‘There needs to be a system where any beef farmer can check his animal at any time’

Independent TD for Roscommon-Galway Michael Fitzmaurice has called on the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to “tighten up” its inspection regime for beef and meat factories.

Fitzmaurice was speaking to AgriLand on Friday last (February 8), after asking Minister Micheal Creed, during parliamentary questions last month, about the number of departmental inspections carried out on beef carcasses.

He also endeavoured to find out whether or not the factories had to revert to manual grading when their mechanical classification systems were found to be working outside the legally defined tolerances in 2017 and 2018.

“There are discrepancies and there needs to be a system brought in where any farmer can check his animal at any given time,” he said.

The Roscommon-Galway TD went on to say that the calibration of machinery in meat plants was top priority and pointed to the fact that nobody knew who checked that aspect of matters, or who indeed was responsible for the checks.

“What about department inspections? How do we know how accurate these machines are in the first instance? How well calibrated are these machines, and can we rely on the results?” he asked.

The TD continued: “In relation to checks on pigs and sheep, there is not much in the way of legislation here and – to be honest – it is actually alarming to see regulation being so light. Our MEPs need to kick into gear now and get the EU to address this.”

Fitzmaurice went on to say that it was his opinion that advances in technology could be of more benefit to farmers.

“With the advances in technology now, farmers should be able to look at their animals at any time during the process. They should also be given a reference number and be in a position to use that number to check or query anything that they wish to do; we need accountability and transparency in all of this.”

Beef crisis

Fitzmaurice also pointed to the beef crisis and insisted it has not been caused by Brexit.

There is a difference of between €175 and €200 between an animal killed in England and an animal killed in Ireland.

The Roscommon-Galway TD went on to say that the onus of responsibility to move on the issue now lay squarely on the shoulders of the EU.

“Look at the amount of foreign meat that is being imported by the EU; it is bringing in meat from Canada, the US, and from all over. The reality is that we have enough meat of our own,” he said.

Brexit

He warned that a no-deal Brexit and a hard border would be “detrimental” to Ireland’s meat and cheese industry.

“It’s all very well saying ‘we’ll look after Ireland’ but the reality is that Brexit is causing uncertainty and that uncertainty, in turn, is causing problems. If there is a hard Brexit, aids to storage and intervention will have to be opened up,” Fitzmaurice said.

Minister’s response

Meanwhile, responding to Fitzmaurice’s parliamentary questions in the Dáil, Minister Creed said the department conducted 628 unannounced, on-the-spot inspections in 32 factories on classification and carcass presentation in 2017.

“This is an average of 20 inspections/factory/year, which significantly exceeds the legal minimum requirement of eight inspections/year,” the minister continued.

“During each inspection, an average of 85 carcasses were inspected for correct classification and carcass presentation The legal requirement is 40 carcasses/inspection and – in 2017 – there were 13 incidences where factories were instructed to revert to manual grading.”

The minister went on to say that the “unannounced check” verified the on-going accuracy of the automated beef grading methods by using a system of points and limits defined in EU legislation.

“At each inspection, 100 carcasses are checked and – if the machine is found to be working outside EU defined tolerances – the factory is instructed to revert to manual grading straight away;

“In all cases where a machine is found to be working outside of tolerance, manual grading is instigated immediately and this is advised to farmers through their remittance dockets,” Minister Creed continued.

“As with any mechanical system, grading machines can from time to time fall out of tolerance. Machines operating outside of tolerance are required to be serviced, and the calibration is checked by staff from my department before mechanical grading recommences.”