Food scares among the biggest threats to farmers’ livelihoods

Food scares are among the biggest threats to Irish farming, agri-food expert Prof. Patrick Wall warned farmers and industry leaders at the recent Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) anniversary celebration.

The LMC is celebrating its 50th anniversary as well as the 25th anniversary of its Farm Quality Assurance scheme.

The Farm Quality Assurance scheme was set up to recognise the high standards farmers go to to ensure their product and assess farms against a strict list of standards.

Assurance

It assures consumers of good production methods being used and good quality of care of animals in the production of beef and lamb which is wholesome, safe and free from unnatural substances.

Prof. Wall, a former chairman of both the Irish and European Food Safety Authority boards, said food scares were among the biggest threats to farmers’ livelihoods.

He said: “We have to avoid adverse publicity associated with food safety, animal welfare, health and nutrition and environmental impact.

“One of the benefits of being in the European Union was that the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) covered all of those areas. So now the UK’s Food Standards Authority will really have to step up to the plate.

After the BSE crisis, European Food Safety Authority board meetings were broadcast live online so that the organisation could not be accused of trying to cover anything up.

Don’t underestimate what a food scare can do to the industry. It takes a lot of effort to build a reputation and a brand.

“Northern Ireland produce is special, but a food scare can unravel things very quickly; trust is hard-earned from consumers.”

‘Think of yourself as part of the food industry’

He told farmers to see themselves as being as much part of the food industry as hoteliers and restaurateurs and highlighted how scares led to the ludicrousness of the 30-month rule associated with BSE.

He said: “You bring your cattle into the abattoir on the Friday and there’s a breakdown on the production line, so the cattle stay in the lairage and they cross their 30-month birthday over the weekend and they’re in the skip on the Monday.

We were in a crazy situation, and we hope never to go there again.

“The same with the dioxin crisis and the hassle that gave us.

“The reason we have to comply with the rules in the scheme is to protect the brand and the reputation and everybody’s livelihood.”

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