Editorial: Integrity of food industry must be maintained
Irish agriculture has proved very resilient when it comes to what might be kindly termed recurring anomalies in the industry. Since the spotlight was first shone on agriculture in modern times with the Beef Tribunal we have had a number of what can only be called serious and potentially very damaging episodes – BSE, pork meat contamination and, more recently, the horse-meat scandal which erupted in January 2013.
If this is allowed to continue, something is going to come along that will cause irreparable damage to a major export industry, which is only just back in some markets that were closed due to BSE. Irish agriculture is worth over €10bn a year in exports, there are 6.9 million cattle in the country. Beef is the biggest element in the agriculture industry, worth almost €3bn.
It is worrying that the Department of Agriculture is now engaged in an investigation into the use of a carcinogenic painkiller Bute, which is banned from the human food chain. This came about after a blood test at a cattle show. The Department of Agriculture will only say that at this stage that such an investigation is on-going, "but there are no food safety concerns at issue".
We also know that a carcass of Irish horse meat was also found to have traces of Bute when it was tested in Belgium in the past few weeks.
Even if there are no food safety considerations at issue, we now know that a bull belonging to a breeder is at the centre of a serious investigation and while this is only one, hopefully isolated, incident, it is necessary that absolute confidence in the integrity of the beef industry is maintained.
Both the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority are charged with guarding the reputation of Irish beef at home and abroad and every step must be taken to investigate this and any other incident involving threats to the Irish food industry. It is also imperative that the public are reassured by both official and farming organisations that such behaviour will not be tolerated and that the public will be kept fully informed of the progress and outcome of this latest investigation.
PARENTS HAVE GENUINE EXAM REFORM CONCERN
WITH his lofty position in the ranks of the Labour Party, Ruairi Quinn might have more weighty matters concerning the future of his party to worry about than the future of the Junior Cycle. However, as his day job is Education Minister, Mr Quinn has been left in something of a quandary by the latest opposition to his 'self-assessment' plans, initially from teachers, but now from the vast majority of parents, according to the Irish Independent/Millward Brown opinion poll.
Reform of this exam has been mulled over for nearly a decade and Mr Quinn has opted to make the Junior Certificate exam a school-based cycle of exams and projects which would be assessed and marked by class teachers. The Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) is implacably opposed to these changes but Mr Quinn has pressed on regardless.
However, he cannot have drawn much consolation from the fact that 60pc of parents answered No when asked in a national opinion poll: 'Should teachers assess their own pupils?' Mr Quinn has said that he will consider the findings of this survey, but has given no assurances that he will revisit the issue.
There is no doubt that the minister is correct in his assessment that the Junior Cycle is in need of far-reaching reform. Also, on-going assessment would seem to be more beneficial to students than a once-off state exam. However, there is genuine concern over teachers assessing their own pupils. While Mr Quinn shows no inclination to do a U-turn on the issue it is not too late for the concerns of parents and teachers to be taken on board so that some sort of a compromise can be arrived at that will satisfy what are, after all, the major stakeholders in education.