Vets in Call for Further Action on Food Safety

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VETERINARY Ireland, the national representative body for the veterinary profession, has called for central funding for the new National Beef Assurance Scheme.

"At a time when farmers are coping with particular difficulties, we have presented proposals which link the annual herd test with the Dairy Hygiene and Beef Assurance inspections, to eliminate possible duplication and minimise the costs involved," said Paschal Gibbons, president of Veterinary Ireland.

"These new schemes are valuable opportunities to generate improved standards - and related consumer assurances - in light of the vast sums of money which have been spent on matters such as the Purchase for Destruction Scheme and dealing with the Foot-and-Mouth Disease threat," said Mr Gibbons.

"The future of the Irish food industry is dependent on the acceptance by everyone involved of the need for them and on their successful implementation throughout the country."

Mr Gibbons said that the farming organisations had expressed, publicly and privately, their concerns about the costs of such new certification schemes.

"We believe it is vital that an approach is found to ensure that these concerns are adequately dealt with. If full acceptance of these new food safety measures is not achieved, it could jeopardise their implementation at farm level," said Mr Gibbons.

He was speaking at the launch, in Dublin, of a comprehensive and integrated approach to food safety developed by the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE).

Entitled `Food Safety - The Stable to Table Approach', the blueprint identifies all of the critical food safety aspects in each stage of the food chain, from animal feeding and breeding through transportation, processing and retailing.

It proposes an integrated approach with a continuous two way flow of information so that communication does not just focus from farm to consumer, but also back along the food chain.

"This two way flow of information would, for instance, ensure that the findings of inspectors at processing level are reported back to each farm so that problems can be dealt with at farm level," explains Mr Gibbons.

Some of the components of this food safety approach, such as inspection standards and traceability, already exist in Ireland. However, the blueprint introduced by Veterinary Ireland identifies plenty of scope for improvement, ranging from Herd Health Surveillance Schemes to policies for the monitoring and transportation of animals.

"We are promoting this approach among our members because veterinarians are present at practically every link in the food chain and as such have a major role to play in protecting food safety," said Mr Gibbons.

"Both the Irish Government and European Union have introduced various measures to protect food safety over the past 30 years, ranging from rigorous veterinary inspections to controls and testing at both the food processing and retail levels. But a regulated and integrated national policy supported by legislation is necessary if consumer health is to be protected throughout the entire food chain."

Mr Gibbons called on the Department of Agriculture and Food and those involved in the food production sector to consider the possibility of using this blueprint as a template for developing a comprehensive national food safety policy.

"Ireland is in a unique position to implement a comprehensive food safety policy such as this at national level, because of the structure of this sector in Ireland, where many of the co-ops and food processors also service farmer needs in areas such as feed supplies," said Pascal Gibbons.

The critical food chain links identified in the FVE/Veterinary Ireland blueprint are:

l Animal Feed: Full traceability of animal feed with batches identified, records and distribution routes maintained - allowing for effective intervention where feed contamination arises and extending to individual ingredients within animal feeds. …