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Sunday 17 December 2017

Probe slams food safety as pork crisis bill hits €200m

Aideen Sheehan Consumer Correspondent

IRELAND'S food safety regime failed "spectacularly" to prevent the pork dioxin contamination crisis and it will end up costing taxpayers up to €200m in compensation, a damning official report has found.

Too many agencies are responsible for policing food safety and these should all be brought under a single body with full responsibility for all aspects of the food chain including animal feed, an Oireachtas Agriculture Committee has urged.

It found that the reaction to the discovery of dioxins in Irish pork was proportionate, given the importance of the €750m industry, but criticised systematic failings which led to the crisis, and the lack of traceability which meant a full recall of all pork was necessary.

While praising the Food Safety Authority of Ireland for its independence and "vital importance in maintaining consumer confidence" during the crisis last December, the report concluded that the FSAI's current system of outsourcing inspections of food businesses to other agencies was inadequate.

"The service contracts mechanism spectacularly failed to achieve its objective, and has been demonstrated that it is not adequate for the task with which it is charged," the report on the contamination of Irish pork products concluded.

A single agency for both food and animal feed with direct control over all staff should be considered, it said.

It also urged that the FSAI's proposed merger with the Irish Medicines Board and Office of Tobacco Control be abandoned, as this could have the effect of diluting its single focus.

The committee said it was unacceptable that the food recycling plant at the centre of the contamination incident -- Millstream Recycling Ltd in Co Carlow -- had not been inspected in 2008 by the Department of Agriculture which had responsibility for monitoring animal feed.

And they strongly criticised Carlow County Council for failing to inspect the premises after issuing a permit for it to operate in 2006, which was "blatantly in breach" of the council's own environmental inspection plan.

Committee chairman Johnny Brady said that if an inspection had been carried out at the plant, which recycled waste foodstuffs into animal feed, it would have been seen that an unauthorised dryer was being used, and the crisis could have been averted.

"This was very, very wrong of Carlow County Council, that's my view anyway. This would never have happened if that drying plant wasn't in operation," he said.

The report found that this lack of inspections "graphically illustrates the point that whilst the FSAI has primary responsibility for food safety, it does not currently have the required legal authority to police all aspects of the food/feed chain".

The committee said the origin of the oil that was the source of the dioxins, and how it came to be used, was the subject of a garda investigation and therefore they would not comment on it.

However they were "perplexed" that feed production could be seen as low risk given a similar dioxin crisis in Belgium in 1999 and other scandals resulting from contaminated feed such as BSE and foot and mouth disease.

"The committee considers feed production must be ascribed a higher level of risk, and a protocol must be established whereby the feed itself is tested regularly," the report added.

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