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EU raises issues over the IFA's pig DNA testing programme

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Pat O'Flaherty: IFA's pigs and pigmeat chairman

Pat O'Flaherty: IFA's pigs and pigmeat chairman

Pat O'Flaherty: IFA's pigs and pigmeat chairman

Questions over the validity of the IFA's pig DNA testing programme continue to mount following critical comments about the scheme by the EU Commission.

The incomplete nature of the boar database being used by the IFA was a flaw that ensured that the scheme cannot always identify whether pigmeat has been imported or not, according to Daniel Rosario, a spokesman for DG Agri.

"The Commission Directorate-General for Agriculture pointed out a shortcoming in this private scheme.

"The inclusion of the boars in the DNA data base is not legally compulsory and therefore not necessarily complete. Therefore, such a scheme… cannot be used to assure that a certain cut of meat comes from a pig not reared in Ireland," he said.

The matter was brought to the Commission's attention by Kildare pig processor, McConnon Meats.

The firm estimates that it has lost €500,000 in business following a sample of their meat failing to match any DNA in the IFA's boar database.

The company maintained that all their meat came from Irish pig farms, and one of their suppliers subsequently admitted that one of his boars had not been sampled for the IFA's DNA database.

However, the company has stopped short of taking legal action against the IFA because they believe that they would be made a "political football".

"We've a good case, and Europe sees this as a huge issue, but we already feel targeted. Bord Bia aren't taking the policing of the scheme seriously, our own minister doesn't want to know, and the IFA aren't really interested in transparency. They just want to protect the investment they've made in this scheme," said co-owner Yvonne McConnon.

The IFA estimate that the first 12 months of the scheme has returned an extra €8 per pig, or €27m to the Irish pig industry by forcing retailers to stick more rigidly to Irish produce.

They also hit out at the criticism of their scheme in a statement at the weekend, claiming that it was "totally unacceptable that the Commission would facilitate those who are attempting to undermine the programme".

"It was precisely because the EU Commission had totally failed to address the issue of pork mislabelling that the IFA was forced to set up the DNA certified programme. Pig farmers are asking why the Commission refused to meet with the IFA on the DNA programme and yet saw fit to comment based on a discussion with one individual?" said pig chairman, Pat O'Flaherty.

'Flawed'

"The failure of the Commission to properly evaluate the IFA DNA testing programme and take on board the science-based facts and the review by an eminent expert makes their comments totally unsound.

"The result is that the Commission's flawed comment, which says nothing about the effectiveness of the scheme, is being used in efforts to undermine the DNA programme," he added.

A letter from the Department of Agriculture to McConnon Meats confirmed that meat from the progeny of non-Irish boars will be eligible to be labelled as 'Origin Ireland', subject to their being born, reared and slaughtered in Ireland.

In response to criticisms of its role in the programme, Bord Bia said that it was working with all members of its quality assurance schemes to ensure ongoing compliance to the requirements of the standard. "Where there are changes in the requirements, members are afforded a transitional period to comply. All of Bord Bia's quality assurance schemes are operated to international standards and are independently accredited," it said.

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