Review of IFA Pigs DNA Certified Programme by Paddy Wall

Here is the review of the IFA Pigs DNA certified programme, carried out by Paddy Wall and Tim Cullinan and presented to the IFA Pigs Committee on December 5.

It says that the Scheme is not delivering on its full potential and needs to be tightened up. Further expansion of the scheme should not be considered until the database is complete, the sampling strategies are comprehensive and open and transparent and that the agreed actions to be taken are explicit and implemented.

An effectively operating IFA Pig Committee is necessary for the development of the sector, it also states.

Review of IFA DNA Certified Programme

Terms of Reference

i) To review the current operation of the IFA DNA Certified Programme and to identify any necessary improvements in the scheme;

ii) To assess the performance of the scheme against the mandate, which it was given, when it was originally established, in relation to identifying mislabeling of pig meat products among food service providers in Ireland.

iii) To review the self-certification process and identify any necessary amendments;

iv) To review the decision process in relation to the overall operation of the scheme;

v) To review the current auditing system for DNA testing of both on- farm boars and boars in AI stations and to identify any necessary changes to ensure satisfactory compliance rates.

Introduction

The objectives of the scheme, at its initiation, were to increase the sales of Irish pig meat by preventing mislabeling, and misleading labeling, and to deliver a price premium for Irish pig meat.

Irish consumers want Irish pig meat and supermarkets are attempting to provide them with what they want. However consumers can be mislead by having Irish imagery on the labels of imported product or by deliberate substitution of Irish with imported product and falsely labeling it as Irish.

The scheme is in operation since 2011 and was delivering as intended and is still doing so to a degree: supporting the credibility of the Bord Bia Quality Assurance logo. The significant price increase of the Irish slaughter pig compared to the EU average (94% to 102%) is cited as a key win for the scheme. The key challenge is to ensure imported meat is not being passed off as Irish and also to make consumers aware that “processed in Ireland” does not necessarily mean that it is Irish pig meat.

There are two key issues that have to be addressed 1) is the scientific validity of the sampling methods and laboratory protocol and (2) how the scheme is administered and implemented. The database is administered jointly by the IFA and Identigen, whereas individual sample results are owned by those paying for the samples.

For the scheme to be effective it has to be scientifically robust and if a secondary processor is challenged over non-compliant results the IFA has to be on solid ground.

With the current standard operation procedure, a non-compliant result immediately triggers more intensive sampling to identify whether there is a genuine problem. It is only when these additional samples demonstrate a problem that action is taken.

Key to being able to challenge a retailer, or secondary processor, and ‘Name and Shame’ them is the validity of the results. If there are boars being used on Irish farms or AI stations that are not in the database then this leaves the results of the scheme open to challenge.

The validation exercise recently undertaken by Identigen demonstrated a need to tighten up the scheme. Their validation demonstrated that a small number of boars are not being typed which included some dam line boars – if indicative of a broader pattern, it would seriously undermine any conclusions that could be drawn from the database.

Farmers who hope to benefit from the scheme should be reminded of their obligation to only use boars that are in the database

Recommendation 1

Continuous efforts should be made to ensure that the boar database is complete

Sampling regimens: – Bord Bia takes samples of branded quality assured product and an IFA person takes samples of other products as well as those carried the Bord Bia logo. The Standard Operating Procedure is followed on the finding of an isolated non-compliant result.

However, if on the subsequent more intensive sampling, a problem is identified, an action should result. Concern exists that non-complaint results may not be triggering a response from the IFA who are the custodians of the scheme.

The people who are paying for the scheme would like to see some action. Openness and transparency are the new buzzwords and they are applicable here where proven deliberate non-compliance should be exposed

Recommendation 2

Deliberate non-compliance, when confirmed, should be exposed

What is currently described as “Self-certification” has been a cause of concern to some committee members and the wider industry. The perception is that secondary processors are taking their own samples and “sure they wouldn’t sample imported product and risk getting a non-complaint result”.

However, due to recent changes, the bulk of the sampling is undertaken by an IFA appointed sampler in the retail stores, therefore the IFA is in control of what is sampled. A higher level of sampling is undertaken, well above what Bord Bia and the IFA routinely take. In this case the secondary processor pays for the laboratory testing and the cost of the sampling.

In addition, the secondary processor takes samples of their suppliers’ product to check that if it is supposed to be Irish that it is Irish. However, it is the results from the IFA samples taken at retail level that determine whether the product should be permitted to carry the DNA traceback logo.

In this case the name self-certification is a misnomer as the secondary processor is not self-certifying.

Identigen expressed the view that they would like to have one person to liaise with in the IFA on all matters and have agreed protocols regarding how results are handling and when results are made public. In the past results were made public before final confirmation of the circumstances, which only served to discredit the scheme and damage the reputation of the IFA and Identigen, which is now an international company.

Recommendation 3

For clarity, improved communication is required on how the process, and the sampling regimen, that permits the use of the DNA traceback logo operates.

Recommendation 4

The name “self-certification” is incorrect as IFA is the collector of samples and a more appropriate name should be assigned to the DNA traceback scheme.

Recommendation 5

Secondary processors or retailers who sign up to the system of using DNA traceback must reimburse IFA for collection and testing of samples. This needs to be part of a contract with any secondary processor or retailer using the DNA traceback system.

Recommendation 6

One contact person to be identified in IFA to liaise with Identigen on the sharing of results and how these results are to be handled.

IFA needs to appoint a person to work 3 days per week on the DNA system, collecting samples at retail level and raising the visibility of the scheme in stores. In the longer term the scheme should be extended to cover the food service sector. This person needs to be visible in store and always consult with the store manager when collecting samples. We would recommend that Deirdre O’Shea be appointed to fulfil this role.

The possibility of ultimately making the scheme self-financing exists as some retailers have expressed an interest in using the scheme to check on their suppliers. The supermarkets are powerful players in the food chain and being delisted by the supermarket as an approved supplier is the ultimate sanction that will keep secondary processors compliant. This option was looked at but is not being recommended to the committee at this point in time.

Recommendation 7

There should be no changes to the scheme without consultation, and approval, by the full IFA pig committee.

If the scheme is scientifically robust, the threat of exposure and associated adverse publicity should be a strong deterrent but would only be effective if confirmed non-compliances, when identified, are exposed.

In line with the objective to increase the market share of Irish pig meat on retail sale negotiations should commence with retailers to deliver on this objective,

Recommendation 8

As a start to increasing the market share of Irish pig meat on retail sale, IFA needs to enter discussions with Musgraves to move them to a position of using 100% Irish Pig meat and the phasing out of the Meadowfield brand that carried the country of origin Denmark or Holland in the medium to long term

Conclusion

The scheme is not delivering on its full potential and needs to be tightened up. Further expansion of the scheme should not be considered until the database is complete, the sampling strategies are comprehensive and open and transparent and that the agreed actions to be taken are explicit and implemented.

An effectively operating IFA Pig Committee is necessary for the development of the sector. The DNA scheme is only one item on the agenda but disagreements regarding its operation are impeding progress on other issues.

If Deirdre O Shea is devoting 3 days a week to sampling and creating greater visibility in stores, the IFA Pig Committee needs a full-time executive secretary and this could be achieved by the return of Ammi McKeever.

Committee member should be open regarding possible, or perceived, conflicts of interest whether they are with millers, primary processors, secondary processors or retailers.

Ongoing disputes regarding the scheme only serve to undermine its credibility and only serves to erode consumer confidence and all farmers will be losers. Ground lost will be hard recovered

Recommendations

1.          Continuous efforts should be made to ensure that the boar database is complete

2.          Deliberate non-compliance, when confirmed, should be exposed

3.          For clarity, improved communication is required on how the process, and the sampling regimen, that permits the use of the DNA traceback logo operates.

4.          The name “self-certification” is incorrect as IFA is the collector of samples and a more appropriate name should be assigned to the DNA traceback scheme.

5.          Secondary processors, or retailers, who sign up to the system of using DNA traceback must reimburse IFA for collection and testing of samples. This needs to be part of a contract with any secondary processor or retailer using the DNA traceback system

6.          One contact person to be identified in IFA to liaise with Identigen on the sharing of results and how these results are to be handled

7.          There should be no changes to the scheme without consultation, and approval, by the full IFA pig committee.

8.          As a start to increasing the market share of Irish pig meat on retail sale, IFA needs to enter discussions with Musgraves to move them to a position of using 100% Irish Pig meat and the phasing out of the Meadowfield brand that carried the country of origin Denmark or Holland in the medium to long term.

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