‘Food safety is like a sleeping volcano’

“Food safety is like a sleeping volcano. You need to have a system of monitoring,” according to the Prof Alan O’Reilly, ceo of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), who was guest speaker at today’s Green Foundation Ireland food seminar.

Prof O’Reilly outlined the FSAI’s policy, implementation and risk assessments of the food industry in Ireland to an audience of more than 100 people.

The FSAI was established as a consumer protection agency to ensure food that is produced and marked in Ireland is of the highest standard in safety. Food  monitoring is crucial, Prof Reilly said. “It’s like a sleeping volcano, if you are not monitoring it, you do not know what is going to happen.”

“The FSAI is a strong visible regulatory,” he said, stressing that it is an independent science-based organisation whose job is to underpin trust, confidence and safety in Irish food. “There is no market for unsafe food. Nobody wants to buy unsafe food and that is the bottom line,” he said. “We are independent of the agri-food sector and that is key.”

Prof Reilly noted public trust is also key. “What happened during the horsemeat scandal was that it was found food was safe but it was basic fraud that was being carried out. Consumers believed us. This is where you need in place a regulatory authority that consumers have trust in.

“The bottom line is you cannot be a poacher and gamekeeper. The fundamental reason for setting up the FSAI is to be an independent organisation.”

He continued: “We don’t have any from the agri-food sector sitting on our board. We don’t have the industry telling us what we do. We engage with them on many different forums but they do not tell us what to do and that is concept of independence that adds to the safety and guarantee of Irish food.”

The FSAI carries out thousands of food inspections, food sample monitoring, data gathering, evaluations and risk management assessments every year.  “You are constantly looking at data from the volcano,” he said. “You are looking at risk assessments, if it is going to cause a problem today or is it dormant.”

In addition it has a risk communications strategy. “When you talk about food safety, you need a crisis management plan in place if not things can go pear-shaped very, very quickly.”  

The Green Foundation Ireland food seminar, ‘Food: Good to Eat and Good for Ireland’ is taking place today. Among the other speakers include IFA Vice-President Eddie Downey and well-known farming journalist Suzanne Campbell among others. More reports are to follow.

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