The Food Safety Authority of Ireland responded positively yesterday to a highly critical EU report which found the products of many Irish meat-processing plants aimed at the domestic market to be of a poorer standard than what is exported, the Irish Times reported on Sunday. The report, by the European Food and Veterinary Office (FVO), whose inspectors conducted audits among a representative sample of the 270 premises that produce bacon, rashers and cooked ham for the domestic market, found none was compliant with EU hygiene regulations. The FVO found the plants were not properly inspected by the Irish regulatory authorities and some had major defects, including poor hygiene, contaminated water and maintenance problems. The report said the Food Safety Authority, which took over responsibility for inspecting and enforcing the EU regulations in 1999, was not supervising the meat plants adequately. However, the FSAI's chief veterinary officer in charge of public health, Mr Pat O'Mahoney, said: "We welcome the FVO report and its laying down of benchmark regulations which must be complied with across Europe." There was close liaison between the FSAI and the FVO, which had disclosed its findings to the Irish food authority both at the draft stage and again, two weeks ago, when the report was finalised, he said. The criticism of the FSAI was valid, said Mr O'Mahoney, but must be seen in context. The authority had only been in existence for 1¼ years and the audit role was hampered by manpower requirements. "We have just been given approval for 22 new permanent vets by the Department of Health, some of whom will be allocated to the audit function," he said. In addition, a new director of audits would be appointed to oversee inspection of meat plants and ensure compliance with EU regulations. It was of the utmost importance that all meat plants domestic and export should implement the FVO recommendations and comply fully with the regulations, Mr O'Mahoney said. Particularly relevant were products covered by an EU directive dealing with "fresh meat products, mince meat and meat products" which the FVO found were "not regulated under proper rules" in Ireland. In the past, outlets manufacturing such products, mainly for the domestic retail market, were regulated by the health boards and inspected routinely by environmental health officers. The EU regulations, however, were much more stringent. Regulations handing over responsibility for meat plant inspection to the FSAI had been drawn up "but were not activated" immediately. Nonetheless a training programme for vets was initiated and the FSAI had written to all the 270 premises and arranged regional meetings for the trade throughout the State. In addition, clear guidelines had been published to show how the regulations should be applied. Progress is to be made.