In the aftermath of the pig meat crisis, can I make a comment? Much has been said about why and how it happened in an effort to understand the meltdown, to prevent a future one and as human nature would have it to find someone to blame.
As a member of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee I have worked at the European level for full traceability.
I have placed great importance on being able to trace meat from animal and herd through processing, export and retail to customer and in crops, from seed to customer.
Traceability with labelling allows the customer to know basics like where a food comes from and in the case of plant products, if it is free of GMOs and to be able to find out more exact information if they wish.
This is an essential strategy for health reasons, for consumers to have a real choice and to keep the market in food fair for Irish and European farmers. The situation with Brazilian beef and Asian poultry makes this clear.
We have a long way to go in traceability. For example, it is still hard to tell when buying fish if it has been freshly caught in the wild by Irish fishermen or farmed thousands of miles away. We still have a way to go with labelling which still fails people with severe and life threatening allergies.
However, the system of traceability in pigs and pig meat is highly advanced. It traces a pig from birth through sales to buyer.
If this process which accumulates considerable cost to the meat can tell an enquiring customer exactly what farm and factory it came from, how did it fail so spectacularly?
Why was the whole Irish pig meat industry, even the organic section of it, shut down without distinction?
Despite the pride of a European Commission official that I spoke to during the crisis, in the swiftness with which the Commission’s alert system stopped every Irish consignment and cleared every shelf within a matter of hours, traceability in fact failed.
Traceability means that the affected herds with their distinctive numbers should and could have been identified and stopped within hours while safe Irish herds should have remained unaffected.
The fact that the EU and Irish government reacted by stopping all Irish pig meat, makes a sorry joke of traceability.
The fact that the nuclear option of the alert system rather than a targeted approach of traceability was invoked is worrying. Our fishing industry is already well accustomed to a heavy handed approach. Is this same approach the future of our farmers as well?
Kathy Sinnott, MEP for Ireland South