transparent – we identify and respond wherever a problem is detected. It is important to note that it was that system which identified this problem – the system is working. The problem, albeit not a food safety one as such, was identified by our coherent food control system.
I must stress that it is national policy in relation to food safety that consumer protection takes priority over any other considerations and that such incidents are brought promptly to public attention, where there are concerns for public health or public confidence in the food product. It is for this reason that FSAI published the results yesterday. While FSAI has given assurances that no food safety issues arise in this instance there are clearly issues to be addressed in respect of the confidence in the quality of the products concerned which are now being addressed in the full investigation I have initiated. Experience has taught that openness, transparency and early action are vital in such cases in maintaining consumer confidence and this has been an underlying principle in this case also.
On receipt of the laboratory results from the FSAI last Monday afternoon, and even though the FSAI stated that there was no food safety issue involved, my Department commenced a full scale investigation. The priority is to ensure the source of the ingredients giving rise to this problem is found quickly and remedial action is taken. This is critical to ensuring that there is absolutely no question mark about the quality of beef products from Ireland, given our collective obligation to ensure the integrity of the food production chain.
I again welcome the fact that the FSAI has moved quickly to clarify that the results of the survey do not pose a public health risk and that this is not a food safety issue. This is important to clarify for consumers and for our industry.
The investigation, which is continuing is focusing, on the individual ingredients used in the manufacture of the affected batch. A number of these individual ingredients were imported into the State. There is no evidence from the investigation being conducted so far to show that the manufacturer knowingly brought in equine meat for use in the production of these burgers, and further investigations and DNA testing of product manufactured recently will bring clarity to this preliminary conclusion.
There has been some comment on the sequence of events and I want to outline the facts today. I understand the first samples were taken by the FSAI as part of one of their snapshot surveys at retail level in early to mid-November and were sent for analysis to a private laboratory. In December the FSAI took further samples at retail level and again had them analysed in the private laboratory in Ireland. Following this process all of the initial samples which tested positive were sent for analysis in late December to a laboratory in Germany in order to confirm or otherwise the accuracy of the initial tests. Separately my Department was requested by the FSAI on 21 December to take samples of ingredients at the two processing plants of concern.

The results of German laboratory tests were received by the FSAI last Friday 11th January and the FSAI informed my Department of the results on Monday 14th January. A meeting took place between my Department and the FSAI that day where the results were presented and the implications were evaluated and discussed.
The Department immediately set in train a full scale investigation. I understand that the FSAI subsequently met with representatives of the two processors and the retailers concerned and published the results of tests.

Market response
The companies involved here are carrying out their own urgent investigations and they have withdrawn product from the market. This is also the case of the retailers who have also withdrawn, on a voluntary basis, affected products from their shelves. Although it is too early to assess the potential impact, if any, on Irish food exports I am disappointed with this development particularly since the industry has been performing so strongly reaching record levels of exports in 2012. Nevertheless it is important to note that the industry success is based on robust relationships with premium customers built up over an extended period and capable of withstanding many challenges. My aim is to ensure everything possible is done to fully restore consumer confidence. In this regard I have asked Bord Bia to work with the industry in explaining the facts to the markets worldwide. The fact that we have a reputation for dealing with all food related issues openly and quickly once identified will, I believe, stand to us in maintaining our worldwide reputation in this area.

Controls
Primary responsibility for both the safety and quality of food placed on the market place lies with food business operators. They must have in place a food safety management system based on HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) principles. This is subject to a series of official controls to verify compliance by the food business operators with their food safety management system– These controls are applied at different stages in the food supply chain.

My Department has permanent veterinary presence at all its export approved slaughtering plants. Controls at standalone processing plants are based on audits and inspections carried out by DAFM staff, based on risk assessment. In the case of the plant in question in accordance with the official risk assessment it was subject to monthly inspections in 2012 by my Department including last December.

In addition under the Department’s National Residue Programme, some 30,000 samples taken at farm and factory level and covering a wide range of food stuffs are tested annually. These tests normally relate to microbiological and chemical standards, focused on food safety and in accordance with EU testing requirements. DNA testing is not required under EU legislation and is not generally in use in relation to food production and safety. It has however been deployed in recent times as part of the FSAI’s food fraud control activities and these results arose from that control programme.

As I said the investigation arising from the DNA findings is continuing and the Department and the FSAI will incorporate the results when found to ensure that maintain the highest food safety and quality standards for Irish food production. As the investigation reaches finality I will of course bring the House up to date.

Senator Joe O'Reilly representing Cavan & Monaghan 2010. | An ExSite website