Dáil Éireann - Volume 622 - 27 June, 2006

Written Answers. - Food Labelling.

Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the steps she has taken or proposes to take to ensure that all meat and poultry sold here accurately reflect the country of origin and that traceability, health, hygiene, husbandry and processing procedures are in accordance with EU and Irish law; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24568/06]

  Mary Coughlan: Regarding the labelling of beef, this is governed by comprehensive EU regulations which were introduced in 2000 and are underpinned by a full national animal identification and traceability system. These compulsory labelling regulations require all operators and organisations marketing beef within the Community to provide information on the label to enable the beef to be traced back to the animals from which it was derived and the information must include details on the slaughterhouse, de-boning hall and the country in which the animal was born and reared.

These requirements apply to all beef sold at retail level regardless of whether that beef was produced within the Community or in a Third Country. Where beef is imported into the Community from a Third Country and all the above details are not available, that beef must, at a minimum, be labelled as “Origin: non-EC” along with an indication of the Third Country in which slaughter took place.

Regulations for the purpose of beef labelling in the restaurant and catering sectors have now been made by the Minister for Health and Children, making the provision of country of origin [816] information on beef in these sectors mandatory. These Regulations, entitled Health (Country of Origin of Beef) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 307 of 2006), will come into operation on 3 July 2006. They require that a food business operator providing prepared beef to consumers shall not (a) advertise beef for sale or supply, (b) present it for sale or supply, or (c) sell or supply it unless the country or countries of origin of the beef is indicated at the point of advertising, presenting, sale and supply in clear legible type on the advertisement, menu or other presentation used.

Regarding the labelling of poultrymeat, there are EU Regulations which provide for the labelling of unprocessed poultrymeat at retail level. The Regulations require such poultrymeat to be labelled with the information regarding class; price per kg; condition; registered number of slaughterhouse or cutting plant and, where imported from a Third Country, an indication of country of origin.

There are no specific EU regulations governing the labelling of pigmeat or sheepmeat beyond the general food labelling regulations which do not require ‘country of origin’ information.

The general EU food labelling regulations covering all food sold in Ireland require that the information be given clearly, accurately and in a language understood by the consumer. Among these requirements is origin marking in cases where failure to provide such information would be likely to mislead the consumer to a material degree. This legislation comes under the remit of the Department of Health and Children.

Food labelling legislation is enforced by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

On the food labelling issue in general, I must emphasise that my primary aim is to protect consumer interests and to ensure that the consumer is properly informed. Ireland is a major exporter of food and food products and indeed there are also considerable imports, so it is imperative that the same standards are applied to the labelling of foods in every sector and that there is a level playing field for the food industry at all levels. In this context, at a meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers earlier this year I raised again the issue of labelling of foodstuffs and I, along with a number of Member States, asked the Commission to further examine how best food labelling should be handled at EU level in order to best protect the interests of the consumer.

I am glad to inform the Deputy that the Health and Consumer Protection Directorate of the EU Commission has recently commenced a consultative process on a wide range of issues in this area, under a document entitled ‘Labelling: Competitiveness, Consumer Information and Better Regulation for the EU’. I have arranged for my Department to make a submission on food labelling and country of origin labelling of meat in particular to the Department of Health and Children who are co-ordinating the Irish contribution to this process.

[817] Various bodies have responsibility for the other aspects raised in the question and I am satisfied that where they come within the remit of my Department the relevant EU and Irish law relating to traceability, health, hygiene, husbandry and processing is satisfactorily enforced.