The report, requested by the Environmental, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) Committee, gives an update of the 2013 summary of Ireland’s food and drink industry.
Ireland is the largest net exporter of dairy ingredients, beef and lamb in Europe, exporting over 80% of its dairy and beef production. Irish beef is stocked by more than 82 retail chains across Europe.
Dairy products and ingredients (30%), beef (21%) and beverages (14%) represent major products exported. The major destination is the UK (41% - €4.4bn) and the rest of Europe (31% - €3.4bn).
Issues from audits
The Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) made 26 audits during 2008-2013, plus three general follow up ones. It gave 230 recommendations and action has been taken in 192 cases, 21 were closed for other reasons, eight are in progress and nine remain where there has been no progress, at the time of the report.
Issues that still need to be addressed include traceability of beef and beef products – effectiveness of official controls, in particular identification marking on cut meat and offal packaging.
According to the document, the competent authority considers that practical implementation is challenging and unsuitable and intended to formally table this issue with the Hygiene Package working group to get the views of other member states.
Another area was live bivalve molluscs as microbiological classification of production areas and official controls of pectinidae to verify compliance for biotoxins had not been fully implemented in line with EU requirements.
Organisations responsible for developing food policy and legislation are the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine (DAFM) and the Department of Health (DOH); The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) assists DAFM and DOH and is responsible for enforcement.
DAFM has undergone a 32% reduction in staffing levels since 2005 and FSAI also raised this issue with reorganisation and the requirement to deliver the national food control programme with an improved level of service and reduced resources.
Horse meat discovery
The FSAI carried out a survey in 2012 to investigate the authenticity of meat products on the market.
It used advanced DNA testing methods and tested for horse and pig DNA in beef burger, beef meals and salami products available from retail outlets in Ireland.
Generally the results showed trace levels of porcine or equine DNA with one exception which showed a high level (29%) of equine DNA in a beef burger.
An investigation involved other Member States and affected a range of meat products, large global companies and international brands and items withdrawn from sale. It resulted in the creation of the Food Fraud Task Force at EU and national level.
Following the horsemeat incident the Irish authorities decided to centralise and manage an equine identification database for Ireland within the Department for Agriculture, that all meat traders were to be registered by DAFM as Food Business operators, that DAFM would take over, from local authorities the supervision of two slaughter plants licensed to slaughter horses and to do an enhanced labelling inspection programme.
Food incidents and reasons
In 2013 incidences investigated by the FSAI included the marketing of counterfeit vodka and the fraudulent re-labelling of foods with new ‘use-by’ dates.
In 2014 the authority was involved in the investigation of 21 food fraud cases, work on three cases which had begun in 2013 and were carried forward. Four other incidents with a food fraud element were also investigated.
These were varied and included soft drinks re-coding and re-dating, operation of unapproved meat establishments, sale and supply of counterfeit alcohol, re-dating of canned beer, mis-description of meat products (halal, lamb) and shellfish placed on the market causing illness.
There was also an increase in reported cases of Listeriosis whilst the highest country-specific notification rates for Verocytotoxigenic E. coli were observed in Ireland 12.42 cases per 100,000).
Despite the overall increase in reported cases in 2014, there was a statistically significant decreasing trend for reported cases of salmonellosis in the EU/EEA during 2008-2015. Over this period Ireland was one of nine member states, with a significantly decreasing trend.
In 2014 FSAI handled 494 food incidents, an increase of 10% on 2013. 245 were investigated as full incidents (including 21 food fraud incidents). 271 hazards were identified for the 245 incidents of which 81 were chemical hazards; 67 other; 44 microbiological; 37 allergens; 17 other biological including mycotoxins; 14 labelling and 11 foreign bodies.
Twenty three incidents had more than one associated hazard. Ireland was the country of origin in 42.1% of the incidents.