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Inquiry into the Dioxin Contamination Incident, December 2008

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment response to the report

Session: 2009/2010

Date: Tuesday, 08 December 2009

Reference: 06/09/10R

ISBN: 978 0 339 60314 1

Mandate Report Number: Mandate 2007/2011 First Report

Session 2009/2010
First Report

COMMITTEE FOR AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT

Inquiry into the Dioxin Contamination Incident,
December 2008

Together with the Minutes of Proceedings of the committee
relating to the report, minutes of evidence and written submissions

Ordered by the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development to be printed 8 December 2009

Report: NIA 06/09/10R (Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development)This document is available in a range of alternative formats.

For more information please contact the
Northern Ireland Assembly, Printed Paper Office,
Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, BT4 3XX
Tel: 028 9052 1078

Membership and Powers

Powers

1. The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development is a Statutory Committee established in accordance with paragraphs 8 and 9 of the Belfast Agreement, Section 29 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and under Assembly Standing Order 46. The Committee has a scrutiny, policy development and consultation role with respect to the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development and has a role in the initiation of legislation.

2. The Committee has power to:

  • Consider and advise on Departmental Budgets and Annual Plans in the context of the overall budget allocation;
  • Approve relevant secondary legislation and take the Committee stage of relevant primary legislation;
  • Call for persons and papers;
  • Initiate inquiries and make reports; and
  • Consider and advise on matters brought to the Committee by the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development.

Membership

3. The Committee has 11 members, including a Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson, and a quorum of five members. The membership of the Committee is as follows:

Mr Ian Paisley Jnr (Chairperson) 4
Mr Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Willie Clarke
Mr Pat Doherty MP 1
Mr William Irwin
Dr William McCrea MP 5
Mr Patsy McGlone 3
Mr Francie Molloy
Mr George Savage
Mr Jim Shannon 2,6

1 with effect from 21st of January 2008 Mr Pat Doherty replaced Mr Gerry McHugh.
2 with effect from 15 September 2008 Mr Edwin Poots replaced Mr Allan Bresland.
3 with effect from 29 June 2009 Mr Patsy McGlone replaced Mr PJ Bradley
4 with effect from 4 July 2009 Mr Ian Paisley Jnr replaced Dr William McCrea
5 with effect from 14 September 2009 Dr William McCrea replaced Mr Trevor Clarke
6 with effect from 14 September 2009 Mr Jim Shannon replaced Mr Edwin Poots

Table of Contents

Inquiry Aim and Terms of Reference

Approach

Summary of Recommendations

Findings and Recommendations

Streamlined Processes

Sampling Processes

Communication

Aid Package

Proportionality

Conclusion

Appendix 1 – Minutes of Proceedings

Appendix 2 – Minutes of Evidence and Verbatim Reports

Appendix 3 – Written Submissions

Analytical Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry

Charles Rollston

Professor D Thorburn Burns

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Food Safety Authority of Ireland

Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland Meat Exporters’ Association

Queens University Belfast

Ulster Farmers’ Union

Appendix 4 – Summary Timeline

Inquiry Aim and Terms of Reference

4. The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development agreed the aim and terms of reference at its meeting of 5th May 2009.

Aim

“To establish the sequence of events and actions of all relevant parties in relation to the dioxin contamination incident of December 2008 with a view to producing a report of recommendations in order that the likelihood of a reoccurrence of such an incident and resultant effects on the Northern Ireland agriculture and food processing industries can be minimised."

Terms of Reference

a) To establish an accurate timeline in relation to the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products;

b) To establish and clarify the key roles, responsibilities and inter-relationships of relevant authorities and in respect of the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products;

c) To identify the strengths and weaknesses of the key roles, responsibilities and inter-relationships of relevant authorities and in respect of the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products ; and

d) To make recommendations arising out of the above investigation to protect the Northern Ireland agricultural industry

Approach

5. The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development agreed to the placing of a public advertisement on 5 May 2009. In total the Committee was pleased to receive 10 written submissions to the inquiry. These are contained in Appendix 3.

6. The Committee agreed on 8 September to receive oral evidence from the following six contributors:

  • Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD)
  • Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU)
  • Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland (FSANI)
  • Northern Ireland Meat Exporters’ Association (NIMEA)
  • Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Dublin (DAFF)
  • Food Safety Authority Ireland (FSAI)

7. The Committee received evidence from the above over one full day, 24 September 2009 in the Senate Chamber, Parliament Buildings and two half days, 8 October 2009 at Buswells Hotel, Dublin and 13 October 2009 in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

8. The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development would wish, at this stage, to record their thanks to all those who participated in the inquiry through the provision of written and oral evidence.

Summary of Recommendations

9. The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development makes the following recommendations:

(a) The current Executive Review into the incident should look at means of streamlining the number of statutory and other agencies presently having responsibility for the production, processing and promotion of safe food. The Committee believes that this could be achieved by:

  • the establishment of an Incident Management Team comprising government officials, health professionals and high level industry representatives, defining clearly the roles and responsibilities of each of the key stakeholders, and indicating their interrelationships;
  • defining the processes in place to ensure that a strategic approach is taken that is mindful of the impact each decision will have on the industry;
  • ensuring that all relevant primary personnel, for example Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive, are fully apprised and afforded the opportunity to input into this process at the earliest possible stage;
  • the review of the communication channels in order that the appropriate information is communicated to the relevant audience in a timely fashion. The Incident Management Team should assume responsibility for the communication of a single and consistent message.

(b) A strategy should be created to allow development of early warning systems for future potential contamination incidents so that action can be taken to minimise the risks for the food chain and the economic consequences for the farming and food production industries. This strategy should also ensure that the early warning systems inform other Member States and regions who may be affected.

(c) The Committee believes that this indicates the importance, to the relevant authorities in both jurisdictions, of ensuring that feed inspection programmes are adequately planned and resourced to ensure that slippage does not occur.

(d) The Department, and other relevant authorities, should examine the current testing regimes to access what improvements could be applied to the processes, particularly with regards to ensuring a more efficient and timely testing and reporting process.

(e) Accurate and timely communication is vital in order that industry is fully aware of all available information and is briefed to handle any inquiries. This is particularly important at Ministerial level. Therefore, as part of the review and streamlining of the agencies involved, the current Executive review should identify a checklist of key stakeholders, both internal and external to the Incident Management Team, to be contacted in the event of other incidents of this nature. This should also indicate the key times for contacting, for example, Executive Ministers and the appropriate industry representatives.

(f) The Department for Agriculture and Rural Development should critically assess its communication lines and processes in order to prevent a repeat of those circumstances witnessed on Monday 8 December. This should focus on an assessment of communication lines and processes to farm businesses and industry processors, as these are providing ongoing advice in respect of the incident..

(g) The Committee recommends that authorities in both jurisdictions enter into negotiations with the European Commission to explore the potential for future joint applications for aid in the event of such an incident. This should ensure that there is parity in the levels of aid being provided to those impacted by similar incidents, avoiding the potential for placing one section of the industry in a competitive disadvantage against another. This arrangement should not affect or delay applications for aid in respect of those incidents where the scale of impact is greater in one jurisdiction.

(h) In addition, the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development should review the Executive aid scheme to allow access to the scheme to those impacted on by the incident, such as those businesses impacted by feeding of contaminated feeds to their animals or those with associated costs such as the disposal of slurry, milk and processed retail material.

(i) The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development recommends that the Incident Management Team develop contingency plans that will allow for a proportionate response to any future incidents of this nature. The focus of these plans must be to assess the risk to public health but should also take into account the full range of options that might be available to negate this risk whilst ensuring that the risk to the agricultural and wider economy is not increased. These plans should be agreed to by the European Commission.

Findings and Recommendations

Streamlined Processes

10. The Committee concentrated its attention on the actions undertaken by the four organisations that it considered to be central to the dioxin incident, namely the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development, the Department for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Dublin, the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland and the Food Safety Authority Ireland. The Committee does, however, fully recognise that a significant number of other statutory and public bodies in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, England and Europe played a role in this incident.

11. The numbers of organisations involved, in itself, caused a great deal of difficulty because, whilst the relevant bodies might have appreciated their own specific roles and attempted to contribute individually as best they could, there was little evidence of strategic understanding, continuity or the impact that decisions would have. The Committee noted that the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in Dublin also had issues with the “…myriad of agencies responsible for food safety…"[1] This undoubtedly led to confusion among producers and processors, particularly in Northern Ireland. The Committee believes that too many organisations reacted during the incident confined to their particular areas of responsibility without any cognisance of the impact their particular decisions would have on the industry.

Recommendation

The current Executive Review into the incident should look at means of streamlining the number of statutory and other agencies presently having responsibility for the production, processing and promotion of safe food. The Committee believes that this could be achieved by:

  • the establishment of an Incident Management Team comprising government officials, health professionals and high level industry representatives, defining clearly the roles and responsibilities of each of the key stakeholders, indicating their interrelationships;
  • defining the processes in place to ensure that a strategic approach is taken that is mindful of the impact each decision will have on the industry;
  • ensuring that all relevant primary personnel, for example Ministers of the Northern Ireland Executive, are fully apprised and afforded the opportunity to input into this process at the earliest possible stage;
  • the review of the communication channels in order that the appropriate information is communicated to the relevant audience in a timely fashion. The Incident Management Team should assume responsibility for the communication of a single and consistent message.

Sampling Processes

12. The Committee noted that officials from the Department in the Republic of Ireland first took a sample of pork fat on 19 November 2008 and that analysis results received on 28 November 2008 indicated the presence of marker polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s).[2]

13. Subsequent evidence received in oral evidence indicated that, whilst the various bodies deal with numerous food incidents on a weekly basis, the presence of marker PCB’s was not routine and that, in fact, this was the first time since its inception that the FSAI had been informed of marker PCB’s.[3] The Committee believes that this was an appropriate stage to advise all relevant bodies of the tentative positive presence of marker PCB’s.

Recommendation

A strategy should be created to allow development of early warning systems for future potential contamination incidents so that action can be taken to minimise the risks for the food chain and the economic consequences for the farming and food production industries. This strategy should also ensure that the early warning systems inform other Member States and regions who may be affected.

14. The Committee also noted that the samples taken on 19 November 2008 were as part of the routine National Residues Monitoring Programme in operation in the Republic of Ireland. The Committee is very concerned, however, that the food recycling plant at the centre of this incident had not been inspected by DAFF officials, as it was supposed to have been, in 2008. The Committee cannot accept the defence that, whilst this inspection had not taken place by 29th November, the plant was due to be inspected in December.[4]

Recommendation

The Committee believes that this indicates the importance, to the relevant authorities in both jurisdictions, of ensuring that feed inspection programmes are adequately planned and resourced to ensure that slippage does not occur.

15. The Committee remains concerned at the delay between the initial test (19 November 2008) and confirmation that the initial sample was positive (1 December 2009), a period of almost two weeks. The Committee has further concerns regarding the time taken subsequently by the Agri Food Biosciences Institute (AFBI) to analyse samples. The Committee notes that officials put considerable effort into conducting these tests. However, the length of time taken contributed to the concern and confusion being expressed within the industry.

Recommendation

The Department, and other relevant authorities, should examine the current testing regimes to access what improvements could be applied to the processes, particularly with regards to ensuring a more efficient and timely testing and reporting process.

Communication

16. The Committee considers the absence of appropriate communication to be the most significant weakness identified during the course of the inquiry and that this was the single most critical contributory factor to the near-collapse of our industry in Northern Ireland.

17. The Committee believes that it is totally unacceptable for the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development to learn of the total recall of Irish pork and pork products by chance whilst watching a news programme in the late evening of Saturday, 6 December 2009. This is despite a meeting having been held earlier that day between the Taoiseach, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Minister for Health and Children, the Chief Medical Officer, the FSAI and officials from the relevant statutory bodies in the Republic of Ireland.[5] The Committee believes that it should have been incumbent on the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the Republic of Ireland to have contacted the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland immediately following this meeting.

18. The Committee is particularly alarmed as this failure to communicate the seriousness of the situation and the unilateral decision to recall these products by the Irish authorities was taken despite being aware that a number of farms in Northern Ireland had received this bread and that some 9,000 live pigs are exported to Northern Ireland per week, representing approximately 18% of the total pigs slaughtered in the Republic of Ireland.[6]

19. The Committee has noted the very positive work that had previously been taken by officials in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in respect of, for example, the All-Island Animal Health Strategy. However, the Committee remains concerned at the vast difference between the principles expressed in such strategies and processes against the practical outworkings that presented themselves during the first real test of these principles.

20. The Committee has also identified a number of other breakdowns in the communication processes and these are detailed as follows:

(a) The period between the confirmation of the test results and the initial contact with DARD;

(b) The identification of the Northern Ireland farms that had received the bread (Thursday, 4 December 2008) and communication of this to DARD (Friday, 5 December 2008). This presented a number of problems, including the fact that the contact was at too low a level, the initial contact did not contain any relevant details and that DARD were required to chase DAFF late into Friday afternoon for information regarding the incident;

(c) The FSAI contacted FSA UK in the first instance on Thursday 4 December 2008 but did not contact the FSANI directly. The FSANI was formally contacted by FSA UK two days later;

(d) The Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development contacting her counterpart in the Republic of Ireland on 17 December 2008 regarding the eligibility of processors in Northern Ireland for compensation and the formal communication from Ministers at a North South Ministerial Council meeting on 23 January 2009 stating that they were unable to do so; and

(e) Because the recall was ordered (but not communicated to DARD) on Saturday 6 December, there was a dearth of information available to producers, processors and consumers on Monday 8 December 2008. This affected the ability of DARD and other agencies to provide clear decisions to industry stakeholders at what was a critical time in the process;

21. The Committee has previously commented in respect of the numbers of organisations that were (or should have been) involved through this process. The Committee is of the view that this also contributed to the poor communication witnessed because, as has been proven during this incident, the more elaborate the means of communication, inevitably the more ineffective it becomes. This can be evidenced by the number of Northern Ireland beef producers presenting cattle at abattoirs on Monday 8 December only to be advised that these animals were not permitted to enter the food chain and by farm businesses unable to access accurate information from a number of DARD offices.

Recommendations

Accurate and timely communication is vital in order that industry is fully aware of all available information and is briefed to handle any inquiries. This is particularly important at Ministerial level. Therefore, as part of the review and streamlining of the agencies involved, the current Executive review should identify a checklist of key stakeholders, both internal and external to the Incident Management Team, to be contacted in the event of other incidents of this nature. This should also indicate the key times for contacting, for example, Executive Ministers and the appropriate industry representatives.

In addition, the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development should critically assess its communication lines and processes in order to prevent a repeat of those circumstances witnessed on Monday 8 December. This should focus on an assessment of communication lines and processes to farm businesses and industry processors, as these are providing ongoing advice in respect of the incident.

Aid Package

22. The Committee believes that the development of an aid package by the authorities in the Republic of Ireland which did not include Northern Ireland producers and processors did, and continues to place the Northern Ireland industry at a severe competitive disadvantage. This is evidenced by the fact that the Northern Ireland pig industry has struggled to recover since the incident, particularly to absorb the cost of the incident, conservatively estimated to be in the region of £10 million.

23. The Committee has also expressed concern during the course of the inquiry as to the length of time taken by the Northern Ireland Executive in compiling an aid package. This serious delay exacerbated the financial strain placed on the industry.

24. In addition, the aid package did not address the impact that has been felt across the beef and dairy sector. In addition, it must be recognised that the package was limited to only 25% of the direct verifiable costs incurred or 25% of the value of the animal, the balance again being absorbed by an industry already facing a dire financial outlook.

25. The Committee believes that the aid package did not address the full range of businesses impacted by this incident, including dairy farmers who had purchased the contaminated feed, processors and retailers. Additionally, the package did not tackle associated costs such as the disposal of slurry and processed retail material.

Recommendation

The Committee recommends that authorities in both jurisdictions enter into negotiations with the European Commission to explore the potential for future joint applications for aid in the event of such an incident. This should ensure that there is parity in the levels of aid being provided to those impacted by similar incidents, avoiding the potential for placing one section of the industry in a competitive disadvantage against another. This arrangement should not affect or delay applications for aid in respect of those incidents where the scale of impact is greater in one jurisdiction.

In addition, the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development should review the Executive aid scheme to allow access to the scheme to those impacted on by the incident, such as those businesses impacted by feeding of contaminated feeds to their animals or those with associated costs such as the disposal of slurry, milk and processed retail material

Proportionality

26. The Committee recognises that current EU legislation states that it is illegal to allow produce with the levels of PCB’s witnessed during the incident onto the market. However, the Committee also notes the view of the European Food Safety Authority that emerged during the course of the inquiry, and confirmed by the FSAI, that the regulatory limits are based on a lifetime exposure of something like 40 years for an average individual and that prolonged exposure to these levels would not have affected health significantly.[7] The Committee views this as an endorsement that our food production in Northern Ireland was safe.

27. However, this raises the issue of whether the recall was proportionate to the risk to public health. The Committee would emphasise that they support the objective of protecting the public health and that this support is shared by the primary producers, processors and wider industry. However, from a strategic position, this incident has cost the Northern Ireland vote in the region of £9.6 million, whilst the industry continues to absorb losses of approximately £10m.

Recommendation

The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development recommends that the Incident Management Team develop contingency plans that will allow for a proportionate response to any future incidents of this nature. The focus of these plans must be to assess the risk to public health but should also take into account the full range of options that might be available to negate this risk whilst ensuring that the risk to the agricultural and wider economy is not increased. These plans should be agreed to by the European Commission.

Conclusion

28. The Committee has concluded that the key weakness and sole contributory factor to the near collapse of the Northern Ireland pig industry was the absence of appropriate communication to the Northern Ireland authorities by those in the Republic of Ireland, particularly on 6 December 2008. The Committee believes that the remissness of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in contacting the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland on or before 6 December 2009 was a critical failure and proof that the cooperation heralded by the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development in the All Island Animal Health Strategy does not exist and that the evidence received during the inquiry proves that this strategy is not working.

29. The Committee heard the phrase “with hindsight" on a number of occasions throughout the course of the inquiry. It is essential that those central to this incident take the opportunity to look back at their roles, and those that they interacted with, and critically assess their performance. It is equally a necessity that changes will be identified and that these changes need to be implemented with all urgency. Paramount, in the view of the Committee, is the streamlining of the process, including the number of statutory bodies and other agencies involved in the process. The Committee believes that this can be achieved through the establishment of an Incident Management Team.

30. The Committee heard from most of the organisations that they were content that their individual processes, on the whole, were successful and that the main objective, that is protecting the public health, was achieved. The Committee acknowledges this as being important. However, the Committee would draw attention to the fact that this incident did not have a “happy ending" and that the Northern Ireland industry is still struggling with the ramifications of the incident, primarily the financial consequences that have to be absorbed. If such an incident occurs in the future, it is essential that these are considered and that a proportionate response that protects both the public health and the local and wider economies is taken. It is equally important that the industry is kept informed through a single communication source, such as the Incident Management Team.

31. The events leading up to and beyond 6 December 2008 have placed the Northern Ireland agricultural sector in a precarious position at a time whenever the pressures of the global economy are being widely felt by the industry. Whilst an aid package was eventually provided by the Northern Ireland Executive to the Northern Ireland industry, the Committee does not believe this to be sufficient, as the aid package was restricted to a very precise part of the industry. The Committee calls on the authorities in both jurisdictions to revisit their respective schemes, given the benefit of hindsight and assess how aid can be provided to those currently considered ineligible to ensure that the financial risks being faced by these businesses disposing of slurry, milk and retail materials are negated.

[1] Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food “Report on the Contamination of Irish Pork", May 2009

[2] DAFF written submission to the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development of the Northern Ireland Assembly, 23 July 2009

[3] The Official Report (Hansard) 8 October 2009

[4] The Official Report (Hansard) 13 October 2009

[5] DAFF written submission to the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development of the Northern Ireland Assembly, 23 July 2009

[6] The Official Report (Hansard) 24 September 2009

[7] The Official Report (Hansard) 8 October 2009

Appendix 1

Minutes of Proceedings

Tuesday 5 May 2009
Room 152, Parliament Buildings

Present: Dr William McCrea (Chairperson)
Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
P J Bradley
Thomas Burns
Trevor Clarke
Willie Clarke
William Irwin
Francie Molloy
George Savage

In attendance: Paul Carlisle (Clerk to the Committee)
Emma Patton (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Frank Geddis (Clerical Supervisor)
Steven Mealey (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: None

The meeting opened at 1.30pm in Public Session.

1. Apologies

As above.

2. Minutes

The Committee agreed the Minutes of the meeting of 28 April 2009.

3. Matters arising

(a) Correspondence issued

The Committee noted the correspondence issued since the meeting of 28 April 2009.

(b) Correspondence received

The Committee noted the correspondence received since the meeting of 28 April 2009.

4. Presentation – Cool Milk Ltd

Jacqueline McShane and Mike Cassidy, representatives from Cool Milk in Schools Ltd, joined the meeting at 1.35pm and presented on a scheme to provide free semi-skimmed milk to schools in Northern Ireland. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Thomas Burns joined the meeting at 1.36pm.

PJ Bradley joined the meeting at 1.37pm.

Tom Elliott joined the meeting at 1.37pm.

Thomas Burns left the meeting at 2.03pm.

George Savage left the meeting at 2.15pm.

The representatives left the meeting at 2.15pm.

5. Presentation – DARD – Forest Service Business Plan 2009/2010

David Small and Gerry Hill, departmental officials, joined the meeting at 2.15pm and presented to Committee on the above. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Willie Clarke left the meeting at 2.23pm.

Thomas Burns rejoined the meeting at 2.24pm.

PJ Bradley left the meeting at 2.30pm.

Willie Clarke rejoined the meeting at 2.31pm.

Francie Molloy left the meeting at 2.37pm.

William Irwin left the meeting at 2.43pm.

The officials left the meeting at 2.45pm.

6. Presentation – DARD – EC Review of EU Animal By-Products Regulation (EC No. 1774/2002) Consultation Responses

John McConnell and Iqnatius McKeown, department officials joined the meeting at 2.45pm and made a presentation on the consultation responses on the above mentioned Regulation.

William Irwin joined the meeting at 2.51pm.

Thomas Burns left the meeting at 3.00pm.

The officials left the meeting at 3.00pm.

7. Terms of Reference – Dioxins Incident Inquiry

The Committee were briefed on the Terms of Reference for the above mentioned Inquiry. It was noted that Mr W Clarke asked that the inquiry be postponed until other external inquiries were completed. However, Members agreed to proceed and suggested amendments to the terms of reference. Members agreed to the amended Terms of Reference.

8. Future Presentation

The Committee Clerk briefed Members on the future business of the Committee. It was agreed to proceed as proposed.

9. AOB

Members were reminded of the Committee Visit to AFBI Loughgall on Friday 8 May 2009.

10. Date of the next meeting

The next Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday 12 May 2009 at 1.30pm in Room 152, Parliament Buildings.

The meeting was adjourned at 3.07pm.

Chairperson

Date

Tuesday 12 May 2009
Room 152, Parliament Buildings

Present: Dr William McCrea (Chairperson)
Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
P J Bradley
Thomas Burns
Trevor Clarke
Willie Clarke
Pat Doherty
William Irwin
Francie Molloy
Edwin Poots
George Savage

In attendance: Paul Carlisle (Clerk to the Committee)
Emma Patton (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Frank Geddis (Clerical Supervisor)
Kathy Gunduza (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: None

The meeting opened at 1.30pm in Public Session.

1. Apologies

As above.

2. Minutes

The Committee agreed the Minutes of the meeting of 5 May 2009.

3. Matters arising

(a) Correspondence issued

The Committee noted the correspondence issued since the meeting of 5 May 2009.

(b) Correspondence received

The Committee noted the correspondence received since the meeting of 5 May 2009.

4. Presentation – DARD- River Basin Plan - Water Quality Initiatives

Peter Scott and Brian Ervine, departmental officials joined the meeting at 1.33pm and presented to Committee on the department’s Water Quality Initiatives. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Tom Elliott joined the meeting at 1.33pm.

William Irwin joined the meeting at 1.36pm.

Francie Molloy joined the meeting at 1.37pm.

Edwin Poots left the meeting at 1.55pm.

Thomas Burns joined the meeting at 1.55pm.

PJ Bradley joined the meeting at 1.56pm.

Pat Doherty joined the meeting at 1.56pm.

The officials left the meeting at 1.59pm.

5. Presentation – DARD – SL1s – The Control of Salmonella in Broiler Flocks Scheme Order (Northern Ireland) 2009 and The Zoonoses and Animal By-Products (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009

Ian McKee and Barbara Cooper, departmental officials, joined the meeting at 2.00pm and presented to Committee with revised fees in respect of the above mentioned subordinate legislations. Following the presentation, Members put questions. It was agreed to proceed to the next legislative stage, subject to the application of the revised fees.

The officials left the meeting at 2.16pm.

6. Presentation – Ulster Farmers’ Union – Key Issues

Clarke Black, Graham Furey, John Thompson, Harry Sinclair and Wesley Aston, representatives from the Ulster Farmer’s Union, joined the meeting at 2.16pm and made a presentation on the key issues currently facing Northern Ireland’s agricultural industry.

Willie Clarke left the meeting at 2.37pm.

PJ Bradley joined the meeting at 2.49pm.

Thomas Burns left the meeting at 3.05pm.

The representatives left the meeting at 3.07pm.

7. Dioxins Incident Inquiry

It was agreed that the Committee would seek legal advice before proceeding with the above mentioned inquiry.

8. Future Presentation

The Committee Clerk briefed Members on the future business of the Committee. It was agreed to proceed as proposed.

9. AOB

Members were reminded a number of Committee visits scheduled over the next month.

The Committee agreed that there would be no meeting on Tuesday 2 June 2009.

10. Date of the next meeting

The next Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday 19 May 2009 at 1.30pm in Room 152, Parliament Buildings.

The meeting was adjourned at 3.12pm.

Chairperson

Date

Tuesday 8 September 2009
Room 152, Parliament Buildings

Present: Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
William Irwin
George Savage
Pat Doherty
Willie Clarke
Francie Molloy
Thomas Burns

In attendance: Paul Carlisle (Clerk to the Committee)
Shauna Mageean (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Phil Pateman (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Paul Stitt (Clerical Supervisor)
Erika Graham (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Ian Paisley Jnr. (Chairperson)
Patsy McGlone

The meeting commenced at 1.33pm in Closed Session

1. Apologies

As above.

2. Minutes

The Committee agreed the Minutes of the meeting of 30 June 2009.

3. Minutes

The Committee agreed the Minutes of the meeting of 28 July 2009.

The Committee considered legal advice with relation to Clause 8 of the Diseases of Animals Bill

The meeting opened in Public Session at 1.59pm.

4. Matters arising

(a) Declaration of Interest

The Committee noted the declaration of interest submitted by Ian Paisley Jnr.

(b) Correspondence issued

The Committee noted the correspondence issued since the meeting of 28 July 2009.

(c) Correspondence received

The Committee noted the correspondence received since the meeting of 28 July 2009.

(d) Consultation on Draft Code of Practice for Searches of Premises Under Warrant

The Committee noted the submission received in regard to the above consultation and agreed that the submission should be forwarded to the Department for a response.

(e) Consultation on SL1 Foyle Area and Carlingford Area (Control of Oyster Fishing) (Amendment) Regulations 2009

The Committee noted the submissions received in regard to the above consultation and agreed that the submissions should be forwarded to the Department and that the Department and a number of consultees should be called to make a presentation to the Committee.

(f) Consultation on Diseases of Animals Bill

The Committee noted the submission received in regard to Clause 8 of the Diseases of Animals Bill. The Committee agreed to await the outcome of a further meeting between the Chair, Deputy Chair and the Clerk and the Department with respect to specification of brucellosis.

William Irwin declared an interest

(g) Update on Committee Inquiry into the Dioxin Contamination Incident, December 2008

The Committee agreed the witnesses to be called for oral evidence and to the schedule for evidence sessions in relation to the above.

5. Pre-consultation – The Horse Racing (Charges on Bookmakers) Order (Northern Ireland) 2010

The Committee agreed that officials should present to Committee when a detailed analysis of responses has been undertaken.

6. Pre-consultation – The Scrapie Monitoring (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010

The Committee agreed that officials should present to Committee when a detailed analysis of responses has been undertaken.

7. SL1 – The Wine Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009

The Committee noted the above mentioned legislation should proceed to the next stage.

Thomas Burns joined the meeting at 2.20pm

8. Presentation – DARD – SL1: The Agriculture (Student Fees) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009

Norman Fulton and Alan McCartney, departmental officials, joined the meeting at 2.20pm and presented to Committee in respect the above SL1. Following the presentation, Members put questions. The Committee noted the above mentioned legislation should proceed to the next stage

The officials left the meeting at 2.25pm

9. Presentation – DARD – SL1: The Common Agricultural Policy Single Payment and Support Schemes (Cross Compliance) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009

Valerie Bell, Alan Galbraith and David Garrett, departmental officials, joined the meeting at 2.25pm and presented to Committee in respect the above SL1. Following the presentation, Members put questions. The Committee noted the above mentioned legislation should proceed to the next stage

The officials left the meeting at 2.41pm

10. Forward Work Plan

The Committee noted the indicative schedule of work. The Committee agreed that the Committee Clerk should develop a schedule to include additional Committee meetings if required and this schedule will be put to the Committee for consideration.

11. AOB

The Committee noted the Committee visit to Mash Direct Ltd. on Friday 18 September 2009. It was agreed that Members should advise the Committee office if they wish to attend.

12. Date of the next meeting

The next Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday 15 September 2009 at 12.30pm in Room 152, Parliament Buildings.

The meeting was adjourned at 2.51pm

Chairperson

Date

Committee for Agriculture
and Rural Development

From: Paul Carlisle
Clerk to the Committee

Date: 08 September 2009

To: Committee Members

Committee Inquiry into the Dioxin Contamination Incident, December 2008

The Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development agreed to undertake an inquiry into the dioxin contamination incident of December 2008 and agreed the aim and terms of reference for the inquiry at its meeting of 5th May 2009.

Following invitation for submissions, the Committee Support Office received submissions from a number of stakeholders and recommends that the Committee receive oral evidence from:

1. Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

2. Food Standards Agency

3. Ulster Farmers’ Union

4. Northern Ireland Meat Exporters’ Association

The Committee Support Office also requested and received information from

5. Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the Republic of Ireland

6. Food Safety Authority Ireland.

If the Committee are content, it is suggested that evidence sessions are held as below:

Stakeholders 1-4: Thursday 29 September 2009 (all day) in the Senate Chamber, Parliament Buildings.

Stakeholders 5 & 6: Thursday 8 October or Friday 9 October 2009 at a hotel conference suite in Dublin.

Paul Carlisle
Clerk to the Committee

Thursday 24 September 2009
Senate Chamber, Parliament Buildings

Present: Ian Paisley Jnr. (Chairperson)
Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
George Savage
Willie Clarke
Pat Doherty
Thomas Burns
Jim Shannon

In attendance: Paul Carlisle (Clerk to the Committee)
Shauna Mageean (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Paul Stitt (Clerical Supervisor)
Mark O’Hare (Clerical Supervisor)
Erika Graham (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Patsy McGlone
William Irwin
William McCrea
Francie Molloy

The meeting commenced at 10.39am in Public Session

The meeting was in quorate at 10.39am

1. Apologies

As above.

2. Presentation by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Dr Malcolm McKibbin, Liam McKibbin, Bert Houston and Roy McClenaghan, departmental officials, joined the meeting at 10.40am and presented to Committee. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Thomas Burns joined the meeting at 11.18am

The meeting was in quorum at 11.18am

Tom Elliott joined the meeting at 11.51am

The officials left the meeting at 12.01pm

The meeting was suspended at 12.01pm

The meeting resumed at 12.09pm

3. Presentation by Ulster Farmers’ Union

Graham Furey, Clarke Black, Wesley Aston and Norman Robson, UFU representatives, joined the meeting at 12.09pm and presented to Committee. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

The Committee agreed to receive the FSA Steelhenge report as evidence to the Inqury.

Pat Doherty left the meeting at 12.56pm

Thomas Burns left the meeting at 12.56pm

The representatives left the meeting at 1.00pm

The meeting was suspended at 1.00pm

The meeting resumed at 2.05pm in public session

The meeting was inquorate at 2.05pm

4. Presentation by Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland

Gerry McCurdy, Maria Jennings, Michael Jackson and Dr. Kirsten Dunbar, FSANI representatives, joined the meeting at 2.06pm and presented to Committee. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

The representatives left the meeting at 3.21pm

5. Presentation by Northern Ireland Meat Exporters’ Association

Phelim O’Neill, NIMEA representative, joined the meeting at 3.22pm and presented to Committee. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Jim Shannon entered the meeting at 3.27pm

The meeting was in quorum at 3.27pm

Jim Shannon declared an interest

The representative left the meeting at 3.38pm

The meeting was adjourned at 3.39pm

Chairperson

Date

Thursday 8 October 2009
Buswells Hotel, Dublin

Present: Ian Paisley Jnr. (Chairperson)
Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
George Savage
Pat Doherty
Thomas Burns

In attendance: Paul Carlisle (Clerk to the Committee)
Shauna Mageean (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mark O’Hare (Clerical Supervisor)
Erika Graham (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Willie Clarke
Patsy McGlone
William Irwin
William McCrea
Francie Molloy
Jim Shannon

The meeting commenced at 10.34am in Public Session

The meeting was in quorate at 10.34am

1. Apologies

As above.

2. Minutes

The Committee agreed the Minutes of the meeting of 24 September 2009.

3. Presentation by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland

Prof. Alan Reilly, Raymond Ellard and Jane Ryder, representatives of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, joined the meeting at 10.36am and presented to Committee. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Tom Elliott joined the meeting at 11.13am

The meeting was in quorum at 11.13am

George Savage left the meeting at 11.23am

The meeting was inquorate at 11.23am

George Savage rejoined the meeting at 11.27am

The meeting was in quorum at 11.27am

The representatives left the meeting at 12.27pm

The meeting was adjourned at 12.31pm

Chairperson

Date

Tuesday 13 October 2009
Room 30, Parliament Buildings

Present: Ian Paisley Jnr. (Chairperson)
Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
Pat Doherty
Francie Molloy
Thomas Burns
William Irwin
Jim Shannon

In attendance: Paul Carlisle (Clerk to the Committee)
Shauna Mageean (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mark O’Hare (Clerical Supervisor)
Erika Graham (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: none

The meeting commenced at 10.17am in Public Session

1. Apologies

As above.

2. Minutes

The Committee agreed the Minutes of the evidence session of 8 October 2009.

3. Presentation by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

Martin Heraghty and Dermot Ryan, departmental officials, joined the meeting at 10.18am and presented to Committee. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Tom Elliot entered the meeting at 10.32am

Jim Shannon entered the meeting at 10.55am

Francie Molloy left the meeting at 11.02am

Jim Shannon left the meeting at 11.05am

Jim Shannon rejoined the meeting at 11.10am

Tom Elliott left the meeting at 11.45am

Thomas Burns left the meeting at 12.15pm

The meeting was inquorate at 12.15pm

Jim Shannon declared an interest

Thomas Burns rejoined the meeting at 12.18pm

Tom Elliott rejoined the meeting at 12.24pm

Thomas Burns left the meeting at 12.28pm

Francie Molloy left the meeting at 12.37pm

The meeting was inquorate at 12.37pm

The officials left the meeting at 12.39pm

The meeting was adjourned at 12.39pm

Chairperson

Date

Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Room 30, Parliament Buildings

Present: Ian Paisley Jnr. (Chairperson)
Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
Dr William McCrea
Pat Doherty
Patsy McGlone
Thomas Burns
Jim Shannon
William Irwin
Willie Clarke

In Attendance: Paul Carlisle (Clerk to the Committee)
Sohui Yim (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mark O’Hare (Clerical Supervisor)
Erika Graham (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: George Savage
Francie Molloy

The meeting commenced at 10.23am in closed session.

1. Dioxins Report

Members agreed amendments to the first draft of the Report into the Dioxins Incident of December 2009.

2. Addendum to the Diseases of Animals Report

Members agreed amendments to the first draft of the Addendum to the Report on the Diseases of Animals Bill.

The meeting commenced at 11.20am in public session.

3. Minutes of the last meeting

The Committee agreed the minutes of the meeting of 20 October 2009.

4. Matters Arising

(a) Correspondence Issued

The Committee noted the correspondence issued since the meeting of 20 October 2009.

(b) Correspondence Received

The Committee noted the correspondence received since the meeting of 20 October 2009.

5. Presentation – Woodland Trust & RSPB – DARD Committee Stage of Forestry Bill

The following officials from Woodland Trust and RSPB joined the meeting at 11.21am and gave evidence to the Committee in the respect of the above:

Patrick Cregg – Director – Woodland Trust

Lee Bruce – Government Affairs Officer – Woodland Trust

John Martin – Policy Officer – RSPB

Mike Wood – UK Forestry Advisor – RSPB

Following the presentation, Members put questions.

William Irwin left the meeting at 11.26am

William Irwin rejoined the meeting at 11.29am

William Irwin left the meeting at 11.34am

William Irwin rejoined the meeting at 11.37am

Dr. William McCrea left the meeting at 11.29am

Dr. William McCrea rejoined the meeting at 11.30am

Jim Shannon declared an interest

Tom Elliot declared an interest

Ian Paisley Jnr. left the meeting at 12.12am

Pat Doherty left the meeting at 12.15am

William Irwin left the meeting at 12.15am

William Irwin rejoined the meeting at 12.33am

The officials left the meeting at 12.37am

The Committee agreed to allow the Northern Ireland Environment Link additional time to submit their evidence in respect of the above subject.

The meeting was suspended at 12.39

The meeting resumed at 1.34pm

6. SR: The Plant Health (Wood & Bark) (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2009

That the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development has considered The Plant Health (Wood & Bark) (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2009 and has no objection to the Rule.

7. Presentation – DARD – SL1s

Brian Ervine and Martin Mooney, DARD officials joined the meeting at 1:35pm and presented to the Committee in respect of the following SL1s:

SL1: The Cereal Seeds Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009

SL1: The Beet Seeds Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009

SL1: The Fodder Plant Seeds Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009

SL1: The Vegetable Seeds Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009

SL1: The Oil and Fibre Plant Seeds Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009

SL1: The Seeds (Registration, Licensing and Enforcement) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009

William Irwin entered the meeting at 1.36pm

Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Patsy McGlone entered the meeting at 1.46pm

The Committee noted the above mentioned legislations and agreed that they should proceed to the next stage.

8. Any Other Business

Dr William McCrea raised the issue of how to proceed on concerns around the provision of road planning in rural areas.

The Chairperson agreed to seek the Minister’s views on the matter before considering other options.

William Irwin raised the issue of final payments to farmers under the Farmer Nutrients Management Scheme.

Willie Clarke left the meeting at 1.53pm

9. Date of next meeting

The next Committee meeting will be held on 10 November at 1.30pm in

Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

The meeting was adjourned at 1.55pm.

Chairperson

Date

Tuesday 10 November 2009
Room 30, Parliament Buildings

Present: Ian Paisley Jnr. (Chairperson)
Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
George Savage
Pat Doherty
Francie Molloy
Willie Clarke
Patsy McGlone
Thomas Burns
William McCrea
Jim Shannon
William Irwin

In attendance: Paul Carlisle (Clerk to the Committee)
Shauna Mageean (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mark O’Hare (Clerical Supervisor)
Erika Graham (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: none

The meeting commenced at 1.35pm in Closed Session

1. Dioxins Report

The Committee deliberated the report and approved the amendments as discussed at the meeting of 3 November. The Members requested that confirmation be sought from the Department in relation to exact figures in relation to compensation and that following receipt of that information from the Department, the report be published. Members agreed to forward a copy of the published report to the Minister.

The Committee expressed their thanks to the Committee Support Office for their work in organisation of the Committee Inquiry and in compilation of the Report.

Patsy McGlone entered the meeting at 1.36pm

Willie Clarke entered the meeting at 1.37pm

Patsy McGlone left the meeting at 1.39pm

George Savage entered the meeting at 1.40pm

Patsy McGlone rejoined the meeting at 1.41pm

2. Addendum to the Report on Diseases of Animals Bill

A draft copy of the Committee Addendum to the Report on the Diseases of Animals Bill detailing the agreed amendment to Clause 8 of the Bill was tabled at the meeting. The Committee agreed the report be published and laid in the Business Office of the Northern Ireland Assembly and. Members agreed to forward a copy of the published report to the Minister.

Thomas Burns entered the meeting at 1.45pm

The meeting opened in Open Session at 1.45pm

3. Apologies

As above

4. Minutes

The Committee agreed the Minutes of the meeting of 3 November 2009.

5. Matters arising

(a) Correspondence issued

The Committee noted the correspondence issued since the meeting of 3 November 2009.

(b) Correspondence received

The Committee noted the correspondence received since the meeting of 3 November 2009.

Tom Elliott left the meeting at 1.49pm

Jim Shannon entered the meeting at 1.52pm

6. Presentation – DARD – Update against PSA Targets

John Smith, Pauline Keegan and Roly Harwood, departmental officials, joined the meeting at 1.58pm and presented to Committee in respect of the above. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Jim Shannon left the meeting at 2.04pm

Jim Shannon rejoined the meeting at 2.12pm

William McCrea left the meeting at 2.41pm

Thomas Burns left the meeting at 2.45pm

Thomas Burns rejoined the meeting at 2.48pm

Thomas Burns left the meeting at 2.52pm

Patsy McGlone left the meeting at 3.03pm

Patsy McGlone rejoined the meeting at 3.08pm

Francie Molloy declared an interest

William Irwin declared an interest

Patsy McGlone left the meeting at 3.25pm

The officials left the meeting at 3.25pm

7. Presentation – Assisi Animal Sanctuary – Briefing on their work and views on the Animal Welfare Bill

Brian Bingham, Margaret Sinnott and Felicity Huston, representatives of Assisi Animal Sanctuary, joined the meeting at 3.26pm and presented to Committee in respect the above. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Thomas Burns rejoined the meeting at 3.35pm

Jim Shannon left the meeting at 3.53pm

The representatives left the meeting at 4.09pm

8. Forestry Bill – Oral Evidence Forward Work Programme

The Committee agreed the list of witnesses to be called to give evidence in relation to the Forestry Bill. The Committee was apprised of the timetable of evidence sessions.

The Committee agreed to hold an all day evidence session on Thursday 21 January 2010 at Castlewellan Forest Park.

9. Date of the next meeting

The next Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday 17 November 2009 at 1.30pm in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

The meeting was adjourned at 4.12pm

Chairperson

Date

Tuesday 8 December 2009
Room 30, Parliament Buildings

Present: Mr Ian Paisley Jnr. MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Tom Elliott MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Burns MLA
Mr Willie Clarke MLA
Mr Pat Doherty MP MLA
Mr William Irwin MLA
Dr William McCrea MP MLA
Mr Patsy McGlone MLA
Mr Francie Molloy MLA
Mr Jim Shannon MLA

In attendance: Mr Paul Carlisle (Clerk to the Committee)
Mrs Shauna Mageean (Assistant Assembly Clerk)
Mr Mark O’Hare (Clerical Supervisor)
Ms Erika Graham (Clerical Officer)

Apologies: Mr George Savage MLA

The meeting commenced at 1.37pm in Open Session

2. Apologies

As above

Mr Elliott entered the meeting at 1.36pm

3. Minutes

Agreed: The Committee agreed the Minutes of the meeting of 1 December 2009

4. Matters arising

(a) Correspondence issued

The Committee noted the correspondence issued since the meeting of 1 December 2009.

(b) Correspondence received

The Committee noted the correspondence received since the meeting of 1 December 2009.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to receive a presentation from the Chairs of the five Rural White Paper Stakeholder Advisory Group sub-groups.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to write to the Permanent Secretary of Department of Agriculture and Rural Development on behalf of the Public Accounts Committee requesting that DARD establish a framework of sanctions regarding fraudulent behaviour in relation to tuberculosis.

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Clerk forward correspondence from other Assembly Committees requesting DARD’s views on various matters directly to the Department for their comments.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to forward their views to the Committee for Employment and Learning on the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s proposed amendments to the Agricultural Wages Board in respect of the draft Employment Bill following the DARD presentation to Committee on 12 January 2010.

Agreed: The Committee agreed to receive a presentation from Born Free Foundation in relation the proposed Animal Welfare Bill, to be scheduled by the Clerk.

5. Presentation – Communities Against Lough Neagh Incinerator – Update on position

The following representatives joined the meeting at 1.40pm

Danny Moore – President

David Kerr – Strategic Planning

The representatives presented to Committee in respect of the above. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Mr Clarke entered the meeting at 1.42pm

Mr Shannon entered the meeting at 1.44pm

Mr Elliott entered the meeting at 1.45pm

Mr Shannon left the meeting at 1.55pm

Mr Doherty entered the meeting at 2.07pm

Dr McCrea left the meeting at 2.11pm

Mr McGlone entered the meeting at 2.15pm

Mr Burns declared an interest

Mr Burns left the meeting at 2.24pm

Mr Burns rejoined the meeting at 2.27pm

Mr McGlone left the meeting at 2.27pm

Mr Paisley left the meeting at 2.30pm

The representatives left the meeting at 2.30pm

Mr Elliott took the Chair at 2.30pm

6. Presentation – DARD – December Monitoring Round

The following departmental officials joined the meeting at 2.31pm

John Smith – Grade 5 – Assistant Secretary

Pauline Keegan – Grade 5 – Assistant Secretary

Ian McKee – Grade 7 – Principal Officer

The officials presented to Committee in respect of the above. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Mr Burns left the meeting at 2.32pm

Mr McGlone rejoined the meeting at 2.36pm

Mr Burns rejoined the meeting at 2.48pm

Mr McGlone left the meeting at 2.50pm

Mr Paisley rejoined the meeting at 2.55pm

Mr Burns left the meeting at 2.57pm

Mr Burns rejoined the meeting at 3.04pm

Mr Burns left the meeting at 3.15pm

Mr Burns rejoined the meeting at 3.34pm

Mr Elliott placed on record his objection to £1 million being returned by Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to Department of Finance and Personnel for reallocation to DSD.

The officials left the meeting at 3.35pm

7. Presentation – DARD – SL1: The Specified Animal Pathogens (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland)

The following departmental officials joined the meeting at 3.35pm

Jackie Robinson – Grade 7 – Principal Officer

Christine Henderson – Staff Officer

The officials presented to Committee in respect of the above. Following the presentation, Members put questions.

Agreed: The Committee agreed the above mentioned legislation should proceed to the next stage.

The officials left the meeting at 3.41pm

8. Pre-consultation: The Animals (Specified Diseases) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010 & The Animals (Insect Transmissible Diseases) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2010

Agreed: The Committee agreed that officials should present to Committee when a detailed analysis of responses has been undertaken

9. SL1: The Diseases of Animals (Importation of Machinery & Vehicles) Order (NI) 2009

Agreed: The Committee noted the above mentioned legislation should proceed to the next stage.

10. SL1: The Lough Neagh (Levels) Scheme 2009

Agreed: The Committee agreed the above mentioned legislation should proceed to the next stage.

The meeting moved into closed session at 3.42pm

1. Report on the Committee Inquiry into the Dioxin Contamination Incident, December 2008

The Committee considered the content of the draft report:

Agreed: The Committee agreed the content of paragraphs 1-4

Agreed: The Committee agreed the content of paragraphs 5-8

Agreed: The Committee agreed the content of paragraph 9

Agreed: The Committee agreed the content of paragraphs 10-11

Agreed: The Committee agreed the content of paragraphs 12-15

Agreed: The Committee agreed the content of paragraphs 16-21

Agreed: The Committee agreed the content of paragraphs 22-25

Agreed: The Committee agreed the content of paragraphs 26-31

Agreed: The Committee agreed the content of Appendices 1 - 3

Agreed: The Committee agreed the content of Appendix 4

Agreed: The Committee agreed to allow the Chairperson to approve the minutes of today’s meeting in order that they are included in the report

Agreed: The Committee agreed that the Report on the Committee Inquiry into the Dioxin Contamination Incident, December 2008 be the Second Report of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee to the Assembly

Agreed: The Committee agreed the content of the draft motion for debate of the report in plenary session.

11. Date of the next meeting

The next Committee meeting will be held on Tuesday 12 January 2010 at 1.30pm in Room 30, Parliament Buildings.

The meeting was adjourned at 3.49pm

Mr Ian Paisley Jnr
Chairperson, Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development

Date

Appendix 2

Minutes of Evidence and Verbatim Reports

24 September 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr (Chairperson)
Mr Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Willie Clarke
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr George Savage
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:

Mr Bert Houston
Mr Roy McClenaghan
Mr Liam McKibben
Dr Malcolm McKibbin

 

Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

Mr Wesley Aston
Mr Clarke Black
Mr Graham Furey
Mr Norman Robson

 

Ulster Farmers’ Union

1. The Chairperson (Mr Paisley Jnr): The Committee will now conduct an evidence session in respect of its inquiry into the dioxin contamination of livestock in December 2008. We shall take evidence from four organisations today: the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD); the Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU); the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland (FSANI); and the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters’ Association (NIMEA). I am advised that a representative from the Food Standards Agency in London is also present. When appropriate, I will formally welcome that witness to Parliament Buildings. Are members content that we call the first set of witnesses?

Members indicated assent.

2. The Chairperson: Permanent secretary, you are very welcome to contribute to the Committee’s inquiry. I would like you to introduce your colleagues. You have provided us with a written submission, on which you will have around 20 minutes to speak. Afterwards, I will invite members to ask questions.

3. Dr Malcolm McKibbin (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development): Thank you very much. I am accompanied by Liam McKibben, who is the director of fisheries division. That might seem a bit odd in the context of this inquiry, but Liam was acting deputy secretary in the Department for most of the duration of the dioxin incident. Also present is Bert Houston, who is the Chief Veterinary Officer, and Roy McClenaghan, who is the deputy secretary with responsibility for the Department’s service-delivery group.

4. The Chairperson: You are all very welcome.

5. Dr M McKibbin: Thank you. I welcome the opportunity to give evidence to the Committee on the Department’s role and actions in responding to the contaminated feed incident that took place in early December 2008. As the incident developed, the Minister and officials appeared before the Committee on several occasions to provide updates and to respond to particular points. There was frequent contact with the Committee Chairperson, individual members of the Committee and key industry stakeholders.

6. I start by emphasising that the incident was one of contamination of animal feed, and that it was not an animal disease incident. That is something on which all the public bodies and agencies involved agree. As stated in our submission, the Food Standards Agency was, and is, the lead competent authority in the UK on animal feed matters, except for medicated feeds and processed animal protein. Therefore, it had the related responsibility for policy.

7. DARD is responsible for the enforcement and implementation of animal feed legislation. That means that in this incident, the FSA immediately took the lead, and was responsible for taking decisions on the safety of pork and beef entering the food chain. That included the need to prevent from entering the food chain animals in which the levels of dioxins were thought to be above those laid out in European legislation.

8. DARD had a lead role in dealing with the consequences of the FSA’s decisions and the impact of those decisions on producers. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment (DETI), and Invest Northern Ireland (INI), had a corresponding role in relation to the processing industry for pork and beef. Clearly, we all had a fairly major role in communication.

9. We have provided the Committee with a summarised timeline that details how we were informed of the incident by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), and the actions that we subsequently took in informing the FSA, putting herds under restriction, and helping to facilitate a solution to the issue. I am happy to respond to any queries that the Committee may have on that timeline.

10. There are some incidents and events that impact on the agrifood industry in which we have reasonable warning regarding the timing of the impact, its likely severity, and which elements of the supply chain are likely to be affected. In the case of this incident, there was minimal warning, and little opportunity to prepare for the scale and complexity of its impact.

11. It should be noted that in the early hours and days, the focus was primarily on the pig sector. The recall in the Republic of Ireland of all Irish pork products had a damaging effect on our pork processors who import live pigs and pork from the South for processing here. Following the receipt of all the necessary information from the South, we were quickly able to confirm that no contaminated feed had been fed to Northern Ireland pigs. However, our investigations pointed to a number of cattle herds having been exposed to contaminated feed. The main focus of the investigation quickly shifted to the cattle sector.

12. It must be appreciated that, in the early stages in particular, this was a fast-moving situation, with new developments and information that was not comprehensive. For those of you who have been involved in such incidents, you will know that, inevitably, that is characteristic of any emergency situation. However, the Committee is now going to consider those actions with the benefit of hindsight. Nevertheless, I ask you to assess the actions of those involved against the information that they had when they were making decisions, some of which were quite difficult. I strongly believe that the actions taken by DARD were an appropriate and proportionate response based on the information available at the time, and were designed to support the FSA in its lead competent authority role.

13. I emphasise that it was a cross-cutting issue affecting a number of Departments: the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS), given its link with the FSA; DETI, which took the lead in dealing with implications of the incident for meat processors; the Department of the Environment (DOE) and the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency (NIEA), in respect of the environmental consequences; and DARD, with a view to the impact on producers. By extension, it involved the need to communicate and liaise with elected representatives, including the Agriculture Committee, and other bodies such as the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association (NIGTA), the Ulster Farmer’s Union, the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association, the FSA UK, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the United Kingdom Permanent Representation to the European Union (UKREP), the European Commission (EC), and local councils. A lot of people were involved.

14. It affected the whole food chain, from feed operators and suppliers, to ploughers, farmers, processors, retailers and, of course, consumers. The impact spread into several sectors of the agrifood industry and into the natural environment. The ramifications of the incident were wide and complex.

15. The Executive were fully engaged throughout, both in being updated on the developing situation and in making decisions on the appropriate responses by relevant Departments. Ultimately, the Executive determined the nature and level of hardship payments and the introduction of a voluntary cull and disposal scheme.

16. When looking back at any incidents, there are always lessons to be learned. Five reviews of the incident are being undertaken, so few issues will not be identified. I will highlight what we consider to be some positive and negative aspects of our handling of the incident. On the positive side, a very important factor in the handling of the incident was the joined-up and co-ordinated action by Departments, which was facilitated by the interdepartmental group that DARD set up and co-ordinated. That group complemented our internal incident management structures and protocols.

17. Irrespective of which Department, staff gave willingly of their time to try to resolve the issue. They worked very long hours on a daily basis and throughout the holiday period. DARD acted promptly and proportionately on the Friday — when we were first contacted by the South — by putting in place restrictions to prevent animals from moving off premises and thereby potentially entering the food chain. We successfully deployed the animal disease contingency plan arrangements to manage our internal response to the incident, which worked well.

18. Through APHIS — animal and public health information system — Online and our on-farm inspections, we were able to identify quickly and accurately trace the number of premises that were potentially exposed to contaminated feed. There was frequent communication with affected farmers and the Ulster Farmers’ Union as the process of restricting and testing animals developed. We welcomed their support throughout the incident. We worked effectively with the FSA and the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) to reduce the number of animals that could legitimately be removed from any cull and disposal scheme, thereby, hopefully, reducing farmers’ costs.

19. Effective arrangements to cull and dispose of the animals were rapidly implemented once permission to cull had been obtained. We acted promptly to try to minimise trading difficulties with other countries. The arrangements for testing, which were co-ordinated by AFBI, worked well. AFBI played an important role by providing scientific advice to the interdepartmental group on testing procedures, the science around polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins, and the potential environmental impacts. Furthermore, once agreement was obtained to seek assistance from Europe, it was actioned quickly.

20. On the negative side, the incident pointed to some areas in which legislative provisions would benefit from being strengthened. Unlike animal disease incidents, there is no provision in EU legislation to prevent the movement or slaughter of animals that have been exposed to contaminated feed. That is something that needs to be addressed at European level. The legislation that relates to the detention of contaminated feed also needs to be amended.

21. In addition, the science that is associated with the inter-relationship between PCBs and dioxins broke new ground and needs to be better understood in future. I also highlight communication because, although some of it was very good, some of it in Government, the industry and among the various parties could have been better.

22. In conclusion, I remind the Committee that the primary responsibility for ensuring that only safe and wholesome feed is used in animal production lies with producers and feed suppliers. DARD is working closely with the industry to identify what action can be taken to more effectively monitor the ingredients that are used in animal feed and to provide the necessary quality assurance to trading partners. DARD is also looking at how we can deploy our resources more effectively in that area to reduce future risk of a similar incident.

23. The Chairperson: Thank you very for that submission. As you said, other inquiries are ongoing, but the aim of this one is to establish the sequence of events and actions with regards to the dioxin contamination incident, and to ensure that we learn from the effects of the incident so that anything similar in future can be minimised.

24. With that in mind, we want to establish the accurate timeline of events: who knew what, where and when; clarify the key roles of players in those events; identify, as you started to in your submission, the strengths and weaknesses of the various roles; and make recommendations arising from the incident. I certainly have a number of questions in that regard, as do other members.

25. As regards the strategic approach, you said that FSA was the lead authority. Do you believe that it led appropriately?

26. Dr M McKibbin: From the day that it was known that the incident was due to food contamination, with potential ramifications for the food chain, FSA took the lead immediately. There was no ambiguity about that. It was decisive in saying that it was the lead authority in that particular incident.

27. During the course of the first weekend, we were in frequent contact with FSA. It called a meeting of industry representatives on the Monday. Therefore, yes, FSA did take the lead throughout the incident. It made difficult decisions with regard to which foods could or could not enter the food chain.

28. The Chairperson: I note that in the Republic, DAFF and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) notified DARD first, which, in turn, notified the FSA. That seems to indicate that everyone assumed that DARD was the lead authority on the matter. That is an understandable assumption.

29. Dr M McKibbin: Later, you will take evidence from FSA. I understand that FSAI contacted the Food Standards Agency UK (FSAUK) prior to DARD being informed, for instance. Certainly, DAFF notified DARD, initially by phone at 11.00 am on Friday, with a heads-up on the issue. Subsequently, we received an email from DAFF at 1.01 pm.

30. The Chairperson: I will come to that timeline. Why did FSAI contact FSAUK before it contacted FSA in Northern Ireland?

31. Dr M McKibbin: That is a question for them, Chairman.

32. The Chairperson: Yes; obviously. Have you been given any indication?

33. Dr M McKibbin: No; nor have I sought any. The FSA structure is such that that was a reasonable means of communication. That is a question for FSA and FSAI.

34. The Chairperson: The issue that I want to get at is whether there is a more appropriate lead authority. Is DARD not better placed to lead on such issues?

35. Dr M McKibbin: In our submission, we outlined roles and responsibilities. It clearly states which competent authority should take the lead in each of those roles. I believe that, in this case, FSA was correct to decide that it was the lead authority and to assume that responsibility.

36. The Chairperson: OK. We understand that on Tuesday 19 November 2008, a DAFF official took routine samples. From that date, therefore, there was awareness and alert in the Republic of Ireland about a dioxin issue. It was not until Friday 5 December that DARD first became aware of it. Have you asked why neither you nor FSAUK received any notification between 19 November and 5 December? If so, what response have you received?

37. Dr M McKibbin: We have had discussions with DAFF, for instance, throughout the course of the event. We have had between 60 and 70 different communiqués with that Department. The Minister engaged with her counterpart in the Republic half a dozen times. There was also contact between the deputy First Minister and the Taoiseach. Therefore, there was much North/South communication.

38. As regards the specific question about why DAFF did not advise DARD until Friday 5 December that there was an incident that could involve it; it was not until Thursday 4 December that DAFF became aware that any Northern Ireland farms or premises had been affected. On Thursday 4 December, Millstream Recycling Ltd provided DAFF with a list of premises that had received animal feed since 1 September 2009. Premises in Northern Ireland were on that list. The next morning, DAFF advised DARD of that.

39. The Chairperson: I know that hindsight is a wonderful gift, which some of our colleagues have from time to time.

40. When you sit down and analyse all the information, I wonder whether one of the lessons to be learned from the scare is that you could have been notified of the issue a lot earlier. Even if it had not have become relevant to Northern Ireland, would there have been any sense in you knowing about it? For future reference, for example, if traces were found this week in the Republic of Ireland, would it be useful for you to be made aware of that now, even if it never comes to fruition that there is anything to affect Northern Ireland, or is that unnecessary knowledge?

41. Dr M McKibbin: I am aware that the Committee will take evidence from DAFF and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on 8 October. As I understand it, the South primarily regarded the matter as a feed-contamination issue until quite late in the day. Indeed, as regards the communications that it gave to us, we have to think about the information that it had at the time. It was not aware of any Northern Ireland farmers who were involved, or Northern Ireland premises. It was dealing with something that potentially could have had significant commercial and trade implications. From its point of view, perhaps it did not perceive the absolute need to inform DARD.

42. We have an escalation protocol that is associated with animal disease. Since the time of the scare, we have replicated that protocol into the animal-feed area, should a similar incident occur in the interim period as the reviews are going on. Every review that is done will conclude that communication could have been better. It could have been improved, but I understand the rationale of why we were not told until 5 December 2008.

43. The Chairperson: That is a very diplomatic answer. Are you really saying that you would have liked to have known a bit earlier?

44. Dr M McKibbin: The more forewarning one has about any incident, the better prepared one will be. As we said in our submission, we did not hear about the recall effectively until the media announced it on the Saturday night. I would have liked to have been made aware of it slightly before that because the more time we have to prepare, the better response we can give and the better information we can give to the public.

45. The Chairperson: Generally, it would have been better if we had have known a bit earlier. Is that a fair characterisation of your answer?

46. Dr M McKibbin: Yes, but I did not expect to know on 19 November, for instance. There was a timing issue.

47. The Chairperson: I understand that. I am not deliberately trying to put words in your mouth.

48. Let us turn to the timeline issues. According to your submission, the first official notification of a contamination problem from a DAFF official to a DARD official — I know that you started to answer this and I stopped you, which is why I want to go back to it — happened during the afternoon of Friday 5 December. Will you indicate to the Committee the grades of those officials and offer your opinion as to the seniority of those grades in Civil Service terms? In other words, were they junior-, middle- or senior-ranking officials?

49. Dr M McKibbin: The initial contact was from a DAFF official to our quality assurance branch, which came in at what we call grade 3, which is probably about staff officer, middle-management level. DAFF advised that it contacted us at that level because the senior quality assurance officer was on leave. The person concerned was the other contact name that was provided for feed quality assurance issues. The initial contact was by phone at 11.00 am. The officer was then told that he would receive further communication by e-mail. He had not received that by lunchtime, so he put a call through to DAFF and said that anything that was being sent through should be copied to the Veterinary Service. That was copied through to a veterinary officer, who then escalated the issue to the appropriate level in our Veterinary Service.

50. The Chairperson: What precise time did the Minister become aware of the matter?

51. Dr M McKibbin: The Minister was made aware when she heard the media reports on the Saturday. I see a slightly surprised look on your face. We get a number of scares regarding animal disease or feed throughout the year.

52. The Chairperson: Usually on a Friday.

53. Dr M McKibbin: You are quite right. There are perhaps up to 20 each year. We have to react proportionately to the information that we are given.

54. If we overreacted to the many notifications of potential problems that we get, believe me, we would seriously undermine the public’s confidence in the agrifood industry. Most scares, or issues that arise, turn out to be non-significant or completely harmless.

55. The Chairperson: That was the case with last week’s fairly harmless incident.

56. Dr M McKibbin: Exactly; and there have been other notifications that were not escalated to my level or to that of the Chief Veterinary Officer. There are judgement calls to be made.

57. Why did DARD not escalate the issue on immediate receipt of the information from the Republic of Ireland? Primarily, there were three reasons for that. First, there was a lack of any indication of the potential severity and consequences of the issue in the notification that we received from the Republic of Ireland authorities on the Friday afternoon. That notification referred only to the fact that a source of a feed contaminant was being investigated in the Republic of Ireland. It mentioned the discovery of marker PCBs at routine sampling and stated that, as a precaution, a small number of farms in the South had been restricted to prevent animals going for human consumption. No indication was given of the very high level of PCBs that had been found.

58. Secondly, and this is important, the message stated that the position was yet to be confirmed. It went on to state that the investigation was continuing and that further information would be available at the beginning of the following week. At that point, we had no indication that it was a particularly serious food contamination incident. We were aware that the investigation was ongoing, and we were awaiting those further results at the beginning of the following week before any conclusions would be reached. Thirdly, as you say, the message came in at a relatively middle-management level within the organisation.

59. Those combined factors led us to conclude that it was a routine notification of a feed contamination investigation that was under way and had yet to be completed. We took the same actions that the South had in restricting farms. The action that we took on the Friday was precautionary and proportionate. In response to a warning sign, we restricted all animals on those farms, advised the herd keepers so that those animals did not go into the food chain, and flagged it up with APHIS.

60. I believe that that was a proper and proportionate response. If I received the same information again, dioxin contamination of food might ring more bells. However, I was content, and I am content, with the action that was taken by DARD in response to the notification that we received.

61. The Chairperson: Let us be clear: you would not repeat those actions, you would react differently.

62. Dr M McKibbin: The biggest dioxin scare in Europe was in Belgium in 1999. We had not had any indication of dioxin problems in the North. The fact that we were being advised that there were PCB markers in pork fat was not ringing alarm bells regarding a serious dioxin problem that would result in the recall of all Irish pork.

63. However, we have become more sensitive to that now. We adopt a risk management approach to the decisions that we make. Quite clearly, if something occurs once, it moves higher up the risk register than it would otherwise have been prior to that if there had been a decade without any significant incidents.

64. The Chairperson: The effect on the industry can be measured in millions of pounds of lost trade. Is that correct?

65. Dr M McKibbin: The industry can tell you how much it specifically lost in trade.

66. The Chairperson: In general, you are aware that that amounts to millions of pounds.

67. Dr M McKibbin: We are aware that there were significant amounts of money lost, and we are aware that the Executive had to put millions of pounds into hardship payments.

68. The Chairperson: For a period of time, there was huge damage to the credibility of the food industry.

69. Dr M McKibbin: Following the 1999 Belgian dioxin crisis, there was long-term and very serious damage to its food industry. Fortunately, that was not the case here. At the beginning, the pork industry did suffer a blip, and there is no doubt that there were consequential trade problems in Holland, Germany and America. However, we, and INI, did all that we could to try to minimise those trade problems by dealing, through the European Commission, with countries that were refusing to take food; by our Chief Veterinary Officer contacting the Chief Veterinary Officer in DEFRA and having him send out letters to the various member states; by INI agreeing to hold trade missions to help to rebuild those relationships where there were problems. Therefore, although there was, understandably, an impact on trade, a lot of effort was put in by the Government and the industry to try to mitigate those problems.

70. The Chairperson: Thank you for letting us know how the Minister became aware of the issue. In future, I hope that she will not become aware of such issues through the media. It would send out all the wrong signals if it were to appear that the Minister can only become aware of an issue like this though listening to the news on a Saturday.

71. Dr M McKibbin: I return to the fact that we get reports of at least 20 such incidents a year. Do I believe that at that time the matter should have been elevated to the Minister’s attention? Based on ongoing investigations, the fact that test results were due the following week, advice that we should take whatever action that we deemed to be appropriate at the time, such a matter would not normally be elevated to the Minister’s attention. In fact, it would not always be elevated to mine. As it transpired, it was a big incident, so I would have preferred the Minister and me to have had a heads-up before the story hit the press.

72. The Chairperson: The Minister found out from the media. She only then became the official contact when she was properly and officially notified by the Department. When did that happen, and what was the nature of the advice that the Minister was given?

73. Dr M McKibbin: The Minister, and any of us who happened to be watching the 9.30 pm news when the story came on —

74. The Chairperson: Was that on the RTÉ news?

75. Dr M McKibbin: I saw the story on Sky News, but, obviously, it was also on RTÉ. However, within five minutes, we were in discussions with the Minister. It was immediate. I spoke to the Chief Veterinary Officer, who spoke to the FSA, etc. A number of communications took place. On the Saturday night, we were in discussions with the FSA, which called a meeting, to which DARD was invited, for 10.00 am the following morning.

76. The meeting was deferred until 12.00 noon, so that the FSA could consider what issues it would face with respect to our pork products and pigs, and, I imagine, so that it could talk to FSA UK. The meeting was held at 12.00 noon, when the FSA had to make the difficult decision of what to do with Northern Ireland pork products. In the middle of the afternoon, based on the information that was available to it, FSA made that call.

77. At 10.30 am on the Sunday, the Minister spoke to Brendan Smyth. She also tried to contact Michael McGimpsey, who was at church, although she managed to speak to him at 1.00 pm. The matter then escalated throughout the Executive, etc.

78. Mr Doherty: Thank you for your submission. The FSA planned a meeting for early morning on Sunday 7 December 2008, which was then postponed. What reason did it give to you for postponing the meeting?

79. Dr M McKibbin: The FSA called the meeting for 10.00 am, but postponed in until 12.00 noon because it was collating information and trying to get a better picture of that information, its robustness and accuracy, before discussing with others what difficult decisions had to be made. It also had to plan what, for instance, it wished DARD to investigate, for example where the animal feed had been distributed to, including tracing farms. On the Sunday afternoon, it advised us to commence preparations for those investigations and for visits to farms to commence on the Monday morning.

80. Mr Doherty: Later on, when the FSA issued a press release stating that pork products, North and South, would be removed from sale, did it involve you in the decision-making process? How did the communications work out?

81. Dr M McKibbin: You may ask the Chief Veterinary Officer, who was at the meeting and would recall what happened better than me.

82. Mr Bert Houston (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development): I was invited to the meeting with the FSA to provide whatever information I could about the incident. We discussed the importation of live pigs to meat plants in the North and the implications that that would have on Northern Ireland products. So, we were involved in providing information to assist in the decision-making process.

83. Mr Doherty: Let us go back to some of the stuff that the Chairperson mentioned on the timeline from 19 November to 5 December 2008.

84. I note from the information that DAFF in the South was compiling a list of customers, North and South. It did not complete that list until the evening of 4 December 2008, and it did not notify the authorities in the North until 5 December. Given that it was compiling a list for the whole of Ireland, North and South, would it have been wise of it to let you know of that to give you some type of heads-up of where it thought the issue was headed?

85. Dr M McKibbin: The authorities in the South were investigating where the sales of the feed had gone to. DAFF advised us that, on the Wednesday evening, 3 December, Millstream Recycling Ltd had provided it with a sample list of eight customers who had received the dry bread, and none of those farms was in Northern Ireland. DAFF was saying quite clearly that, until 4 December when Millstream Recycling Ltd provided a comprehensive list, it had no knowledge that any Northern Ireland farms or premises were involved.

86. The Chairperson: The member is asking whether it would have been better at that point for officials in DAFF to have contacted officials in DARD to warn them that Northern Ireland was coming up on its tracers.

87. Dr M McKibbin: You would have to put that to DAFF.

88. The Chairperson: Would you have preferred to have received an earlier warning?

89. Dr M McKibbin: I touched on that before. The earlier the warning one receives, the better prepared one can be. DAFF advised us that it had no reason to believe that any Northern Ireland farm was implicated at that stage. With respect, you need to ask DAFF about that issue.

90. The Chairperson: We intend to ask DAFF about it.

91. Mr Doherty: Thank you, Chairman; you just highlighted a point. The fact that DAFF was compiling a list, North and South, gives some indication that it had concerns. DAFF completed its list on the Thursday evening, but it did not notify the Northern authorities until the Friday.

92. Dr M McKibbin: That is correct, and perhaps a notification on the Thursday evening would have been helpful. When dealing with incidents that turn out to be of such impact and scale, there is no doubt that the earlier one is advised of issues, the more preparation time one has. Preparation time is key when important messages are being given to the public. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is in the same position: the earlier it receives information, the more considered a view it can take.

93. The Chairperson: We intend to take the Committee to have a hearing in the Republic of Ireland on 8 October 2009. We shall put those issues to DAFF, so it is essential to know your Department’s response and your account of what happened and how you received the information.

94. Mr Savage: Samples were taken from Northern Ireland herds on Monday 8 December. Can you briefly explain the process for the collection of samples and the timeline for carrying out such tests?

95. Dr M McKibbin: I shall give a typical example. DARD normally takes a fat sample from a slaughtered animal, and we have the ability to take a fat sample from a live animal by using a private veterinary surgeon. When the sample is taken, it is transported and logged to the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, which receives and logs it under its accreditation process. When we started, we carried out PCB marker tests, and AFBI quickly went from having a capacity of 10 to 15 samples a week to 50 a day. That was a massive increase in its ability, and it reduced its timeline for carrying out the tests. It normally took three days to carry out a PCB marker test, and AFBI reduced its testing time to between one and a half and two days by bringing people in to work through the night.

96. On receipt of the test result, AFBI advises on its significance to the group of Departments that are involved. It draws certain conclusions based on its knowledge of the ratio of PCBs to dioxins. During the investigations, some new science emerged. Traditionally, the ratio of PCB to dioxins is around 50,000:1. During the course of these tests, the ratio was closer to 200:1. That means that the detection of low levels of PCB in tissue resulted in much higher levels of dioxins in this case.

97. On 12 December, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCOFCAH) said that it was not prepared to make a call on what food was fit for human consumption on the basis of PCB markers alone, and told us to carry out dioxin testing. That is why we moved from PCB testing to dioxin testing.

98. The only place in the British Isles that can carry out dioxin testing is the National Reference Laboratory in York. There is one other facility in Holland, the European National Reference Laboratory, but we sent our samples to the Central Science Laboratory (CSL) in York. The normal turnaround time for testing dioxin samples is 30 days, although CSL try to aim for something in the region of 10 to 14 days. The CSL did not always achieve that, so there was a considerable time period associated with getting the test results.

99. There was also a problem during the course of the event when CSL had a cross-contamination incident on 19 December. That deferred some of the test results even further. When the test results were received, AFBI advised our cross-departmental group on the significance of the results vis-à-vis the European regulations, in which the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) set limits on dioxins. That is the process, by and large.

100. Typically, a dioxin test costs around £1,000, and as the Member is aware, that is not far off the value of an animal, while a PCB test costs between £100 and £200.

101. Mr Savage: Yet, on 7 December, the Food Standards Agency issued a statement saying that Northern Ireland pork was to be removed from sale. Did the Department have any input into the decision? When and how they were made aware of the decision?

102. Mr Houston: That decision was taken on that Sunday at a meeting that started at around 12.00 noon, where the information that we provided concerned the addition of live pigs from the Republic of Ireland into processing plants in the North of Ireland in order to manufacture Northern Irish produce. It was clear from the FSA’s decision that Northern Ireland pork did not exclusively include Northern Irish pork; it had the potential to include some Southern Irish meat, also.

103. Dr M McKibbin: Let me give the member a flavour of the dynamic nature of the event. People were making difficult decisions on the basis of the information that was available. The FSA came to a conclusion on the basis of the information that it had available at the time. The FSA is quite able to speak for itself.

104. The position that we were in on that Sunday was that we did not have the slap marks from pigs coming into Northern Ireland for direct slaughter from the affected farms in the South. We did not have the slap marks from all Southern pigs exported from the South since 1 September, because some of those pigs could have gone directly to Northern Irish farms for breeding and production, and ended up going into the plants with Northern Ireland slap marks.

105. We were also trying to trace the haulier in order to find out where he had distributed feed to. That individual was unavailable on the Monday. His wife advised us that the feed had gone to one farm in the North. We managed to locate the haulier, who had been out of the jurisdiction on the Monday, on the Tuesday afternoon at 1.20 pm. He advised us of another two farms that feed had gone to. He then had a further reflection, and at 6.00 pm that night, he remembered that he had delivered feed to another farm. That same evening, we also heard from DAFF that a whistle-blower had reported that another farm had received potentially contaminated feed. We had to restrict that farm.

106. Therefore, the information was changing day by day in the initial stages. The Department had to make calls, from a risk-management perspective, on the information that was available, which is what was done. I would not like to believe that the Committee thinks that the FSA and DARD were sitting on Sunday afternoon with perfect, comprehensive and robust information that allowed them to make absolutely correct calls. That is not how the real world works.

107. Mr Savage: To follow on from that; is Dr McKibbin saying that the lorry used to distribute the meal had a full load and visited four or five farms?

108. Dr M McKibbin: Yes, it visited a number of farms over that period. The initial contamination window was from 1 September to 6 December, so any feed that he distributed over that time was contaminated. Even that window changed at a later date. However, yes, he delivered a load to a number of farms.

109. Mr Savage: Did he do that with the one load?

110. Dr M McKibbin: No, sorry; I severely doubt that it was with a single load. The feed merchant would have given out a considerable amount of meal over that time, probably equivalent to an annual feed distribution of between 2,500 tons and 3,000 tons.

111. Mr Roy McClenaghan (Department of Agriculture and Rural Development): That is across all his customers.

112. Dr M McKibbin: Yes, across everybody.

113. The Chairperson: The haulier provided some information at 1.00 pm, then the whistle-blower told DAFF other information; has the Department drawn any conclusions about the haulier as a result of how that information was given?

114. Mr McClenaghan: The two are different. In respect of the whistle-blower, another farmer was informed that he had taken feedstuff from Millstream. It took us a few days, but we checked that with DAFF to find out that the person had not received the biscuit meal; he had been taking bread. That farmer was then taken off the list. I am led to believe that that incident is the subject of an ongoing police investigation.

115. The Chairperson: I am trying to establish whether the haulier would have known that what he had was contaminated. To ask the same question another way; does the Department believe that there was a deliberate attempt to deceive DAFF or, more importantly, DARD about that part of what happened?

116. Dr M McKibbin: I do not believe that anybody was knowingly giving out contaminated feed. We were certainly disappointed that information regarding the distribution of meal to Northern Ireland farms was drip fed. However, I cannot make a judgement on the intent behind that.

117. Mr W Clarke: The 1999 Belgian crisis over contaminated feed has been mentioned, but BSE and foot-and-mouth disease also involved contaminated feed. Should animal feed not have been given a higher priority since 1999? Should it not have been on the radar, rather than be considered a low-risk factor? That is my first point.

118. Dr M McKibbin: I will pass to my colleague in a second, but we are aware that the industry must do more to ensure that the product that is manufactured and supplied is of first-class quality and fit for purpose. The Department must better target its resources to facilitate and to help with the quality-control assurances that are built in and around that industry. This is another example of an area in which we will probably have to dedicate a slightly higher level of resources than heretofore.

119. Mr McClenaghan: Yes, the Department is aware of that and it has discussed it with the FSA. We have been examining material coming in from third parties, because that is where the risk was. In the past year, 13 dioxin tests were carried out, including three involved in this incident, and we did not find any dioxins.

The answer to your question is, therefore, yes. That process is ongoing throughout the year. If we become aware that another such product is circulating in the world markets, we change the risk analysis.

120. Mr W Clarke: There seemed to be a slight breakdown between the Department and the FSA when feeding information to the general public. We were in Parliament Buildings at the time, and the mixed messages that were sent out caused confusion. Have lessons been learned for the future?

121. Dr M McKibbin: Yes. I return to how the information can change. Someone may issue a statement at lunchtime, after which further information becomes available. By teatime, therefore, the information will have been tweaked. The FSA was responsible for sending the message to the public about the safety of the food chain, which it did.

122. The FSA is aware that we were slightly concerned about the extended length of the communication chain between FSANI and FSAUK when it came to clarifying issues, and that caused us some delay. Although that is a function of the FSA’s structure and the way in which it was established, the communication chain is longer than is desirable. The shorter the communication chain, the better. We will, therefore, examine that issue. I know, having read some of its reports, that the FSA is considering whether FSAUK personnel should be seconded here when an incident occurs, or whether it should determine how to improve communication on its side of the fence.

123. The Chairperson: Has the problem been fixed?

124. Dr M McKibbin: Such issues may appear to be fixed on paper, but the proof of the pudding comes when a real-world scenario arises. The FSA is waiting, as are we, to form an external perspective on what else must be changed. We have examined the issues and had discussions, particularly with the Ulster Farmers’ Union, with which we liaised throughout the course of the event, and we are aware of some of its desired outcomes.

125. By and large, the industry and the Government want to be in a position whereby the communication will be better and roles and responsibilities will be clear to everyone when a future incident occurs. Although they are clear to us, they are not necessarily clear to everyone else. We also want all communication to be timely.

126. However, I must sound a note of caution. I imagine that the industry as a whole — not only the UFU, but processors and producers — will have a level of expectation about the frequency and quality of our communication that we will be unlikely to be able to deliver. The information changes rapidly, and we do not have time to clear the press lines with the industry before going on the radio.

127. As a politician, you will know that when such incidents suddenly erupt, there is not much time available before you have to appear in the media. Not appearing in the media can create a bigger problem than doing so and giving a best estimate of the position. I have no doubt that we will have interesting and robust discussions with the industry about how to manage the level of expectation.

128. Mr W Clarke: Malcolm, you touched on some of the lessons that have been learned. Have any other lessons been learned about how the Department and the FSA work together during such investigations or inquiries? Is it possible to arrange a small batch recall to find out how the system works, or has that been done? I accept that it may incur a cost but that would be nothing compared with the cost that would be incurred should an incident occur. Is it possible to consider carrying out an all-island batch recall, for a short trial period, to determine how well your systems work and stand up to that kind of scrutiny?

129. You are correct in saying that, when the Belgian crisis happened, there was a cover-up rather than a recall. The failure to send out information wrecked the entire industry, to the extent that. Belgian chocolate was withdrawn from the market and banned by the US. You can appreciate how crippling a similar failure could be.

130. It is not just pork; it is everything else in the processing sector, including salami and pizzas. The whole economy is crippled. Therefore, is it worth looking at dedicating some resources — and fair enough, the proposal would have to be taken to the Executive — to do a trial or batch recall to see how things are operating?

131. Dr M McKibbin: I will pick up on two points. Communication was mentioned. When the Committee talks to others during the course of its investigation, I imagine that they will say that communication was most difficult in the first 72 hours. Communication improved after that because there tended to be less intensity around the decisions that had to be made. There was greater certainty about the information that was in the domain of the industry and Government, and there was time to hold meetings to get people aligned. That does not happen in the first 72 hours, so one of the lessons is that we really have to focus on the first 72 hours and what we can do to improve the process when a big incident hits.

132. The rest of the process worked fairly well, although people may well have some frustration about the length of time that it took to agree hardship packages because there were many external factors that affected the affordability of those packages. As time went on, I believe that the working of the industry, the Departments and the FSA became ever more effective.

133. We run a number of contingency-planning exercises. We have not run one in relation to a similar issue to this, but we have dealt with avian flu and foot-and-mouth disease, which required multi-agency responses that involved people in the private sector, the public sector and throughout Northern Ireland. I had not specifically thought about running one on a recall issue, as the member suggested. The feasibility and viability of such an exercise would have to be considered, but perhaps it is something that will come out in the course of the investigations and we would be happy to consider.

134. The Chairperson: With reflection, would it have been appropriate for the FSA to have called together the representatives of the producers, processers, retailers and yourselves on the Monday afternoon to have that discussion on agreed lines?

135. Dr M McKibbin: There was huge pressure on Ministers and officials to get lines to the media. From DARD’s perspective, we dealt with Number 10. It required briefings about what was happening from 11.00 am on the Monday morning. I twice briefed the Chairperson of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development on the Monday morning; the Committee was briefed at Monday lunchtime; the First Minister and the deputy First Minister were briefed in the middle of the afternoon and the Executive were briefed at teatime. The demands on people’s time to facilitate such meetings were difficult. The FSA convened a meeting with the industry on the Monday afternoon at 2.30 pm.

136. The Chairperson: You mentioned that one of the positives that came out of the scare was the joined-up approach. From my reading of the notes, there was not a coming together until about 9 or 10 December, which was almost a week after the incident.

137. Dr M McKibbin: As far as we were concerned, the incident broke on the Saturday night. Sunday 7 December was really our first day of response. There was communication with the UFU on the Saturday night, and with NIMEA and the UFU on the Sunday. There was a meeting with industry representatives, including NIMEA, the UFU and others, on the Monday afternoon, and there was another meeting with the industry on the Wednesday.

138. At the same time as those meetings took place, my Chief Veterinary Officer sent his staff to all those farms to carry out inspections regarding the potential impact on the animals and to trace down the animals. Roy sampled feed, tried to trace down and interview a haulier, and tried to establish which animals were involved by looking at feeding patterns. Throughout the course of the incident, a huge amount of energy was involved in trying to help farmers, to minimise the cost and to help the industry.

139. Allow me to give members a flavour of what we tried to do for farmers. We worked closely with them and the FSA to identify groups of animals that were exposed to contaminated feed and those for which restrictions could be lifted. In the second week of January 2009, 7,100 animals were restricted. When we finished, only 4,600 had to be culled. That is a huge decrease. During the course of that, we tried to provide assistance on animal-welfare issues. Ninety animals died mainly due to welfare reasons.

140. Government bore virtually all the cost of tests that had to be carried out, apart from a few that were passed to private individuals. We arranged for the removal of feed by Millstream Recycling Ltd at no cost to farmers. We helped with the storage of contaminated slurry and provided advice on the disposal of milk and slurry. We went to the Executive repeatedly to try to get them to consider assistance packages for farmers. We secured private storage aid from Europe for farmers. We put in place an emergency support measure scheme. The operation of the cull and disposal team was brought in extremely quickly when the decision had been made and the farmers had signed up to the voluntary cull. Therefore, a huge amount of effort was ongoing at all times to try to resolve issues.

141. The Chairperson: Are you saying that what I suggested would not have been practical or possible and was, probably, unnecessary?

142. Dr M McKibbin: If you ask me whether we got it absolutely right, I am quite sure that we did not. I am also quite sure that, if it happened again, the experience that we have gained would mean that we would deal with certain issues differently. The communication issue is key. Perhaps, the Department or FSA would think about setting up a dedicated team to liaise with the industry. Certainly, we want to discuss with industry representatives how we might do that. Much of that would have to be done in a Chatham House rules environment. I believe that the industry would be up for that.

143. The Chairperson: Certainly, more recent responses from management — for example, to what happened last week — are a good indication that when information is made available immediately, and there is reflection in the industry as to how it should be managed, a message comes out that seems to be accurate in the public mind and, therefore, does not appear to have a scare associated with it.

144. Dr M McKibbin: You are absolutely right. The difference between that and the dioxins incident was that we knew that the results were going off to be tested —

145. The Chairperson: You were in charge. Did that not make a difference?

146. Dr M McKibbin: Well, yes. Thank you very much.

147. The Chairperson: The problem, which you have actually described, is the long chain of command. Surely, that was the problem during the dioxins incident? Too many cooks spoil the broth.

148. Dr M McKibbin: Certainly, many people were involved. I suggest that the primary reason why the swine flu incident was handled better from a joint industry/Government perspective was that as soon as we had suspicion — we were in receipt of information early — we knew it had to be tested; we had a couple of days before the test result would arrive, and we liaised with industry to try to agree on how we would handle the matter if the result were positive. That certainly was an improvement. We learned that lesson from the dioxins incident.

149. However, it was not the same huge, accelerated impact that there was when the South announced its recall. The world’s press, let alone the European and local press, were involved straightaway. It was different.

150. Mr Burns: I must apologise for being late; I was at another meeting. It appears that when officials contacted the Chief Veterinary Officer, who, I appreciate, was on leave on 5 December 2008, a member of his administrative staff was tasked to telephone affected divisions and to ask divisional veterinary officers to contact affected herd keepers. Did that administrative officer speak to any senior management colleagues at that time?

151. Mr Houston: The request to contact all divisional veterinary officers and to ask them to get in touch with affected farmers was relayed from the Veterinary Service’s senior management to the administrative officer. I understand that most of the farmers were contacted. However, one or two were unable to be contacted.

152. The Chairperson: Thank you.

153. Turning to the EU scheme that was subsequently put in place, I understand that the Department, through the Minister, first contacted counterparts in the Republic of Ireland seeking Northern Ireland’s inclusion in that scheme on 17 December. Is that correct?

154. Dr M McKibbin: The date of 17 December was in response to the closure of the scheme. I will take a step back: the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, and the deputy First Minister telephoned and met with their Southern counterparts on a number of occasions. The Agriculture Minister spoke to Brendan Smith as early as the Sunday.

155. Throughout the course of the exchanges, our Minister met and discussed the issue with Brendan Smith on six occasions. The deputy First Minister spoke to the Taoiseach between Christmas and the new year on how we should handle the incident, and what compensation issues would arise. You are quite right in that the initial focus for the individuals concerned, and the Northern Ireland Executive, was that the problem had originated in the Republic, and that is where redress should be sought, whether from private individuals against suppliers, or between Governments.

156. There was ministerial and Executive support to approach the Southern Government to provide access to their compensation scheme. On the back of that, there were repeated discussions. The South responded verbally at the North/South Ministerial Council meeting on 23 January 2009. At that stage, it said that due to financial and legal constraints, Northern Ireland producers could not apply to its scheme. That was confirmed in writing in a letter from Brendan Smith to our Minister, which was sent on 28 January, and received on 29 January.

157. The Chairperson: What was the Department’s response when DAFF told you that?

158. Dr M McKibbin: The South was quite clear. It advised us that the application for state aid approval was made in respect of the product covered by the FSAI recall; in other words, that the produce derived from pigs slaughtered in Ireland — being the member state — and prior to 6 December.

159. The exceptional support measure scheme, which we are really talking about, that provided for co-funding was specifically related to the disposal scheme in Ireland prior to 6 December. DAFF stated that that limited its EU co-funding contribution to pig meat produced from pigs as well as the slaughtering of cattle and pigs in Ireland.

160. Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness, Arlene Foster and Michelle Gildernew met with Mariann Fischer Boel, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, in Brussels on 10 February. Ms Fischer Boel reiterated the fact that the South did not believe, under the terms of that application, that it could compensate the North.

161. The Chairperson: Mariann Fischer Boel did not believe so?

162. Dr M McKibbin: She believed that the South’s interpretation was correct.

163. The Chairperson: I am mindful that we will be putting this to the DAFF officials, but there is a view that they were culpable in some way. Do you still harbour that view?

164. Dr M McKibbin: I am not sure exactly what you are asking me.

165. The Chairperson: I am asking whether DAFF was culpable in not including us in the scheme for support and compensation.

166. Dr M McKibbin: The intent behind how it framed its scheme is something that you will have to ask DAFF. We are not the only country that they export pigs to. The difference in Northern Ireland was that we were getting live pigs. The Republic of Ireland exports to Greece, but we get the vast majority of the pigs exported. I think that we get in the region of 450,000 pigs a year.

167. The Chairperson: Sausage manufacturers in my constituency have told me that they have been stung for millions of pounds, and that they have been left high and dry.

168. Dr M McKibbin: As you said, you will have the opportunity to ask why the scheme was framed in that way when you discuss it with those officials. DAFF would say that it based its scheme on what was recalled.

169. The Chairperson: Was DAFF being cute?

170. Dr M McKibbin: I am not going to go into that territory. I imagine that DAFF will have come to a conclusion about what it should be applying for under political guidance from its own Ministers, and so on.

171. Mr Doherty: I am aware that the Foods Standards Agency will give evidence to the Committee this afternoon; unfortunately, I have to be at another Committee meeting. Is it an issue that there is no dioxin testing capacity available on the whole island of Ireland?

172. Dr M McKibbin: It is an issue if there is a major outbreak. We were using the Central Science Laboratory at York. It had limited capacity, and it had a cross-contamination problem that delayed the results. Clearly, when faced with an incident such as this, you want to get the test results through as quickly as possible. The South is considering whether it should provide a dioxin testing facility at Backweston, one of its laboratories. The Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute is preparing a business case to assess the pros and cons of having such a facility here.

173. Such laboratories are not cheap, and they will have to be involved in a significant amount of other commercial work to cover the costs, because dioxin scares such as this do not occur frequently, thank goodness. There will be a huge issue around costing, and we will need to look at the cost benefit of such a proposal. Furthermore, as anyone who has been reading the papers for the past few days will appreciate, there is an affordability issue around major capital projects in the North.

174. Mr Doherty: There were huge costs involved in the way in which the whole incident spun out. If we are planning for the future, can that not be evaluated?

175. Dr M McKibbin: The point that you raise is very valid. There is an issue around how we deal with such an incident. We have pointed out that we were unable to go in and cull the animals. Compensation is another issue; but Europe was unhappy with the fact that we had dioxin-contaminated animals standing live on Northern Ireland farms when they were being disposed of in the South under a voluntary arrangement. We could not get people signed up to a voluntary agreement because the farmers believed that they were being inadequately compensated for the hardship and costs that they had incurred. The Executive were facing a situation in which they had particularly constrained resources, having relieved economic hardship through other initiatives and packages last year, and were struggling with the affordability of providing hardship payments. It meant that other Departments — Health, Education, or Enterprise, Trade and Investment — would have to take cuts to fund those payments, and that proved to be a difficult issue.

176. We would like, and we believe that Europe should seek, an amendment to the legislation that would allow Governments to take the decision to cull should that be necessary for the protection of the industry. We have written to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to have the issue brought up by the member state at European level. The FSA has also approached FSA UK in relation to legislation around feed detention issues that we found difficult as well.

177. Mr Doherty: The FSA is described as a non-ministerial Government Department. Does that mean that it is accountable to no one and does that cause you difficulty?

178. Dr M McKibbin: It is accountable to FSA UK and to our Assembly through the Minister for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. It does not report to the Minister as such but is accountable through him, and there is a fine distinction between the two. The FSA was set up — I imagine that the chief executive of the FSA will go into this in more detail — in response to the way in which issues were dealt with during the BSE crisis. There is no doubt that, as a result of the dioxin incident, people are looking at the communication channels, the length of the command chain, and how people reported to the Northern Ireland Executive. That will come out of this inquiry, but it is a conversation that you should have with the FSA.

179. Certainly, the length of the communication chain caused us frustration at times. FSA UK was providing expertise to FSA NI, which did not have all the relevant expertise; that coming and going tended to take some time, and there was a feeling on occasion that the people based in London did not have a full understanding of the pressures that people here were under.

180. That is my personal reflection on how that happened. I believe that the FSA tried, within the limits of its structure, to provide a good level of service.

181. Mr Savage: Dr McKibbin, you told us about what you did. Are you content that the tests were carried out as quickly as possible? Three or four days of waiting for results to come back is a long time. There is much scope for improvement on that. If the problem had been serious, three or four days would have been long enough to kill half the country. Could the tests have been carried out more quickly? When it emerged that there was a doubt, could the samples have been taken earlier?

182. Dr M McKibbin: The samples were taken on the Monday morning. The FSA met the Chief Veterinary Officer and asked him to undertake tests commencing on the Monday. We undertook PCB testing on the Monday. From start to finish, if one is working normal hours, a PCB test takes three days. As I said, at that stage, AFBI’s testing capacity was 10 to 15 samples a week. AFBI ratcheted up its testing capacity to 50 samples a day, and, by working through the night, it reduced the time taken for the PCB test from three days to between one and a half and two days. Therefore, significant efforts were made to reduce time.

183. In its prospectus, the Central Science Laboratory in York talks about a 30-day turnaround for dioxin testing. We tried to reduce that to being in the region of a range of between 7 to 14 days. The testing process and associated procedures take a certain amount of time. I do not believe that we could have made huge improvements in the time taken to produce the test results, except for the fact that we were disadvantaged by having only one laboratory that we were able to use. The authorities in the South were sending samples to the same laboratory, which had a cross-contamination problem on 19 December.

184. Mr Savage: Is there room for improvement?

185. Mr Houston: It must be remembered that, in the first instance, when we got the samples, we anticipated that we would carry out PCB testing on them as being a good indication of dioxin presence. In that example, we did what we needed to do quickly. When we were expecting to get the results, the scenario changed and those results were no longer valid. As a result of the way that dioxins were identified in that case, the time was extended, leading to a delay that would not normally have occurred.

186. The Chairperson: Dr McKibbin, I thank you and your colleagues for your information.

187. Mr McClenaghan: I wish to clarify a previous answer on the quantity of feed. On 1 May, we were advised that the amount of feed coming in to Northern Ireland was 1,700 tons. The transport haulier got 65 tons.

188. Dr M McKibbin: I shall make a closing statement; I wish to emphasise certain points. It is important that people realise that, in many ways, this is a fairly exceptional and, thankfully, unique event. We never before had to deal with a contaminated feed incident of this nature, where there was a huge potential for permanent long-term damage to the interests of the agri-food sector.

189. I mentioned the Belgian dioxin incident of 1999 to Mr Clarke. That incident led to the virtual closure of the Belgian export markets for several months. It is generally accepted that long-term reputational damage was done to the Belgian industries. Thankfully, that incident was not replicated in Northern Ireland. The incident affected all parts of the supply chain, including feed operators, suppliers, producers of beef and pork, food processors, retailers and customers.

190. Our actions avoided a crisis in consumer confidence in Northern Ireland production. Although there were some short-term problems in export markets, the actions taken by the industry, DARD and Invest NI have been reasonably successful in minimising them.

191. As the Chairperson said, a large number of public bodies were involved, which makes resolving the issues and communication between people much more complex and difficult. That contributed to a complex set of working relationships in a situation where the flow of information was, at times, incomplete. That situation required careful management and analysis throughout the course of the incident.

192. In the early stages of the investigation, the information was not as accurate as we would have liked. For example, it took us some time to accurately establish the distribution of the feed that had come into Northern Ireland. As we said in our evidence, we were also dealing with a situation in which legislative provision at EU level is not adequate. We believe that, an in animal-disease emergencies, there should be powers that prevent the movement of farm animals that have been exposed to contaminated feed and should be slaughtered.

193. We also mentioned finance. In an emergency situation like the one we are discussing, no body or agency takes financial provision in advance. For example, Michael McGimpsey faces huge costs at present due to swine flu. The case for hardship payments had to be considered by the Executive at a time when they were facing significant economic and financial constraints. As I said, they had just taken the decision to reallocate most of their scarce available resources to deal with other issues caused by the economic downturn.

194. We have considered communication in some detail and, from our contact with the industry, we are aware of its concerns, particularly about the communication that there was in the first weekend after the contamination. I reiterate that I doubt that we could ever have met the level of expectation in the industry, because information was often incomplete. However, we can do better in the future. We spoke to senior figures in the industry over that weekend, including UFU and NIMEA. As I said, the FSA called a meeting on the Monday morning to bring the whole thing together.

195. We were also providing staff to advise processing factories about the numbers of cattle from affected farms. I noticed that some of the submissions stated that some of the information provided by those staff was not always right, but that was because the situation was always changing; more farms became restricted, which meant that more animals became restricted. Also, some animals were de-restricted and associated farms may have been restricted and then de-restricted. All of that impacted on the number of animals and carcasses that were deemed unfit to enter the food chain. We made every effort to try to keep people as informed as we could.

196. We acknowledge that there is a need for consistent and clear communication, within Government, within the industry and between the different stakeholders. We will work with stakeholders to ensure that we have better arrangements in place if there is similar incident, although, hopefully, there will not be.

197. We talked about the lessons learned, and no doubt we will get a series of recommendations from inquiries by the Committee, the Executive, the FSA, the industry and the Oireachtas Joint Committee. We will review and give serious consideration to the findings of those inquiries when we see them.

198. Pending the outcome of those inquiries, we have already taken some action. We have raised with the FSA and DEFRA the need for changes to legislation. We have changed the emphasis of our feed-inspection programme so that there is more concentration on the inspection of risk-control systems at feed businesses. We have identified and inspected a number of businesses that supply minor ingredients to feed manufacturers and could potentially present a risk. We are reviewing the resources that we apply to carrying out official controls of the feed-supply chain, and we have agreed an interim early notification system with DAFF. That reflects the point that the Chairperson made about early notification at an appropriate level in the organisation if the economic or animal-health significance of any incident is likely to be large.

199. We have already met with industry representatives and we are working with them specifically to raise awareness of the risks involved and the controls that need to be applied to reduce the possibility of such instances in future.

In turn, we intend to put greater emphasis on risk-control systems. We support the initiatives that the industry is undertaking to review best practice in the livestock and feed industries and to reduce potential risks.

200. In conclusion, I stress that DARD was not the only player in the incident. Certainly, we had a major role in managing the response to decisions that were taken by FSA. However, as I mentioned to the Chairman initially, I urge the Committee, when you make your judgements about people’s actions during the course of the incident, to bear in mind the information that they had at the time and the quality, robustness and integrity of that information.

201. I also ask you to think carefully about where individual responsibility lay. There was involvement from DARD, FSANI, DHSSPS, DOE, NIEA, DETI, Invest NI, feed suppliers, feed producers, processors, DEFRA, FSAUK, UKRep, the European Commission —

202. The Chairperson: We get the point.

203. Dr M McKibbin: You do? Good.

204. There are issues with how all the organisations that were involved managed their responses. The Department knew where its responsibilities lay. However, that was not necessarily always clear to everyone else. It is not surprising when you look at the complexities of the relationships between those organisations.

205. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to make a presentation to the Committee. Obviously, we will read the Hansard report of the evidence that is given by the organisations that follow us in today’s proceedings. It will helpful to see whether there are points on which we should, perhaps, provide further clarification. I will write to the Committee Clerk on the back of having read the reports of those evidence sessions.

206. The Chairperson: That would be very useful. I appreciate you and your officials being present today. Thank you.

207. I call the next witnesses, the president and chief executive of the Ulster Farmers’ Union.

208. Mr Graham Furey (Ulster Farmers’ Union): I thank the Committee for the opportunity to provide evidence to the inquiry. With me is the chief executive of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, Clarke Black, the chairman of the pigs committee, Norman Robson, and the director of commodities, Wesley Aston. I am president of the Ulster Farmers’ Union.

209. The Chairperson: You are very welcome. We appreciate you coming to give evidence to the Committee.

210. You provided the Committee with a written summary of your evidence and documentation. We have allocated up to 20 minutes for your presentation, although you do not have to use all of that. We would like you to give an overview of what happened, highlighting any issues that you want us to consider, after which we will put some questions to you.

211. Mr Furey: We sent a letter to the Committee in August 2009. We have a further statement that I will read now.

212. The dioxin contamination was an extremely difficult situation that could, without proper handling, have devastated the industry. Whether it was properly handled is, perhaps, up for debate. It is easier with hindsight to be clear about what should, could or should not have been done. We acknowledge that the full facts of the incident emerged and developed over time. We know how hard it is to recover a situation, which makes it all the more important that we learn lessons from that incident, so that we can do better should we be unfortunate enough to face similar future problems.

213. In providing evidence to the Committee, we want to focus on three key areas: the initial few days; the period during which cattle were the main focus; and our views on what could be done better or differently to ensure that a similar situation does not arise again.

214. The initial period covered Friday 5 December to Tuesday 9 December 2008. As we understand, on Friday 5 December, when DARD was informed of the possibility that pigs in Northern Ireland could have been given contaminated feed, it placed restriction orders on nine farms that same afternoon. We became aware of a potential problem on Saturday evening, when news broke relating to the Republic of Ireland but linking the problem to herds in Northern Ireland.

215. Our understanding is that on-farm investigations to determine whether any pigs here had consumed the contaminated feed did not begin until Monday 8 December. Had more immediate action been taken to check that there were no pigs on the identified farms, the crisis in the Northern Ireland pig sector could have been prevented.

216. Following confirmation of the Republic of Ireland pig meat test results on Saturday 6 December, the UFU considers that DARD officials should have also visited the processors of pig meat earlier to segregate and isolate the Republic of Ireland product. Traceability systems enable processors to differentiate British quality assured pigs (BQAP) and their pig meat product from non-BQAP. More immediate action would have allowed pig meat products from Northern Ireland to remain on the shelves or, at worst, be returned to retailers’ shelves as soon as the all clear was given. That would have prevented large and small retailers not knowing on Sunday or Monday morning whether they should have pork and bacon products on their shelves and the subsequent restrictions being placed on all such products until Tuesday 9 December. It is interesting to note that, on that Tuesday, Tesco was able to relaunch BQAP pork and bacon products. At that stage, when it became clear that the pigs had not been given contaminated feed, Tesco was able to guarantee that the products were from Northern Ireland quality assured pigs.

217. The statement by the Northern Ireland Agriculture Minister on Sunday 7 December 2008 reported that nine farms had used contaminated pig feed. The Northern Ireland Health Minister’s statement on Monday 8 December, outlining that he had requested the FSA to issue urgent advice that retailers should temporarily remove any pork or pork products that had been processed in Northern Ireland, added to the confusion in the minds of consumers.

218. At an industry meeting on the afternoon of Monday 8 December, we received advice from FSANI. The meeting lasted for between two and three hours. As has been said, the situation changed from hour to hour, rather than daily, at that time. Perhaps that is why the industry considers that it should have been more regularly updated during the initial two or three days. That Monday afternoon, FSANI’s information about the herds and whether pigs were on the restricted farms changed as the meeting went on.

219. In late afternoon of Monday 8 December 2008, we were advised at that meeting that it could not be stated categorically at that stage that no pigs in Northern Ireland had been fed contaminated feed. During the evening of 8 December and the morning of 9 December, confusing messages were given by both the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of Health which only added to the sense that there was little co-ordinated leadership and control of the crisis.

220. During the initial few days, the situation was characterised by being driven by the news media, with both the industry and Government always appearing to be on the back foot, and with unclear messages adding to the general level of concern and confusion in consumers’ minds. We must all accept that the man in the street will not understand the nuances in comments and press statements, which now, with hindsight, we seek to review. That understanding has been a key lesson from the review of the first few days of the incident.

221. I want to focus now on the days and weeks that followed the initial period, which commenced on Tuesday 9 December and ended with the removal of beef cattle from farms on and from Monday 16 March 2009. After the initial period, communication between relevant Departments, agencies and the industry improved. However, compared with DAFF, Northern Ireland’s Departments were reactive as opposed to proactive in providing assistance to the industry. The initial focus on pig meat products, with delayed emphasis on live pigs that had been imported by Northern Ireland processors from the Republic of Ireland, led to those processors being left out of the Republic of Ireland pig meat disposal scheme and, thereby, put jobs and the very existence of the Northern Ireland pig industry at serious risk.

222. The process of reaching agreement with Northern Ireland’s pig meat processors on the product to be destroyed was also protracted. The Republic of Ireland’s Agriculture Minister was quick to contact international markets in order to restore market confidence in pig meat and to establish an approved label on Irish produce. UFU believes that our Minister should have moved more quickly with similar initiatives.

223. UFU called for review of pig meat product-of-origin labelling as it became clear that strong Northern Ireland pork brands were not exclusively sourced from Northern Ireland. It also became clear that there was good product traceability from farm to factory; a traceability that was not able to be replicated by a processing sector once the product was slaughtered and subject to further processing.

224. On the positive side, a promotional breakfast was held by the Agriculture Minister and the Health Minister at Stormont on 15 December 2008 to let the public know that pork and beef were safe to eat. On 18 December, a private storage aid scheme was agreed with the EU for Northern Ireland’s pig meat.

225. Beef cattle came into the equation when it became apparent that contaminated feed had been fed to cattle on a number of beef farms. However, the traceability system worked much better for the affected cattle because herds were restricted. Beef from those herds could not enter the food chain. Products that had potential to have been exposed to the feed could be identified and held out of the food chain.

226. Cattle in the affected herds, which were identified and restricted at an early stage, became the subject of a long and convoluted negotiation as to how they would be removed from farms and whether the farmers who owned them would be compensated. Again, that contrasted starkly with the actions of the Republic of Ireland Government, which removed cattle from affected herds in the Republic of Ireland and fully compensated the farmers involved at an early stage.

227. We accept that DARD did not have the legal power to compulsorily slaughter those animals. However, the delay of almost two months before a funding package was agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive not only resulted in more hardship and cost for those producers and processors who were directly affected, but created uncertainty and doubt among customers of the entire beef industry.

228. We believe that the way forward requires several actions be taken to eliminate the worst aspects of any future food-related incidents. First, Government must review their crisis-management policy. That should rectify the problems that we had with the dioxins crisis, which we have already noted. In particular, an agreed blueprint must be put in place that outlines the procedure to be followed in the event of a food-safety incident.

229. We acknowledge that there will probably always be an element of judgement when dealing with potential food incidents. That is why the policy needs to be reviewed: it must be ensured that there is responsibility and accountability at a high enough level and that the system has a mechanism for analysing and assessing the commercial impact on the industry.

230. The UFU recommends that in the event of an incident, a cross-departmental agency body be established at an appropriately senior level, and that stakeholders be involved at an early stage, to agree an outline, the timeline, and the roles and responsibilities of each participant, including those in other jurisdictions. That is essential to avoid the confusion and mixed messages that can all too easily distort the perspective of any particular incident. Departments and agencies should be aware of their specific roles during an incident and, more importantly, should act in a joined-up manner and provide clear and consistent communication.

231. It is not good enough for one part of government to claim that something is not within its remit but is the responsibility of another part of government. The agri-food sector operates in a fairly complex, significantly integrated, and highly interdependent chain; yet in the eyes of its customers, the food consumers, there is an expectation that the food chain should be straightforward, safe, and one in which they can place their trust. The message has much more importance for both the industry and consumers than which part of government is supposed to be in the lead.

232. The UFU recognises that such incidents cannot be prevented through government action alone. As part of accepting their responsibilities, industry stakeholders are conducting their own review of the dioxin incident. The objective is to review the dioxin incident, propose recommendations to enhance and benchmark the position of best practice for Northern Ireland livestock and animal feed stuff industries, and assist them in reducing risks associated with potential contamination — whether through accidental, negligent, and/or unscrupulous activities — of inputs to the sector, while allowing continued innovation in the feeding of animals and in the production of animal inputs on farms. The review details how the industry intends to minimise the risk of future incidents, and it is vital that government does this in tandem with the industry but from its perspective.

233. Thank you for the opportunity to present evidence to the Committee. We are happy to clarify any issues that may have arisen or to take any of your questions. I will probably ask my colleagues to help me with some of the timelines, and so on.

234. The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Mr president. I thank you for your submission and statement.

235. You have said that, in your opinion, the incident could have been prevented entirely; by that I assume that, had it been handled differently in the immediate aftermath of the knowledge coming forward, it could have been turned into a positive news story for Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland was first made aware of the matter on Friday 5 December, and I gather that, in your view, had more action been taken on the Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, the outcome would have been prevented. Can you indicate what you think should have been done over that period? Bearing in mind that it was a weekend, what do you think that the industry, the Department or FSA could have done that would have changed the situation dramatically by the Monday or Tuesday?

236. Mr Furey: First, I should make it clear that we said that we felt that it could potentially have been entirely preventable in the Northern Ireland pig sector. The contaminated feed was initially classified as pig feed. The man in the street would say that if it was pig feed, it must have been fed to pigs, so the link was established with the pig industry initially; if contaminated feed was fed, there was going to be an incident of some sort. I want to clarify the point that it is in relation to the pig industry that the incident could have been preventable had more been done over that weekend.

237. To answer your question about what could have been done, we feel that, once the Department was notified, it should have been on the farms, even if only from the Saturday when the results came through from the South and there was further information. Initially, it was said that nine premises were involved. The Department could easily have identified whether there was livestock — cattle or pigs — on those farms by checking the cattle records with APHIS; visiting the farms on the Sunday to determine whether there were pigs there; or contacting the processors to see whether any of the so-called restricted farms supplied them with pigs. The Department could have tried to eliminate the presence of pigs on those farms, but that information did not come through until late on the Monday afternoon at the FSA meeting. Our recollection of the system is that, late on the Monday afternoon, we got confirmation that there were not — and had not been for a long time — pigs on the restricted farms.

238. One or two cases had been associated with pigs, but that was years ago. Therefore, the statement came out the next day that no pigs had been fed with contaminated pig feed. I was trying to communicate that on the Monday evening while the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development were still talking about contaminated pig feed.

239. The Chairperson: Mindful of the fact that the Committee will travel to ask questions of DAFF on 8 October, do you think that DAFF could have said more and said more sooner than when the information emerged about Northern Ireland on 5 December 2008?

240. Mr Furey: As representatives from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development may have already said, it is always easy to say what should have been done in hindsight. A number of potential scares happen from time to time, and Agriculture Departments must try to weed out those that might come to nothing from those that might be of a more serious nature.

241. We have some concerns about the contact with DAFF in the South, and I do not know how much information the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) had, but it did not give us a heads-up. A scare should not be created if a problem is not there, but a proportionate response is required. We are trying to work out whether the response was proportionate and timely.

242. You said that such bad news tends to emerge on a Friday. I have noticed that, and when that happens, it is either lost over the weekend or becomes a big story by the Monday morning. You will have to ask DAFF and the Department here how serious they thought the problem was. If DAFF had information that potentially contaminated feed had been sent to Northern Ireland, we should have been informed. If DAFF felt that the problem was only in its jurisdiction, perhaps the level of contact that it made was appropriate.

243. The Chairperson: Based on your knowledge of the industry, what has been the cost of the contamination scare?

244. Mr Furey: We know what it cost the beef industry because of the compensation package that was worked out and because of the extra feeding costs and all the potential problems to do with the disposal of slurry, and so on. I will let Norman Robson try to explain what the scare might have cost the pig industry.

245. The Chairperson: If you are able to quantify that, it will be useful for our evidence.

246. Mr Norman Robson (Ulster Farmers’ Union): The major player in the pig meat processing industry had purchased many of the live pigs coming into the North, which, as you already heard, were not covered by the Southern compensation scheme for pigs that were slaughtered in the South. We felt that they should have been covered by that scheme.

247. At that stage, 8,000 or 9,000 pigs a week were coming into Northern Ireland. That was 18% of the total number of pigs that were slaughtered in Southern Ireland. That is a fairly large proportion, and they should have been included in the scheme. The processor gave an initial figure of it costing around £9 million to pull back the product from the pigs, from which they would receive nothing from the Southern scheme.

248. Some processors were compensated because they had bought product from the South. I am not sure what the total figure of that compensation was, but I am led to believe that it did not cover the entirety of the whole operation. It covered the cost of the product, but it did not cover the time, lost markets and lost production that that included.

249. It is very hard to put a figure on the cost, but I know that the initial figure from the main pig factory was that the recall of the product cost £9 million.

250. The Chairperson: Are you able to say that the industry has recovered, or is the perception that it is still on the back foot?

251. Mr Robson: I am led to believe that the processing industry is still suffering, and there has been an ongoing cash flow problem since that incident. The Executive eventually supplied a support package, although I am led to believe that money has been slow in coming from that. There is still a fairly high cash flow problem in the Veon factory.

252. The Chairperson: Can you gauge what the consumers’ view is?

253. Mr Furey: I think that the consumers got over that incident very quickly, once it was established that no pigs in Northern Ireland had been fed any of this contaminated feed. Retailers were able to guarantee that there was British quality assured Northern Ireland pigs on the shelves, and I think that the consumption of pork products went up.

254. The Chairperson: Do you think that if that had been the single message that had got out earlier on, there would not have been a crisis?

255. Mr Furey: Not within the pig sector, no.

256. Mr Robson: I agree. It became clear that Northern Ireland pig meat was safe to eat. However, the other important factor was that there was so much product that the consumer did not know whether it was Northern Ireland pig meat or not. They presumed that the brand was Northern Irish. Hopefully, a lesson that will come out of this is that labelling will move on so that people know where the food they are eating is coming from.

257. The Chairperson: Was the FSA the appropriate body to lead the crisis?

258. Mr Furey: It was the lead organisation.

259. The Chairperson: Yes, but now that you have been through it with the FSA, was it the appropriate body to lead the crisis?

260. Mr Furey: Potentially, yes it was. We have concerns that everything has to go back through London, so there is a slowing down of information. FSANI’s hands are tied in waiting for communications from there, which can slow down the speed of communication and updates. FSA can speak for itself on that point.

261. The Chairperson: Apart from that breakdown in communication, do you think that it did a good job?

262. Mr Furey: We were not involved in the meeting that took place on the Sunday with the FSA and the Department; we just had phone calls at that stage. The UFU was receiving calls from major retailers and supermarkets as to what to do with the product, because they could not get any information from other Departments or FSA.

263. The Chairperson;

264. You had to field those calls?

265. Mr Furey: Yes. We fielded those calls on Sunday, because a lot of retailers open on a Sunday afternoon. A number of the major supermarkets rang us prior to opening on the Sunday to ask whether they should remove product from the shelf.

266. The Chairperson: That was a pretty unenviable situation for you to be in.

267. Mr Furey: We were seen to be the lead organisation by the retailers.

268. Mr Elliott: Thank you for your presentation. A range of issues has been touched on, and I want to cover a couple of them.

269. Graham, you said that the messages coming from two of our Ministers on 8 and 9 December were confusing. What were the messages that led to the confusion?

270. Mr Furey: One of the main messages was about contaminated pig feed. The man on the street would immediately think that that had been fed to pigs. That message kept coming out until Tuesday morning, even though we had been given a fairly good degree of clarification on Monday afternoon.

271. On Monday afternoon, some of the FSA’s people were in and out of that meeting, and I think that the chief executive of the FSA had to be with the Health Minister when he was making a statement. Information may well have changed between his leaving that meeting, the Minister making a statement, and further information coming from industry representatives; at which point, it was made fairly clear to us that none of the restricted farms had pigs on them.

272. We felt that none of the contaminated feed had been fed to pigs, and that that could have been mentioned. There could have been a question over what the feed was fed to if it had not been fed to pigs. That would have been a fair comment at that stage. The pig feed connection could have been taken out at that stage.

273. Mr Elliott: Was the problem that one Minister was saying it was pig feed, and one Minister was not? Do you think that there was confusion between the two Ministers, or that the two Ministers were saying the same confusing thing? I am trying to ascertain whether, in your opinion, two of our Ministers were giving conflicting views, or were they giving the same views, but their views were confusing.

274. Mr Clarke Black (Ulster Farmers’ Union): The Agriculture Minister was focusing on contaminated pig feed, and, as Graham has said, in the minds of consumers, and anybody else, that was relating the problem directly to pigs. However, it became clear on the Friday that the nine farms that were involved actually had no pigs on them. It would have been easier to have made a clearer statement on that. On 8 December, the Health Minister made a statement requesting the FSA to issue urgent advice to retailers to temporarily remove any pork or pork products processed in Northern Ireland from their shelves.

275. The point that I am making is that there are little nuances about Northern Ireland pork or pork products that are processed in Northern Ireland. Those little nuances were not picked up by the people who were ringing in to radio programmes on Monday morning asking if they should fry their bacon. The public do not take those nuances into account, and we have to learn those big lessons if we are ever dealing with such a situation again.

276. Mr Elliott: We can further develop that with the FSA later, because it was obviously its advice to do that, but you are saying that the language needs to be more carefully crafted.

277. Mr Furey: We also have to realise that the situation was changing. We understand that sometimes when a Minister is in a press conference something can happen to adjust the position. Unfortunately there were still some holding a certain line on the Tuesday morning that should have been better clarified to them on the Monday evening.

278. Mr Elliott: My second question relates to the feed. I am led to believe that the feed in question was acceptable under the farm quality assurance scheme. Can you clarify whether that is accurate, and, if so, have you any comment to make?

279. Mr Furey: I cannot clarify that.

280. Mr Wesley Aston (Ulster Farmers’ Union): Our understanding is that that feed was acceptable under the farm quality assurance scheme. That is one of the things being considered as part of the review that the industry has started.

281. Mr Furey: Our information is that the feed came from a licensed supplier in the South; it did not come from a fly-by-night operator.

282. Mr Elliott: That would have been acceptable under the farm quality assurance scheme. Bear in mind that that scheme asks for details of the actual material that is in the product, not the type of material. Is that right?

283. Mr Furey: Unfortunately, when a farmer buys feed of any sort, he can get a label or a guarantee of product, but he has no way of testing the feed, unless he does it himself, so he takes the manufacturer’s word.

284. Mr Elliott: I appreciate and accept that, but the point is, are there any lessons to be learned about how feed is registered and accepted as being of farm quality assurance standard?

285. Mr Furey: There are. The feed industry is considering that, and, as has already been said, the Department is considering feed regulations. We would not want a burden of extra bureaucracy to be placed on farmers. At the end of the day, they are just the people who purchase the feed. The guidelines must be tightened up before that.

286. Mr Elliott: I quite agree, but surely we need to ensure that the product that the farmers are buying in good faith is actually a quality product that will not cause that type of contamination. Is that not reasonable?

287. Mr Furey: Yes, that is reasonable, but it is not up to the farmers. We can encourage that to happen, but we cannot be held accountable if the feed is not right when we buy it in good faith. The men involved were caught up inadvertently in the situation. They bought feed that they thought was accredited, and from an assured producer.

288. Mr Elliott: Have you any suggestions as to how better to ensure that contaminated feed does not get into the system from the manufactures and processors?

289. Mr Furey: Some suggestions could be developed, and will be developed, through a review of the whole situation.

290. Mr Elliott: Finally, you have indicated a blueprint outline process. If all this were to happen again or in similar circumstances, what one thing would you suggest should be done differently and better?

291. Mr Furey: Departments and agencies should come together with the industry and one of them must take the lead to develop a train of thought and to deliver clear and concise, rather than mixed, messages. Initially, mixed messages emerged over the critical period of the first two or three days.

292. That is why it is not good enough for somebody to say that the events happened at a weekend. I do not know whether anybody has necessarily said that the alarm was raised at the weekend, and that they did not work at the weekend. However, we feel that a lot more could have been done over the weekend, including Sunday, to prevent the pig industry being caught up in this incident.

293. The Chairperson: It was said in the submission that stakeholders are also undertaking an inquiry. Is there an update on that?

294. Mr Black: The inquiry will be headed by Professor Pat Wall from Dublin, a member of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). He is highly respected in the area of food safety. The scope of that review will be to consider what the industry can do and to identify gaps — some of the issues that Mr Elliott has raised — so that the industry can ensure that it is doing everything possible to make sure that this type of incident does not happen again.

295. It is important to have that twin approach; all the emphasis to deal with such cases cannot be placed on the Government: the industry must take a degree of responsibility.

296. The Chairperson: I remind people in the public gallery that their mobile phones must be switched off because they interfere with the sound-recording system.

297. Mr Burns: The witnesses said that Departments and agencies had to be aware of their respective roles in case such an event reoccurs. What weaknesses have been identified in the roles that they play?

298. Mr Furey: Communication between the Departments and agencies is the main weakness. We said that just because the case in point is not in their remit does not mean that they should not be interested in it. If one agency is interested in food standards and another in something to do with the producer’s role, they should not isolate their functions; there must be a combined approach. They must come together to treat the incident as a whole. In other words, if there were five or six agencies, one must lead but the other Departments must question what they would do if they were in the lead position and feed that information to the lead agency. That is the sort of mindset needed.

299. Mr Black: It is important to understand that the agrifood sector is a reasonably long chain that starts with producers, involves processors and links into retailers. Agrifood cuts across Departments and agencies, and we must make sure that that is joined up. We must ensure that when one part of that process decides on an approach, due recognition is given to, and cognisance taken of, the likely impact of that decision on other parts of the chain.

300. We believe that the only way that that can happen is through a grouping that can be called together quickly in the event of another such incident in order to deal with it and to establish cross-departmental relations.

301. Mr Aston: That grouping should include the industry at the earliest possible stage.

302. The Chairperson: Is something like the COBRA group envisaged? I know that that is high level, but it is something that is immediate and instantly steps in to take the lead, and is recognised as taking the lead, as opposed to a huge, long process. The Department told the Committee this morning that the joined-up approach was one positive to emerge from the dioxin alert. One of the problems with that joined-up approach was that it took too long to do anything. Does the Ulster Farmers’ Union want a group that is much more focused, identified as the lead, and which alone speaks on the issues?

303. Mr Black: It must also be at a significantly high level to make decisions and to take cognisance of the impact on other parts of the sector and on the industry.

304. The Chairperson: It must react instantly.

305. Mr Black: Yes.

306. Mr Burns: Obviously, no one wants to see the likes of this issue happening again. Terrible confusion was caused, especially, as was said, on the Sunday morning, when nobody was quite sure what was happening. The big supermarkets took all the bacon off their shelves. That did not send out the right message. When it was later discovered that no pigs from here were involved and that the meat was safe, there was something wrong, because the message did not get out there quickly enough.

307. Mr Furey: That is when it could have been looked at. I am only throwing this out as an example, but if the scare was classified as contaminated feed and was not associated with a particular sector, would it have meant that all the sectors would have been included in some sort of product recall — which, potentially, could have been worse — or was it specified for that particular reason to try to home in on one specific sector and keep the incident isolated; or should the contaminated feed problem have been mentioned at all until it was fully confirmed that the feed had been distributed in Northern Ireland?

308. Mr Doherty: I thank the Ulster Farmers’ Union for its submission. You do not believe that communication was very successful between the Department, the various bodies and agencies, and the industry. The Department told us this morning that the Food Standards Agency had the lead on the issue of animal feed. We were also told that that is a non-governmental department. Does that create a whole confusion as to who is in charge, who takes the lead, who sets the pace and who communicates?

309. Mr Furey: It can. Any of those things can potentially create confusion. That is why it is important to have somebody in the lead, whether it is a non-departmental public body (NDPB), a Government agency or one of the Departments. There are different types of issues, so if it is related solely to something that is directly on a farm rather than something that has been imported, it could be the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The Department would have the lead on issues relating to feed or animal diseases, whereas food and feed become an FSA matter once they relate back to the consumer and the consumption of food. FSA’s real role is to protect the consumer, so it should probably take the lead in that situation. We are not saying that it is definitive that FSA should take the lead — that may not be the case. However, in our opinion, it is fair enough to say that it should potentially take the lead, but all the other Departments should feed into the process to keep it joined up and to keep the thinking, as best as possible, all together and to communicate out, as a body.

310. The Chairman referred to the COBRA issue across the water. In our headquarters, we discussed that type of idea that can be pulled together at short notice any day of the week, any hour of the day —

311. The Chairperson: Even at weekends.

312. Mr Furey: Yes. Unfortunately, farms do not shut down at weekends.

313. Mr Savage: Thank you for your submission, Graham. Do you think that the Department and the Government responded decisively to restore consumer confidence, bearing in mind that the Food Standards Agency only became aware of the severity of the incident through media coverage?

314. Mr Furey: We will let the Food Standards Agency answer the question of when it became aware of the incident because I do not have that information to hand. I cannot remember exactly when it became aware. I think that the Committee could find that out from the agency.

315. We keep coming back to the initial two or three days, which was the crucial part of the issue. Everything else is relative as regards when it gets sorted out. People said that it took two months to sort out the cattle issue and they complained about costs. However, it is what happens in the first few hours and days that is crucial. That is where the Committee should look to find the information about the timelines of when people were informed, how they communicated that further up or down their lines, and how they communicated that across to the relevant parts of the industry and to stakeholders. We have our own opinions about whether that was done well enough and about how good, bad or indifferent it was.

316. On the question of having another incident and would we handle it better, having a dummy run might be the way to see whether the situation has improved, without having to do it again in the real world and in real time.

317. As always, communication can be improved, but some things hit you very quickly; as the Department said, this incident hit it, as it did us. We first heard about it on the news on the Saturday evening. After the story got out to the media, it came to the Department and to us. Who knew before that, and how far up the line had it gone? At that stage, did it need to go any further, or was it only once it had hit the news that it became an incident? If an incident must hit the news headlines before stakeholders are informed, it is not the right way to handle things.

318. Mr W Clarke: Thank you for your presentation. In general, is feedstuff traceability given a high enough priority? I asked the Department the same question about the Belgian crisis in 1999, BSE and foot and mouth, all of which involved contaminated feedstuff.

319. Secondly, are sufficient traceability mechanisms in place? There is talk of the Danish pork traceability model, which, similar to using the bar code on a television to determine its origins, can be used to trace a rasher right back to the farm at which, and the day on which, it was processed. Should such a system be put in place for pork here?

320. Finally, should the FSA be responsible for testing feedstuffs, because, at some point, indirectly, it will be consumed by humans? Should testing not form part of the FSA’s remit?

321. Mr Furey: Again, maybe you should ask the FSA what testing and checking of feed ingredients it does. Interestingly, at on-farm level, we have a very good traceability system, the Northern Ireland farm quality assurance scheme. We pointed out that, sometimes, when animals go into processing factories, they loose their traceability.

322. In addition, what can a farmer do about traceability prior to buying a particular feed? He can trace where his cattle or pigs came from, yet, can he be confident about where his feed and other products have come from? Obviously, every farmer is very concerned about what he feeds to his animals, and he wants to make the best use of the feed that he gives them. Therefore, he will not feed his animals with anything that he feels might have a detrimental effect on them.

323. With respect to whether feedstuff traceability should be given a higher priority, you could regulate so tightly that nothing could be fed to animals. That could produce a worrying situation, especially in Northern Ireland, where many by-products from sources that are available in other countries are not available, including vegetable waste, which, on mainland GB, can be fed as a cheaper ration. Therefore, farmers have tended to look towards so-called food ingredients, such as bread, meal and biscuits, which are brought over to, or manufactured in, Northern Ireland and Ireland.

324. The system could be regulated so tightly that nobody would be prepared to bring in, distribute or manufacture feed from any sort of waste stream — by-product may be a better word — such as brewer’s grains or citrus pulp. However, somewhere along the line, there are potential problems with all those sorts of things.

325. At the end of the day, the incident was not a food-safety issue; it was a non-compliance issue. The dioxin levels were not high enough to trigger a food-health scare; rather, it was a non-compliance issue. If you test long enough for anything, eventually, you will find probably it. So, does that mean that you keep it out of the system?

326. You can dig deep. There has to be tolerance. We talk about tolerance levels, for example, but whether they should be looked at, rather than the complete ban on the use of by-products, has been talked about in some sources.

327. Mr Aston: You asked one question about the FSA taking the lead role. The FSA originated at the time of the BSE crisis, because, at that time, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) was seen as being too close to the industry. It is important that there is an independent person there — but we would say that, wouldn’t we? Furthermore, it is important that we work together in a joined-up manner.

328. The Chairperson: I am conscious that we may lose two members, and I want to get members’ agreement that we submit the Steelhenge crisis-management and business consultancy report as evidence, so as we can have that approved as evidence before our inquiry. Are members content?

Members indicated assent.

329. Mr Elliott: There was a delay in getting the stock and getting agreement to have the stock removed off farm. It took over three months to get that livestock off farm. What impact did that have on the industry? The Republic of Ireland was quick to bring in a scheme, have its livestock removed, have pork products removed, bring in fresh product and say that it was clean. At that time, Northern Ireland was still struggling with stock on farm. Stock was building up on farms, and the farmers involved faced a huge dilemma. Myself and others were very much involved in that. What has been done to ensure that the same thing does not happen again, if there is another similar incident? I do not think that anything has been done. Have you any suggestions as to how we could change to ensure that our product is back on the shelves much quicker?

330. Mr Furey: At that time, the argument was around the compensation package. The Executive were involved heavily in that. We feel that the Executive delayed to agree some sort of compensation. The reason for the initial delay was the hope that any compensation package from the Southern Government would cover Northern Ireland, but, subsequently, it was established that that, probably, was never the intention. However, I am sure that the Committee will try to find out whether that was the case.

331. It was harsh to ask farmers to cull and dispose of their cattle simply because they were inadvertently caught up in the incident and to not offer them compensation. The compensation package, as you rightly say, was sorted out quickly in the South. That meant that they could cull and dispose of the cattle quickly, once they got agreement. According to the legislation, the Department had no right to take the cattle off the farmers. Therefore, negotiations commenced as to what figure those men would accept before letting their cattle off farm. Unfortunately, it became like horse-trading; it could have been handled a lot better. That was the subsequent issue. It should have been sorted out in three weeks rather than in three months.

332. I am not sure what we should do differently in the future. Should there be a compensation or hardship fund or a contingency plan? The problem with that, however, is that everybody who is involved in an incident — no matter how slight — will be looking for it.

333. Mr Black: The industry was working hard reassuring customers during that period. The other part of the processing sector and the beef industry were working hard to reassure customers. In fairness to our industry, we have a traceability system. We knew that the cattle were restricted on farms and that they never would get into the food chain; that was a good position to be coming at it from. Ideally, the right thing to do would have been to agree to get them off the farms, and none of that would have been needed. We managed to get through that reasonably well. Our strong traceability system and the fact that there was never any chance of the cattle that had been fed contaminated feed getting into the food chain was reassurance enough to the food industry and the retailers.

334. The Chairperson: Thank you for your evidence, which will be used in our report.

24 September 2009

This is a verbatim transcript of the 24 September 2009 afternoon session of the Dioxins Inquiry. As the meeting was inquorate, this is not an official Hansard report and has not been through the official reporting process.

335. The Chairperson (Mr Paisley Jnr): You are very welcome here today, and thank you for coming to give evidence to our inquiry. As you note, before we broke for lunch I introduced the Steelhenge report, as we obviously want that as evidence for our inquiry and you may receive questions on it. It is over to you, Mr McCurdy, to introduce your team. If you wish to make a statement, you are more than welcome to do so. You can take up to 20 minutes. You do not have to take up all the time.

336. Mr Gerry McCurdy (Food Standards Agency): Thank you very much, Chairman and members of the Committee. I am Gerry McCurdy, and I am the director of the agency’s offices here in Northern Ireland and I have responsibility for discharging the agency’s duties here in Northern Ireland. I will ask my colleagues to introduce themselves and give you some indications as to the roles they play in the agency.

337. Ms Maria Jennings (Food Standards Agency): I am Maria Jennings, and I am Gerry’s deputy.

338. Dr Kirsten Dunbar (Food Standards Agency): Hello. I am Kirsten Dunbar, and I head up the primary production unit in the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and that includes responsibility for animal feeding stuffs.

339. Mr Michael Jackson (Food Standards Agency): I am Michael Jackson, and I head up the food safety enforcement division in the FSA, of which Kirsten’s team is one of the units.

340. The Chairperson: Excellent: thank you.

341. Mr Elliott: Could I clarify Kirsten’s role? I missed part of it.

342. Dr Dunbar: I head up the primary production unit, and that includes animal feeds.

343. Mr McCurdy: What I propose to do is make a presentation to you that will give you the FSA’s perspective of the incident and, hopefully, contextualise it so that you will have an understanding of the complexities faced not just by the FSA but by the other parties involved. The Committee will have received a submission from the agency detailing the timeline of events and providing a commentary in respect of the terms of reference that the Committee had set.

344. At this point, I want to reassure members that the agency wishes to co-operate fully with you in your review and provide any necessary clarification. Hopefully, we will be able to answer any questions posed, and if there is anything that we cannot respond to today, we will follow that up in writing. I hope that that is acceptable to you. Mr Chairman.

345. The Chairperson: It is more than acceptable. Perhaps, in your statement, you will clarify the difference between FSA Ireland and FSA UK.

346. Mr McCurdy: Thank you Mr Chairman. I will try to do that.

347. I will divide my presentation into four parts. As you have alluded to, part one will deal with roles and responsibilities, focusing primarily on the FSA itself, and I will also make reference to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, district councils, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The second part will relate to what we consider to be the key obligations of the agency in respect of food and feed safety matters. The third part will try to give you an understanding of the issues and their complexity, and the environment in which we were operating when this incident broke. In part four, I will try to address some of the key aspects of the management of the incident from the FSA perspective.

348. I notice from the earlier session that there is some confusion about roles and responsibilities, so I will try to provide you with what I hope is a reasonable explanation, and that you do get an understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the parties that I have just mentioned.

349. The Food Standards Agency is a UK-wide non-ministerial Government Department with headquarters in London and regional offices in Belfast, Aberdeen and Cardiff. This arrangement recognises the role of the devolved Administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

350. We are a non-ministerial Government Department; therefore the governance of the agency is delivered through a non-executive board with a chair, a deputy chair and up to eight board members. The appointments in relation to these positions are by way of Health Ministers across the United Kingdom approving those appointments.

351. In terms of the board itself, the allocation of seats to represent the devolved Administrations is that Northern Ireland is guaranteed one board member, Scotland is guaranteed two and Wales is guaranteed one. That reflects in the totality of the board the devolved way in which the UK is set up. In Northern Ireland itself the agency is accountable to the Northern Ireland Assembly through the Minister of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Because we are non-ministerial we are not accountable to the Health Minister, but we are accountable to the Assembly, using the Minister as a vehicle for getting access to the Assembly.

352. The agency itself was set up under the Food Standards Act 1999, so it is a statutory body in that sense. It came into operation on 1 April 2000. Its primary objective is to protect public health from risks that may arise in relation to the consumption of food and to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food. Its genesis goes back to the mid-1990s when a series of food scares culminated in one of the most tragic of incidents — the BSE crisis. There was concern that the consumer and the protection of consumers were not concentrated in an area that would deliver consumer protection and consumer confidence. That is the genesis of the agency. Our primary focus on all occasions for which we are engaged is in relation to public health, food safety and protecting the interests of consumers.

353. The agency is an open and transparent organisation, and its advice and actions are science- and evidence-based; but we are also a regulator, and we are the central competent authority in the United Kingdom with regard to food safety and animal-feed matters. As a competent authority, it is the duty of the agency to ensure that European food safety and feed legislation is properly implemented and that the UK fulfils its obligations to the European Community. This includes the effective management of incidents.

354. Where food or feed fails to comply with European food law, the agency’s responsibility is to ensure that effective measures are taken to have that food or feed removed from the market. As well as being a competent authority, we are also an enforcement authority in Northern Ireland in relation to meat hygiene, primary production, milk and eggs, and we discharge that duty through a service-level agreement with DARD. So officials from DARD, acting on our behalf, carry out the day-to-day supervision and inspection of premises in the sectors that I have just mentioned.

355. The other authority in Northern Ireland in relation to enforcement rests with the district councils, and district councils through their environmental health officers take responsibility for day-to-day supervision and enforcement action in premises such as retail, catering and certain processing establishments.

356. Hopefully, that sets the scene in relation to food: we are the competent authority; we have policy responsibility; and we are an enforcement authority in respect of certain types of premises. District councils are an enforcement authority in relation to other premises, such as I have mentioned: retail, catering, and certain processing.

357. With the exception of medicated animal feed, DARD is the enforcement authority; in other words, they take all of the enforcement inspection actions in relation to supervising feed when it is in the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland. We have a policy lead in feed because, obviously, feed is an integral part of the food chain when it is fed to food animals. DARD are clearly both the policy competent authority and the enforcement authority in relation to areas such as animal health and welfare; they deal very much with the farmer and primary producers.

358. This division of responsibility also dictates to some extent the lines of communication with industry and enforcers, so, in general terms, DARD relate to farmers and the farming community, the agency will relate primarily to the processing sector, and district councils will relate to the catering and retail sector.

359. I appreciate that this is a complex matrix in terms of policy enforcement and the division of responsibilities, and if there are any uncertainties still, after my presentation, Chairman, I am quite happy to try to address those to the members.

360. In our submission, we did try to expand more on those areas.

361. If I turn to the Republic of Ireland now, and the role of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF), the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has the lead responsibility in that jurisdiction for food safety matters, similar to those of the FSA here in the United Kingdom. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food deliver by contract the food safety aspects of that service on behalf of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. DAFF is also responsible for animal health, welfare and animal feed, so the Food Safety Authority of Ireland do not have a policy or enforcement responsibility in relation to feed, whereas, in the United Kingdom, the Food Standards Agency does have that responsibility.

362. So, hopefully, I tried to clarify those roles and responsibilities for you. As previously mentioned, the architecture of the agency — the way in which the agency is set up — does recognise the devolved Administrations, and the resourcing of the agency provides for the main centre of expertise — that is, scientists, toxicologists, chemists, etc. — to be located in our headquarters in London. This resource is then made available to the devolved Administrations. It would not be economically feasible or desirable for each of the devolved Administrations to try and replicate that type of expertise and the quantity of expertise that is required to deliver a food safety function. In my office here in Belfast, I have 39 staff, and during the dioxin incident, a certain core of that staff — primarily the people you see here at this table, plus some support staff — were heavily involved in the management of that incident from the Saturday night of 6 December through to where we are at this present time. And during that incident, we were very well supported by colleagues from the Department of Agriculture and colleagues from the district councils.

363. The second part I want to touch on here relates to the key obligations of the agency in relation to food and feed. As I stated, we are the central competent authority in the UK — we are the regulator, and we are responsible to the EU for making sure the UK meets its obligations. But, first and foremost, we must protect public health in the interests of consumers. We must also ensure that food and feed law is complied with. The legislation that we deal with is primarily driven by the European Union, and failure on the part of the United Kingdom to comply with EU food law may result in infraction proceedings against the United Kingdom or interventions, which would have a significant and serious impact on trade if we were not seen to be in control of a situation such as the dioxin incident. So, throughout this incident, we did work very closely with the European Commission.

364. Now, dealing with the dioxin incident itself, we had to do two things. First of all, we had to do a risk assessment, based on whatever evidence and information was available to us, to determine the public health risk implications for consumers. Once we had assessed that risk, we then had to determine what action would be needed and what information we should give to consumers.

365. The second issue is in relation to compliance. We knew that there was contaminated feed in the system; we had evidence to suggest that product had been contaminated; and we were then obliged to take appropriate action to ensure that contaminated product was actually removed from the food chain, with a view to making sure that consumers themselves were exposed as little as possible to contaminants. Now, dioxins and certain PCBs, at high levels and consumed over a lengthy period of time, are of public health significance and do have health issues associated with them. But it is important as this point, I think, Chair, to differentiate between what is a regulatory limit set by the Commission and what is public health safety. The regulatory limit that is set by the European Commission is not a safety limit. It is a limit at which it minimises exposure of consumers to a particular contaminant. In terms of safety, a factor or orders of magnitude are built in so that, while you could exceed a regulatory limit, you may not necessarily have a public health issue. And it is important to differentiate that compliance issue from public health and food safety.

366. The levels found in this particular incident were such that we considered the public health significance to be very low, but we certainly had a non-compliance issue. Therefore, we had to take appropriate action. The public health significance was affirmed by the assessments carried out by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, by our own risk assessment and, subsequently, by the European Food Safety Authority. Compliance levels are set by the commission in order to minimise exposure, and they are also consistent with reasonably good manufacturing practice, so industry should be able to achieve the levels that are set through their normal processes.

367. Dealing with the incident itself and the complexity of the environment in which we were operating, the significance of this incident in terms of public health, in terms of it being a food issue, did not become apparent until late on the evening of Saturday 6 December 2008 following a media announcement emanating from the Republic of Ireland. Through the media, the Irish Government had announced the recall of all pork and pork products. The reason for that recall was based on elevated levels of dioxins having been found in feed and in pork. That contamination had been traced back to a waste-food recycling plant in the Republic of Ireland.

368. Our response on the Saturday evening was immediate in terms of once we became, aware albeit through the media, that there was a food safety issue to be considered was that we contacted the Department of Agriculture’s chief Veterinary Officer, we spoke to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, we had contact with the Ulster Farmers’ Union, and we gave a holding line in relation to the media. Our incident response protocol was activated, and meetings were convened for early Sunday morning. Our engagement on the Saturday night stretched to around 11 o’clock, half past 11, on that evening.

369. Throughout Sunday 7 December, the FSA and DARD officials were highly active in terms of gathering information, briefing Ministers, dealing with media enquiries, engaging with farmers and processors, engaging with the authorities in the Republic of Ireland, and trying to identify exactly what the problem was, what actions we needed to take in terms of implementing risk management.

370. The challenges that faced the agency at that particular time were that this was a significant incident led by the media; the incident originated in another member state, and we were heavily reliant on the Republic of Ireland to provide us with appropriate information to allow us to try and take appropriate risk-management strategies. The other complicating factor in all of this was that this was certainly the first time in Northern Ireland or in the United Kingdom that we had an incident that permeated through the whole of the food chain: from animal feed, through to food animals, through processing, right through to retail and to consumers. This was really a farm-to-fork incident.

371. And as is common in many incidents such as this, and colleagues in the Department of Agriculture alluded to it this morning, there is a lack of information and clarity in the early stages of any incident, but there is a desire and a hunger for certainty from those parties who are affected by it. It is extremely difficult to meet the expectations of all parties concerned. The complexity of this incident and the lack of detail did compound the difficulty in the management of it.

372. As the incident itself evolved and more information became available, our risk management had to change to meet those new situations. Examples of this included: the European Food Safety Authority’s decision on 10 December with regards to the percentage of pork that would be allowed into product and would not be affected in term of recall; the Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health’s — a European Commission Committee — decision on 12 December that PCB testing was inappropriate and that dioxin testing was the only certain way of differentiating between contaminated product and non-contaminated product. As you heard this morning, dioxin testing is a complex, time-consuming and very expensive test to carry out.

373. We also had the complication of uncertainty regarding the period during which we were advised that contaminated feed had been produced and supplied in the Republic of Ireland.

374. Originally, the “window of contamination", as it is referred to, related to 1 September to 25 October. Subsequent dioxin testing carried out by ourselves challenged this window, and we then had to go back into a situation of re-restricting and conducting further tests.

375. Throughout all of this, staff in FSA, DARD, AFBI Science, and district council environmental health officers worked extremely hard: long hours, seven days a week in terms of trying to resolve the incident. In my opinion, there was a total commitment on the part of all of the bodies involved to try to manage our way through this and bring it to a conclusion.

376. My fourth and final point, Mr Chairman, is that I believe that there were five aspects to this incident. The first was the media announcement on the evening of 6 December and the initial response within the UK, including Northern Ireland, over the first 48 to 72 hours. The second phase was the extension of the problem from pork into the beef and dairy sector. The third phase was the decisions taken by FSA and SCOFU, to which I have previously alluded, in relation to moving from PCB testing to full dioxin testing. The fourth phase was the extensive on-farm investigation by DARD officials and the risk assessments by ourselves in the FSA and also in collaboration with the European Commission to try to eliminate from the cattle population those animals which could be taken out from the cull scheme that was being put in place. Through the combined efforts of the staff, we did manage to reduce, as the perm sec said this morning in DARD, from over 7,000 cattle to just over 4,000. That involved considerable amount of effort on the part of the two organisations and also the co-operation of the farming community. The fifth and final stage, and one which I think we are still in, is the ongoing work which is being led by the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, supported by ourselves and DARD, in regard to trying to ensure that slurry from those farms that were most affected by this incident is not recycled into the food chain.

377. I would end my presentation, Mr Chairman, by saying that, from our perspective, our risk assessment and our risk-management strategy, we think that the decisions that we took at that time, with the information available to us, in regards to pork, beef and milk were appropriate and proportionate. We have to emphasise that in relation to the decisions that we took and the communications that we made, our primary concern was to give consumers appropriate information, reassure them in terms of public health, and give them sufficient information to allow them to make informed choices.

378. The agency takes very seriously its obligations in managing incidents and regularly reviews its protocols. In this particular incident, the agency has commissioned an independent consultancy that specialises in emergency responses and crisis management to review the handling of the incident. You have already alluded to the Steelhenge reports. We are taking forward the recommendations in those two reports, and, obviously, any recommendations that arise out of other reviews that are being carried out, we will certainly give those serious consideration. I will finish my opening remarks on that point, Mr Chairman.

379. The Chairperson: Thank you very much; that was a very useful statement. Turning to when the organisation, FSA NI, found out — you have accepted, and, indeed, you have explained there that it was late on the Friday evening, a press release, or Saturday, you heard a press story, and that is when you became aware of this, through the media, which I think everyone accepts isn’t an acceptable way for any organisation to hear about these things. However, so far the timeline that we have been able to establish indicates that FSA UK was informed that an investigation was under way, and they were informed of that by DAFF on Thursday 4 December.

380. Mr McCurdy: No, I think it was the FSAI.

381. The Chairperson: The FSAI, sorry. FSAI, yes, contacted, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and Food, contacted FSA UK and they were informed that an investigation was under way on the Thursday. What happened within the organisation with FSA UK and FSA NI, why was that, why were we not warned, why was there no heads up given?

382. Mr McCurdy: The communication that took place on the Thursday was between an official in the FSAI and another in the FSAUK. It was primarily about a meeting that the person from the FSAI was supposed to attend the following day. The person that was spoken to in the FSAUK works in dietary health and nutrition. The information that was given was that that person was involved in an incident and could not attend a meeting the following day. That was basically the extent of that communication.

383. The subsequent communication on the Friday to the FSAUK was an e-mail that was accompanied by a statement from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that said that there were issues concerning feed and contaminated feed. However, that information was itself still ambiguous; it related to the testing for PCBs, for which there were no statutory or regulatory limits. It came in at a fairly low level in the organisation. Therefore, given that quality of information, the agency did not anticipate that anything else would arise. The communication itself also indicated that further information, particularly results, would be available early the following week. That meant that we were left in the situation of having incomplete information coming into the organisation at a middle level with no indication that it had any great significance for the United Kingdom.

384. The Chairperson: Surely, however, a light bulb should have gone on with someone in the FSAUK that indicated that something was happening in a region of the UK and that Northern Ireland was being affected. As the person in charge of your organisation, surely you would have expected that someone there should at least have had the courtesy to have picked up the phone to tell somebody in FSANI that they had that information. You are absolutely right; if the information was minor, you could make that judgement call. The fact of the matter is that the evidence shows that you were not even afforded that opportunity; the FSANI was essentially ignored by the parent body, the FSAUK, for almost 48 hours. Is that a fair criticism?

385. Mr McCurdy: I would rather that you heard my response before we make any judgements. As far as I understand, there was no indication in the communication from the Food Safety Authority in Ireland to the UK that there was a Northern Ireland implication.

386. The Chairperson: I am not sure whether you would know, but the information that we have from DAFF — again — dated Thursday 4 December is that a Department press release that was also issued on that day indicated that a number of herds had been restricted following the identification of marker PCBs. On the same day, the FSAI informed the Food Standards Agency UK in London of the emerging incident.

387. Mr McCurdy: Yes, but it was not made clear that there was a Northern Ireland implication, and the official lines of communication between members states would be that the appropriate competent authority in the Republic of Ireland would speak to the competent authority in the United Kingdom.

388. The Chairperson: You have people who sit on that FSA UK body — one from Northern Ireland, two from Scotland and one from Wales. Is that right?

389. Mr McCurdy: Yes, but that is the board; I am talking about the executive — these are the officials. The board members would not be involved in issues —

390. The Chairperson: I sit on a board, and I would expect officials to keep me informed of developments. Would those board members not expect the same?

391. Mr McCurdy: I appreciate that. Board members are advised of events when the significance of the incident has been established and we are certain that we are dealing with a significant problem.

392. If I can put this into context for you, my office here in Belfast receives over 100 food-safety-type complaints or information on incidents in any one year. The agency itself receives over 1,000 such reports, many of which have no significance.

393. The Chairperson: Where do those 1,000 emanate from?

394. Mr McCurdy: They can emanate from local authorities in the United Kingdom, or from other member states through the European Commission rapid-alert system for food and feed. Therefore, a range of sources of information come to us.

395. The Chairperson: But something coming from a Department in another member state — would it not, in terms of priority, register a little higher on the Richter scale?

396. Mr McCurdy: Not unless there is a significance attached to it. We rely, in terms of identifying the significance of an incident, on those people who are carrying out the initial investigation. As I say, if we responded to all of the incidents that are notified to us, and we have had two, for example, since the dioxin incident last Christmas involving, again, dioxin in lambs’ liver, arsenic and lead in animal feed, one result, unsubstantiated. If we had reacted to that, we would have undermined consumer confidence. We would have had a significant impact on the food and feed industry if we had responded to those. We do rely on those people who are responsible in the country where the incident, or in the area in which the incident, is emanating from to attach a significance to us to alert to us then to be prepared to take action.

397. The Chairperson: I must say I admire your calmness at how FSA UK treated you. If I was you, I would have been furious that something was made available to them and they did not recognise that it would be of some more than just passing interest to you, as the lead agency here in Northern Ireland. Something was coming from our neighbour state, and it came to the headquarters office, and they did not even have the decency, quite frankly, to pick up the phone and speak to you or one of your officials and say:

“Look, just letting you know that we have this."

398. I think that was wrong.

399. Mr McCurdy: As I say, Northern Ireland was not flagged, as far as I understand, in that initial communication to say that we were implicated. It would not be unusual for product to emanate from the Republic of Ireland to GB, and we would have no association with that incident.

400. Ms Maria Jennings (Food Standards Agency): If I could come in, I think it is fair to say that, you know, there was an indication in that correspondence that we would receive results and further information from the Republic of Ireland early in the following week. Certainly, the agency put their communication teams on alert over that weekend with the view that we would be receiving more information on the incident, you know, on Monday or Tuesday. Certainly, the press announcement on the Saturday night took everybody by surprise.

401. The Chairperson: But I still do not believe that gets us over the issue that central office, when they received some information, that they could have at least informed the other regions. This may just be a general thing, but I think they should have done you the courtesy of telling you that, otherwise you are here defending them when, really, you are neither equipped nor empowered because you did not have the information at that time to actually do it. You had, at your disposal anyway, all of the investigatory power if something did come up that you needed to investigate, so I just think that the failure of FSA UK to inform on that Thursday lost valuable time that could have been used over the Thursday, Friday and Saturday to head off at the pass what became a crisis by the Monday evening and Tuesday. It was a crisis that has, as you heard from previous evidence from the UFU, could have had a devastating impact on the industry.

402. Mr McCurdy: I am not sure that we could have actually responded any better because we had incomplete, even on the Saturday and Sunday, we had incomplete information from the Department of Agriculture in the South to allow us to take actions that would be meaningful and would provide assurances both to the industry or to consumers.

403. Ms Jennings: We certainly would not want you to overstate the telephone conversation on the Thursday afternoon. It was literally a man picking up the phone and saying:

“I cannot make your meeting tomorrow because something is happening here that we have to deal with. I will send you an e-mail."

404. He duly followed that up with an e-mail on the Friday morning, and he attached the DAFF statement at that stage, which you read out.

405. The Chairperson: Was that a telephone conversation from someone in FSA Ireland to someone in FSA UK?

406. Ms Jennings: Yes, to someone in our headquarters.

407. The Chairperson: And you know who those people are?

408. Ms Jennings: Yes.

409. Mr McCurdy: Those people who were in our offices in London, the issue that they were dealing with was nothing to do with incidents, it was a diet and nutrition issue. This conversation was simply saying:

“I cannot go to your meeting on diet and nutrition tomorrow. I am dealing with some incident here."

410. And nothing else.

411. The Chairperson: I asked the question of others, I think it is only right that I put it to yourself: do you get the impression that FSAI or DAFF was being cute with you in terms of how they relayed that information? It was in their interest to.

412. Mr McCurdy: I think those are questions that need to be posed to the FSAI and to DAFF. All I can say is that in relation to the significance of any incident, we rely on the investigating party in that part of wherever it happens to be to explain to us that there is something happening and that it is of significance to allow us to get a heads-up and try and get ourselves prepared.

413. The Chairperson: I mean I have used the term — inaudible — of crisis on a food chain on a Friday, and I just think that the timing and everything else poses questions. Others might say it is suspicious. I just think that there is something that does not add up in terms of how that information was relayed, and we hope to get to the bottom of it.

414. Mr McCurdy: I think you should also bear in mind that certainly my reading of the FSAI’s statement and DAFF’s statement that they did not receive confirmed dioxin results until late in the afternoon of Saturday, and then they had to garner themselves in relation to how they would respond to that.

415. The Chairperson: You have also heard in the earlier session with regards to both our Department here and with the Ulster Farmers’ Union a concern that perhaps the information chain and the command chain is a bit too long. I think everyone has actually accepted that FSA when it comes to consumer confidence that you have a very critical role in this in terms of giving that independent thing. So I am not challenging that at all, because I think that actually has been answered buy the other two parties who have given witness. What I am asking is that is there anything that could be learnt of how and extensive that chain is? Could it be reduced to a critical mass that will allow for much more slick operation in terms of getting information out to most critical parties?

416. Mr McCurdy: The agency structure is such that we do have a gold command made up of senior personnel within the agency. That includes myself, and that gold command can operate irrespective of geographical position. We have videoconferencing and teleconferencing facilities. Our silver command and our gold command met regularly over those first couple of days in terms of assessing what information was available to us, determining through risk assessment what messages and information we should be providing. We held scoping meetings with industries that were affected, and we had individual conversations and meetings here in Northern Ireland with representatives of various organisations, including the Ulster Farmers’ Union, the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association etc. So there was a considerable amount of activity taking place from around nine o’clock, half-past nine, on the Saturday evening from there onwards in relation to trying to manage this incident.

417. The Chairperson: I have no doubt there was a lot of effort and activity going on. I am wondering about should the chain have been shorter to be much more effective. I will give you this example. On Saturday 6 December, FSAI issued a food alert not to consume products, yet FSA gold command on 8 December said that it would be disproportionate to recall Northern Ireland pork. Now you know if that chain had of been shorter, perhaps that mixed message could have been avoided?

418. Mr McCurdy: I do not think that message could have been avoided, because what we were was we had insufficient information with regards to the movement of pigs. We had a situation that we had insufficient information with regards to what pork meat produced in the Republic of Ireland was sent to North of Ireland and comingled into composite products. All of that information left a high degree of uncertainty, and that degree of uncertainty really was not resolved until the Tuesday/Wednesday of the following week. So, we had insufficient information. As a precautionary measure, what we said to consumers was that if there was pork meat labelled as Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland pork meat on the shelves, do not consume that meat until we get clarification as to exactly what is and what is not affected.

419. Mr Elliott: Thank you very much for your presentation and for the information that you have provided. It is very informative. Just following up on the Chairman’s last point, there did appear to be information coming from yourselves for sometime that actually indicated, or would have indicated I am assuming, to the public that meat and pork from the Republic of Ireland was OK, but that feed from threat to herds in Northern Ireland those herds were still restricted.

420. That seemed to go on for a period of time. There seemed to be an imbalance in the information that was coming through the Food Standards Agency; it almost appeared that meat and pork products from the Republic of Ireland were ok, but be wary of Northern Ireland meat products, because there were seven or nine herds — I cannot remember how many it was — restricted.

421. Mr McCurdy: As far as we were concerned, the public health implications of this were quite clear. We had said that the public health significance was quite low, and therefore consumers should not be concerned if they had eaten pork either from the Republic of Ireland or from Northern Ireland.

422. The difference in the scenarios was that the Republic of Ireland took a very conscious decision to actually remove all of the pork that had come from the Republic of Ireland. We had insufficient information to distinguish between pork meat on sale in Northern Ireland as to whether or not it had come from the Republic of Ireland or the North of Ireland. The message was clear that there was low public health risk — hold it until we get further evidence. So, there was no confusion about the public health message.

423. Ms Jennings: Tom, are you referring to the stage that we got to where the Republic of Ireland started to put pork meat back on shelves?

424. Mr Elliott: No; I was talking about the initial time frame. Gerry, are you basically saying then that our authorities did not act quickly enough to do the same thing as the Republic of Ireland. You did say that they acted very decisively.

425. Mr McCurdy: The Republic of Ireland took a position in relation to how they wanted to handle that incident. That question needs to be posed to them as to why they took that particular position.

426. Mr Elliott: Do you think it would have been helpful if our authorities had of taken a similar position?

427. Mr McCurdy: As the lead authority in relation to food safety, our position in taking action is always based on the science and evidence that is available to us. What was available to us, we felt it would have been totally disproportionate to say to consumers that all Northern Ireland pork should not be consumed or should be destroyed. We said there is no public health risk, hold in terms of what you have until we clarify the position.

428. Mr Elliott: Just to follow on that, Chair. I notice from your items, I am assuming this is like a minute of meetings and what happened, on 8 December, which was a Monday, in the meeting at 2.30 pm, DARD verified that no Northern Ireland pigs had been fed contaminated feed. Was that a clear indication at that time that the Northern Ireland pig meat should have been absolutely clear?

429. Mr McCurdy: No, it was not. What we were clear about was that at that time, with the information available to use was, Northern Ireland pigs had not been fed contaminated feed. We were still in a situation where pork itself, we did not exactly know what the position was because of pork meat coming up, being processed in the North of Ireland and being repackaged and relabelled with a Northern Ireland label, so the consumer could not differentiate or distinguish the source of the origin of the meat.

430. What we were clear about with that information at that time was that pigs had not been fed contaminated feed. Therefore, we were saying that Northern Ireland pigs — reared, bred and slaughtered — we were reasonably sure that meat derived from that source would have been satisfactory.

431. Mr Elliott: Chair, a comment on that point, and maybe Gerry or someone else will want to comment after. It would appear to me that our labelling system has, once again, significantly let us down in Northern Ireland produce, because if they could have identified what was a solely a Northern Ireland product — born and reared in Northern Ireland — you could clearly have said that that meat was not contaminated. Is that reasonable?

432. Mr McCurdy: The whole issue of country of origin labelling is one that is currently under review by the European Commission. It is what we call occupied territory; it is an area that is within the Commission’s competency in terms of setting legislation. From the Food Standard Agency’s perspective, the main area of concern in country of origin labelling is, as you rightly say, Tom, related to meat. That is where most of the concern arises. Other types of food do not really feature in terms of consumers concerns. DEFRA at this point in time is consulting on whether or not the line that is being taken in relation to country of origin labelling needs to be revisited. The FSA, DEFRA and other parts of government are reconsidering the negotiating lines with the European Commission on that particular aspect.

433. Mr Elliott: OK. That is helpful, because I think it is an issue of labelling that we are looking at for a long time in this Committee. The other point is that on 15 December, which is the following Monday I am assuming, a joint DARD, DHSS and FSA press release is issued confirming that beef, pork and milk on sale in Northern Ireland presents no concerns for public health as a result of this incident. I know there was some indication at an earlier stage that it presented a very low risk. Is that the first time that you said it presented no concern for public health, and, if so, could that have been done at an earlier stage?

434. Mr McCurdy: The term “no risk" is probably not correct language in relation to food safety. We can never guarantee that food is absolutely safe at all times.

435. Mr Elliott: No, but for clarity, it clearly says here that the beef, pork and milk on sale in Northern Ireland presents no concerns.

436. Mr McCurdy: It presents no concerns in terms of public health risk, that is what that means. So, if you had consumed beef, milk or pork you should not be concerned about your health because, again, as we said earlier, in relation to dioxins, you need to consume large quantities of products that are highly contaminated over a period of time. We were saying do not be worried about your health in relation to consuming this product.

437. Mr Elliott: Before that there appeared to be an indication that the risk was low. That statement to me clearly differentiates between a low risk and no concerns. Did you make a judgement at that stage to firm up your advice?

438. Mr Michael Jackson: To clarify, there can be a very low risk and that would mean that there is no concern. You should not be concerned because the risk is so low. It was not a significant shift; we were trying to express that there was no concern because the risk was so low.

439. Mr McCurdy: It is an issue of language, but the import was exactly the same.

440. Mr Elliott: But the message of language is very important to the public, especially when we are talking about food products and health safety. If you hear on the radio or TV that this product presents just a low risk to the public health, or on the other hand you hear that this product presents no concerns for public health, I think that is a huge difference in the message.

441. Ms Jennings: This was at the stage where, first of all, we had the European Food Safety Authority ruling on the pork, and also by that stage we had the animals on farm held there, so they were not going anywhere. We had also tracked beef that had been in the control of the processors, so we knew that those beef products were not moving anywhere either. We had a really good handle at that stage on what consumers were being exposed to.

442. Mr Elliott: Finally, are you content with the speed and level of information that you received, or that your parent group received from the Republic of Ireland authorities? We look back at the timescale and see that the issue had been ongoing for some time in the Republic of Ireland before you or your standards agency office in London were informed.

443. Mr McCurdy: Reiterating what I have said before, the significance of this does rest with the country that is investigating. Certainly, in relation to the information that we had been provided with by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, both by a telephone conversation with a member of staff on Thursday and the email that came across on the Friday into the organisation, we had no indications that there was a significant problem emerging. I think that your questioning really needs to be directed to —

444. Mr Elliott: I do not think that that is fair. I think that the point that I am asking, and that I have not got answered, is: are you content that you got that information, and the level of information required, soon enough from the authority in the Republic of Ireland? Do you think that they could have provided that better information at an earlier stage?

445. Mr McCurdy: I think, given the information that was available at the time, the authorities in the Republic of Ireland really only became cognisant of a serious issue when they got the confirmed dioxin results late on the Saturday afternoon.

446. The Chairperson: I will pick up where Tom has left off. By that stage, the damage was already starting to be done to the industry. It was based, as you said, on a moveable feast, and, yet, whenever you base things on that moveable feast, look at what happens in the interim. Between 4 December or 5 December and 15 December, when that statement was issued, ten days of damage were done to our produce.

447. Mr McCurdy: I think the general comment that I could make is that, obviously, the more information that you get, and the sooner you get it, the better you can be prepared to respond.

448. The Chairperson: Would it be fair to say then that perhaps, from 19 November, whenever these things were being flagged up within DAFF, there should have been clear indication, a phone call or something, saying:

“We are running tests. It may have absolutely nothing to do with you, but we are just keeping you informed of what we are doing here."

449. Mr McCurdy: Organisations deal with numerous incidents and complaints.

450. The Chairperson: I know, but I am asking you whether you think that would have been beneficial.

451. Mr McCurdy: It would have been beneficial to us if the Republic of Ireland was in a position at that time to give us meaningful information that would suggest that there was a significant issue.

452. The Chairperson: Can I turn to the issue that Tom also raised with regards to your public utterances about low risk and that it poses no concern? Would your organisation at all have been emboldened to make very positive, pro-active statements about Northern Ireland food produce, or would you see that not as being your role?

453. Given that we are talking about a week before Christmas, whenever the pork industry, in particular, sees it as a spike for its market for people buying ham and things like that coming up to Christmas, that, that point, they would actually have needed a fillip. Could you not have felt emboldened to make a very emboldened statement encouraging people and saying that this is good, safe produce?

454. Mr McCurdy: I think that we have to be careful about the remit of the Food Standards Agency. Our remit is to deal with food safety issues and to reassure consumers whenever we have information that either indicates that something is of low risk or that there is a risk and that they should take actions. It is not our remit to actively promote or support a particular industry. That responsibility does lie with other Government Departments, be it DETI or DARD or whatever. We are there to protect consumer interests, and we must be careful that we have that independence.

455. The Chairperson: Yes; but you do have this crossover role where, let us be honest, the utterances of your agency, because it is an important agency and because of the credibility and clout that it carries, that people will listen carefully to what you say. If you do say that this is low risk, it is perceived in a particular way. If you are saying something else about it, positive messages about it, it is perceived in a very strong way that emboldens consumer confidence.

456. Given the week that had gone before in all of this, did you not think that there was some responsibility on you? I am not saying you had a responsibility to repair damage because you were not responsible necessarily for the damage. The damage was caused elsewhere, but did you not feel that there was some level of responsibility on you to be very assertive and positive about Northern Ireland food produce?

457. Mr McCurdy: The message we gave was that there was a low risk associated with pork and that consumers should have confidence that if they had eaten pork —

458. The Chairperson: You get a consumer walking in Tesco who has just heard on the radio as he came through the door on Cool FM that pork is low risk. He says “I’ll buy steak tonight, or I’ll buy some Mexican mix of chicken". Whereas if you are making very positive statements, Food Standards Agency headline says that out meat is good to eat, our pork is excellent quality. Do you not think that that, in itself, would have emboldened the shop? There is a joint responsibility here.

459. Mr McCurdy: Yes, there is a joint responsibility and that joint responsibility extends to us discharging our duties, and those Government Departments who are there to promote the industry to discharge theirs. We do still work together in a joined up way by us giving them the information that tells them that it is low risk and that the consumer should not have concerns about eating it and it is for them then to do the promotional aspect. Our remit is towards giving consumers information and advice that helps them make informed choices.

460. Mr W Clarke: Thank you for your presentation. A couple of points. You touched on the general one in some detail in relation to the communication. There were mixed messages coming out at the early stages of this crisis. That is in the report where is says that Ministers and officials had concerns about the messages that were going out. That is the first point.

461. The other point is, and I am looking for clarity here, are you the competent body, the single competent body, for sampling animal feed? The other stuff is dioxins. While we say there are low levels of dioxins, can you put that in some sort of scale what we are talking about? If meat is contaminated, if you were eating it over a long period of time, you would become ill and you could develop cancer. That is my understanding, but I could be totally wrong. Can I get some clarity on dioxins and the scales and that type of stuff?

462. I have a couple of questions, and I will ask another one and then I will come back to the other ones. We are an island. I am not getting into the constitutional issues today, you will be glad to hear. I think we have enough bother with this stuff. In my opinion, there is a greater need for a greater working relationship over and beyond what happened in so-called member states between France and England and stuff like that. We are an island. Anything that happens on an island should be communicated to yourselves and vice versa. While it has to go to London, that is OK. But you should definitely be endeavouring to look into everything that is happening in relation to health issues on the island of Ireland. Can you deal with those couple first, thanks?

463. Mr McCurdy: OK, first dealing with the mixed messages. The situation on the Monday was a rapidly evolving situation and there were meetings going on in the FSA Northern Ireland offices with industry and with DARD and where we were gathering information. At the same time, there was activity here in Parliament Buildings and with Ministers. While those two were happening in parallel, or slightly one behind the other, the information that was evolving in the FSA meeting in the offices in Belfast had thrown other information, new light, into the system and, therefore, there was that slight disconnect in terms of the timing of information and how it then went out. Given the circumstances of Ministers, going to the Assembly, briefing Ministers, it happened; it was not desirable but it happened because of the parallel activities that were going on. But at the end of the day, there was no mixed message in the sense of what we were asking consumers to do in relation to pork and pork products and the public health significance if they had consumed pork. That was a factor of timing that was happening here and what was happening in the office in Belfast.

464. On the sampling of feed, as I said at the beginning, we have policy responsibility for non-medicated animal feed; the medicated side is veterinary. Basically, with animal feed, DARD are the enforcement authority. Therefore they are responsible for the regime in Northern Ireland of inspecting premises, improving premises, seeing what controls are in place by the industry, what samples have been taken by the industry, and also, through their own inspections, taking, where appropriate, samples that will validate or verify what is happening in the industry. DARD are the feed enforcement authority; we are the competent authority from a policy perspective.

465. The Chairperson: You say that there were no mixed messages. The report which we have accepted into evidence, Steelhenge, states that a number of respondents stated that the same messages were not sensitive, sorry, that some of the messages were not sensitive to the Northern Ireland issues, and that, most specifically, a message that mentioned the withdrawal of all Irish pork. So there was a mixed message; that’s recognised in your report. Do you accept that?

466. Mr McCurdy: Yes.

467. The Chairperson: So you do accept that there was a mixed message.

468. Mr McCurdy: I do accept that in terms of what actually went out. Because of timing issues, a message went out from one sector, from Ministers, and what we then had put out because of this time lag between what was happening in parallel.

469. Dr Dunbar: I just wanted to add a little bit on the feed sampling issue. The European Union, and therefore we, gives advice to our enforcement authorities on the kind of sampling that we might like to see from third countries; that has included in the last couple of years sampling for dioxins. In fact, we have actually funded some of that sampling, but that is third-country imported feed.

470. Mr McCurdy: On the issue of all-island connections, as my colleague from the Department of Agriculture said this morning, they have revised their protocol in relation to the communications that they think should kick in whenever there is something of significance arising. I, equally, have spoken to the chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and through that discussion have agreed with him that, where they have any indication that Northern Ireland is likely to be implicated in an incident, that they will give us a heads up on that. So we are working through revised protocols and a memorandum of understanding in relation to each party keeping the other party informed and working on, basically, a no surprises policy.

471. The Chairperson: Was that a fraught discussion?

472. Mr McCurdy: No.

473. The Chairperson: Is there room for a memorandum of understanding between yourselves and FSAI to ensure that any conversation that they have with FSA UK that you must have a duplicate conversation with FSA NI?

474. Mr Jackson: Perhaps it would be useful if I could clarify that. Under normal circumstances where, as we highlighted earlier, there are a large number of incidents which never really take on the profile or significance of what we were dealing with in the dioxins, there is a very close working relationship between the officials in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland.

475. We communicate regularly both ways, whereby they will tell us when they think there is product that may be under suspicion that has come North and vice versa: if we become aware of a problem that has originated with one of our manufacturers and we know that product has gone South, we will give them the heads up and we will exchange what information we have outwith the formal European notification system.

476. I would not want you to have the impression that we do not have good working relationships with our colleagues in FSAI as regards food issues.

477. Mr W Clarke: There is the dioxins issue. Can you give a better understanding to the lay person what that actually means?

478. Dr Dunbar: Perhaps I can try that one.

479. Mr McCurdy: Thank you. [Laughter.]

480. Dr Dunbar: Dioxins occur throughout the food chain; they occur in heating processes, so you are actually consuming dioxins probably in small amounts every day; that is building up and stays in the fat within your body. It has a very long half-life, so it is not going to disappear overnight; you do not get rid tomorrow of all the dioxins that you consume today. It is in your body for a period of time. What you have to do is try not to take in too many dioxins that tip over that balance. That is why there are those limits set.

481. Some of the first pork samples were up to 200 times more than the regulatory limit. That is quite high, but if you only eat that pork once, then it is probably not in your overall consumption of your lifetime going tip you over the edge, but you would not want to be eating it in that quantity every day for the rest of your life. So, over that period, a short period of time even, EFSA came back to say that over that short period of time if you had probably eaten pork from a contaminated animal every day for that period, it still would not have tipped you over considerably. But you would not want to be eating that for the whole of your life. It is a balance.

482. Mr Jackson: Another thing that might be of assistance to you is that in terms of the quantity that we are talking about, we are talking about absolutely minute quantities. We are talking about 10 to the minus nine. The measurement for dioxins is nanograms, so if you think of milligrams and kilograms above zero, this is absolutely very small quantities. That, then, has ramifications for the science, for the sensitivity, complexity, of the testing equipment that is required to be able to detect down to those very small levels.

483. Mr McCurdy: Someone explained it to me as trying to measure the distance from here to the sun in metres.

484. The Chairperson: It just seems to indicate to me that there was, then, potentially, huge overreaction. That is what you are saying. The likelihood of someone eating the same product from the same source for the rest of their life, as you put it, Doctor, with that level of dioxins in it, is so hypothetical.

485. Mr McCurdy: I think, Chair, that if we go back to the issue I raised at the beginning, which is differentiating between what is a safety limit and what is a compliance limit. Certainly, all through this we were quite clear about the public health significance of it, but we were also very clear that we had knowledge that there was product which was non-compliant, and our obligations under EU law was to ensure that where we knew we had non-compliant food or feed that it was removed from the market. The consequences of us not being able to demonstrate to the commission that we were not in control of the situation, that we were allowing non-compliant product to go onto the market, may well have resulted in an intervention, which would have been much more serious than the situation that we were dealing with, particularly in the pork sector over those few days.

486. The Chairperson: As you say, and as the Doctor said, it is about balance. I think some people will take the view that it was a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and others will say that no, it was appropriate.

487. Mr McCurdy: A further example would have been in the meat sector, where we had very low levels in meat. We took the decision that we would only exclude from the marketplace down to carcasses on hook and that what else had gone into the system, as a proportionate response, it was not appropriate to remove that. We had agreed all of those management strategies with the commission in advance so that they would not come back to us and say you are not in control of the situation.

488. Mr W Clarke: In relation to traceability, particularly in pork, is there anything we can do to improve that process, or have you investigating looking at that in regard I talked about, like putting in a pilot initiative where you do a callback, you bring back the products and see how the mechanisms are actually working on an all-island basis, obviously coming from both areas. Is that worth doing? Have you looked at that, and would you be particularly interested in doing it? How soon did you become aware that the feed could also have been fed to other food animals? Where is the investigation at? There was a police investigation for some, it was based in the South, I think. Who is investigating that now, and where is that investigation at? I am thinking of the North, because I do not know where that went to.

489. Mr McCurdy: OK. In relation to traceability, Northern Ireland is actually quite well facilitated by the APHIS system that DARD operates, particularly in relation to identifying animal tracing, where they have gone to. The industry itself also has invested money in terms of traceability, so while the traceability systems are there, they still do need time to physically work your way through as to where exactly product has gone. The traceability itself starts to break down once you get into composite products and commingle products, and that is where the problem starts to arise. That is the particular end of the food chain where you are struggling, at times, to say what is in and what is out. But the DARD APHIS system is a significant bonus to the Northern Ireland industry.

490. As far as exercises are going, I think the term used this morning was dummy runs, we actually have an agreement with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland that we are going to do an exercise. We will not physically recall anything, because that has implications for the industries. We will work on a scenario that originates in Dublin, through to Northern Ireland, can we trace it, do we know where it is, can we get it back, and vice versa, we will do it the other way. That is work that we have in hand.

491. The Chairperson: Will you keep us updated on a general matter about the outcome of that?

492. Mr McCurdy: Yes, of course, we can feed a note or a report into your system about that exercise, I am quite happy to do that.

493. I honestly am not in a position to give you any information on the police investigation. All I can say is that there was one, as you are probably aware. The Northern Ireland Environment Agency and the PSNI had carried out investigations on the person who supplied oil to the recycling plant in the Republic of Ireland, and the authorities there were investigating it. I am not aware of how far that has gone. We could put a note into the system to give you an update on that, as far as we can, given the sensitivities of criminal prosecution etc.

494. Mr W Clarke: On the point about becoming aware of the feed potentially going to other animals.

495. Ms Dunbar: I think, potentially, when DARD saw the list they thought that some of these herds were beef herds. But, obviously, you have got to make sure that they received the feed stuff and what they were feeding that to. So it would have been that Monday when we realised and had that confirmed that that feed was being fed to cattle.

496. The Chairperson: Thank you for coming today and for presenting your evidence. If you want to make a closing statement we are more than happy to hear that.

497. Mr McCurdy: I think what I would like to do is to emphasise that in terms of communication, yes, there is always room for improvement. Everyone recognises that; for anyone who has ever been involved in an incident, that is usually the critical question that is asked by all the parties concerned.

498. From our perspective, the teleconferences that we had with the various Departments across Northern Ireland, the on-farm investigations, the DARD APHIS system, which I have alluded to, for the tracing of animals, all of those were very positive aspects.

499. The work that we did in conjunction with our colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, who I wish to thank for the efforts that they put in, as well as my own staff of course, the ability to depopulate the cattle herds from over 7,000 to just over 4,000 was a significant achievement, which allowed around 3,000 animals belonging to farmers and the financial implications of that for them to get back into business.

500. The sample co-ordination collection delivery, and the response of AFBI and the CSL laboratory, under extreme pressure to respond, in terms of time and capacity, I think that that worked quite well. The scientific support that was provided by the agency, AFBI, and the European Commission, who had identified a lead person for us in terms of communication on scientific matters.

501. The district councils responded extremely well, in a very complex situation, to dealing with retailers and the catering sector. The work that we did with the meat industry regarding identifying products, and the work that we did with farmers, who were highly co-operative, albeit under very tense circumstances, and you can understand the human implications for them, was a very positive relationship.

502. Yes, in all these incidents there are lessons to be learned. We certainly are looking at things like our protocols,; how we respond to incidents; the scoping meetings that we think would be important; we need to review who would be the key players to get together very quickly; how we operate our gold and silver commands in relation to responding.

503. We are, at this point in time, providing further training for all our staff, from director level right down.

504. We are, as I say, revising our protocols, and we do have exercises lined up where we will then test how we are now in a better position, hopefully, to respond to the incidents. So, I hope that we have given you an indication that with uncertainty, with the lack of information, the time frame that we were operating within, something that was media-led, something that was not within our jurisdiction, that there was serious activity going on by the parties concerned to try to resolve this as quickly as possible. Obviously, we look forward to whatever findings come out of your review, and we certainly will give those very serious consideration. Thank you for your time and the way in which this has been conducted.

505. The Chairperson: I would like to formally thank you for taking the time to come here today and for bringing all your officials. I understand that you also brought someone from the FSA with you as well. I would like to thank them for making the effort to be here. Whilst you vacate those chairs, I am going to ask the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters’ Association (NIMEA), the next witnesses, to make their way to the front of the hearing.

506. I remind members of the public that we are still in formal session and that anyone who has a mobile phone or anything to keep them turned off. Mr O’Neill, you are very welcome. Thank you for coming to us.

507. Mr Phelim O’Neill (Northern Ireland Meat Exporters’ Association): Can I just begin by apologising most sincerely on behalf of our president, Campbell Tweedie, who was due to be here? He took ill this morning. He is a bit groggy so I think he is going to contact you personally to apologise in person for his non-attendance. He most regrets it and has asked me to convey that to yourself and to the members of the Committee.

508. The Chairperson: I will speak for the Committee and pass on our best regards to him. You could maybe pass them back formally to him as well. I do not want to detain you any further than is necessary. I will introduce you: you are Phelim O’Neill, chief executive of NIMEA. You are more than welcome, and I would be happy if you could make a presentation to the Committee today. Then we will ask you questions.

509. Mr P O’Neill: Thank you, Chairman, Committee members and secretariat. I will, indeed, be brief because this incident had quite a narrow interface with the processing side of the industry, and I did catch the tail end of the contribution made by the Ulster Farmers’ Union this morning. I know that they have more than adequately briefed the Committee on the implications for the farming sector of the industry.

510. I suppose the core message — and I can almost distil it into a sentence or two — from our point of view on the processing side of the industry is: the communications with officials for the first 48 hours was, in the view of our members, a complete shambles. Now, we use that word and we use it after giving it some thought. We also recognise the reality, of course, that in those first 48 hours there was a serious lack of certainty, even a serious lack of awareness of the extent of the problem and how great it was going to be.

511. I would contrast the initial difficulties with how the issue evolved after the first few days, when we did make a contact with both the FSA and DARD at a senior level and at the appropriate level. I would have to say that the effort and co-operation and assistance given by both the FSA and DARD from that point on could not have been better. So, I would be of a view that, whilst the initial experience was unfortunate, that very very very quickly I think everyone got up to speed, and we got to a situation whereby in subsequent incidents — which, thankfully, did not evolve into anything of any great significance — we found that we were getting briefed very very quickly in advance.

512. If I just might emphasise to yourself, Chairman, and to the Committee members, the importance sometimes of dealing with the matter. When customers of the Northern Ireland meat processors find something out over the airwaves, there is an immediate assumption of the worst. In fact, this was a difficult incident but it was a very controlled and, ultimately, not too badly managed incident. If we are able to give the customers of the industry an advanced briefing, a confidential advanced briefing, to alert that there may be a problem here — it might come to something, it might not — that immediately sends a message to the customers of the Northern Ireland meat processing industry that we are in control of this situation.

513. Everyone understands that problems arise; we all have problems in our lives. It is how we deal with those problems and the ability to retain control is what gives the confidence to those people to continue doing business with us and, indeed, doing more business. By way of opening remarks, Chairman, that is really all that I would have to say. We made a written submission that I would have submitted to the Committee in an unedited version from our members and indeed, within that, we have a few short recommendations. I am happy to deal with any questions that members might care to present.

514. The Chairperson: Thank you for your brief presentation, which gets right down to the point. Let us turn to that first 48-hour period in which, as you said, there was an element of shambles in terms of the actual communication. Are you able to indicate to us where the blame lay for that shambles?

515. Mr P O’Neill: I suppose you can say that everyone is to blame for that shambles. Perhaps we are to blame in that we should have had ourselves direct communication lines. The reality of life is that, for a weekend incident, I did not have a mobile telephone number of the senior officials in the Department of Agriculture, veterinary service or, indeed, in FSA. Therefore, you could ultimately say that is my responsibility; I should have had that. The reality of life is that we did not have that level of communication available for that emergency situation. We did not, if you like, have the emergency plan. You made the comment — I recall from listening earlier — that these things seem to happen on a Friday evening. The reality of life is, outside of the normal 9.00 am to 5.00 pm, we were not in a position that we have a meaningful interface with the people that we need to have that.

516. The Chairperson: Has that been repaired?

517. Mr P O’Neill: Oh, absolutely. I think that I emphasised in my opening remarks that was then; within a week, that situation had transformed itself to the point now where we have, if you like, a bulging black book of telephone numbers of the key people. So, you know, I would have to conclude, and again my perception would be, we have learned an awful lot from this incident, and we could deal with a similar incident again in a much better and a much more controlled way.

518. The Chairperson: Could you outline for us the impact from a financial perspective that this has had on your members?

519. Mr P O’Neill: The financial impact of it is not of the order or magnitude or anywhere near that it is been for the pork industry. We have a six figure cost that we are awaiting compensation for. I understand that that has not arrived yet, but it is imminent. It is being managed by DETI on our part. We have had meetings with the DETI Minister on the subject and she has undertaken to pursue it with officials on our behalf.

520. The financial consequences for the meat processing sector were not the major issue. It was the potential financial consequences that were the problem. An uncontrolled recall of product, for example, would have damaged, not just from the point of view of the cost of the initial recall, but also the cost to reputation of those businesses. Bear in mind, we are only just getting over the BSE crisis. The pork industry, whilst it has got hard hit by this one, it did not have to experience 10 years of BSE. We are just slowly recovering confidence in the European marketplace in beef. An incident that had a major recall would have had terrible financial consequences for us.

521. The reality is, and, again, I have to commend FSA, we would have worked very closely with them in dealing with this and carrying out the risk assessment, and the fact that the issue or the non-compliance was confined to condemning just the carcasses that were retained enabled us to, I suppose, manage the crisis in a very orderly manner. As a result, I would not want to over-emphasis the financial consequences for the processing side of the industry. It was certainly nothing akin to what it was for the primary producers and farmers.

522. Mr Elliott: Thank you for your presentation and your information. Do not feel that I am defending DARD or any agency here, but you will appreciate it is extremely difficult to get word out to everybody that quickly. I have found that out from we came into, I suppose, or joined this Committee because I know we went through the foot-and-mouth crisis and then the dioxin crisis. I know if the Department tells one group of people, it is automatically going to go to the press very quickly. And then the Chairperson of the Committee has not heard, so he kicks up a row. Then, when the Chairperson is told and the Deputy Chairperson is not told, he kicks up a row. Then when they are told and the other members are not told, they say “We should have been told." So you will appreciate, I am only saying that in passing, and I am not making any defence of anybody, but I have come to appreciate how difficult that is sometimes, but at least now that it has improved, or should have improved, I think, lessons have been learned in that respect.

523. Just on the issue of the Monday morning, a lot of the complaints that I received were from farmers who presented cattle from the small number who basically had been flagged over the weekend. They had not been informed, they presented cattle to the factories on the Monday morning and the factories did not know what to do with them. They could not process them. They asked DARD and they could not tell them what to do. Is that a reasonable assessment, and do you think that there is anything in place that would overcome that if something similar happened now?

524. Mr P O’Neill: Yeah, I think I used the word “shambles" and I think that that could be equally applied to the internal DARD communication on that incident, certainly in that first 48 hours. I had understood from the Sunday night, and by the way it was only on the Sunday evening that I stumbled into the loop on it, and again it was through picking it up in the media, but I had understood from the Sunday night on that that very situation would not arrive, that those people had all been contacted. Now I think when some investigation was done, and again there may be conflicting evidence here, anything that I have to offer is hearsay and second-hand information, but certainly I have been assured that all of those people that should have been informed not to move their cattle on the Monday morning, in fact had no communication whatsoever. A letter or something might have been sent out in the post. Whereas in those situations I think the very obvious thing is, were you have a relatively small number of people, I think that basically involves someone getting into a car and arriving in a farmer’s yard and telling him in a very, very blunt, no uncertain terms, what he cannot do. I suppose —

525. Mr Elliott: Do you believe that there is measures in place now to do that though? Have you heard anything that would give you confidence?

526. Mr P O’Neill: I have to confess I have not done anything to investigate that per se, but I would have thought that given the experiences that I have had in my interface with DARD subsequent and in terms of getting the heads up on issues from them that might arise to be a problem, I would conclude from that, it would be reasonable to assume would it, and perhaps you are in a better position to answer than me, would it not be reasonable to assume that they would have taken those same internal communication controls, reviewed them and put better ones in place?

527. Mr Elliott: It is always to presume, Phelim.

528. Mr P O’Neill: Yeah. It absolutely should be. I would certainly hope it has.

529. Mr Elliott: Right, well it is something that we can bring out in the report, I am sure Chair, but it is just something that would concern me. We need to learn the lessons of this; as well as slapping people maybe across the wrists over this process, we need to ensure that it does not happen again these issues.

530. Mr P O’Neill: I think Chairman again I would emphasise that whilst the incident itself showed the absolutely worst of the organisations and their ability to communicate and engage, by halfway through it I think it showed them at their best, and certainly subsequent events would have borne that also out to be true. So I think maybe it was there were a lot of lessons learnt in a very short space of time.

531. Mr Elliott: I am not so sure that the farmers affected that were waiting to try and get their cattle away would necessarily agree with that statement Phelim though.

532. Mr P O’Neill: Again Tom that is a slightly different issue in that there were issues involved with dealing with those farms, and again it is only the Department of Agriculture veterinary side that can deal with that as well. It is something that is well out with my jurisdiction.

533. Mr Shannon: First of all I must apologise for not being here. The Public Accounts Committee was on and off. That was the reason why I could not come right away. The other thing declare an interest as well as a member, I presume I have to do this, a member of the Ulster Famer’s Union plus I have a pork business as well, so just to make members aware of that. The one thing that came out, I remember when all the crisis was unfolding and it is probably following on from Tom Elliott’s question to be fair, and that was the inability to find out exactly what was going on, whether it be Department officials, I mean it was all levels, there was the pig farmers themselves, you had the manufacturers at number two, you had the butcher’s shops at number three, you had the customers at number four, and we could not find anybody to tell us what was going on at any stage. Indeed, the Department, and I know it is not your job, but the Department officials were unavailable for comment despite various phone calls and I found myself in that process as well trying to find out what was going on and was unable to tell anybody where we were.

534. You have made representations through your organisation, I would presume that you have, and I know that you have, how the lines of communication could be better improved. What sort of feedback have you had from the Department in relation to that, and do you feel today, sitting here now after the process is over and all of the mistakes have been made, do you think feel that things will be better handled next time round? I hope and pray, by the way, that there never will be a next time, but just on that question.

535. Mr P O’Neill: I would agree with you on that, and yes from the experience that I have had of other incidents that thankfully did not materialise into anything serious since January. Since the dioxin incident of last December January I would have been given heads up and given early alerts on things that may develop into a problem, and I would be much more confident today than I was then. I am too sure if you were there when I made my opening remarks or not, but the comment that I would make is that whenever this incident broke that famous weekend any contacts that I had weekend numbers for junior staff in the Department of Agriculture veterinary service.

536. Through a process of calls here and calls there, I eventually got to where I needed to get to, but by halfway through that incident, I think I had every key mobile phone number that I needed to have of all of the senior executive officials, both in FSA and in DARD.

537. That is the reassurance that we need, because the reality of life is that these incidents and crises blow up. There is nothing we can do about that. We also have to accept that for the first period of time we cannot deal with them because we are trying to scope the problem. The point that I would make purely as a representative of the meat-processing industry, is that there is an understanding amongst our customers that problems will arise from time to time. How we gather and keep our credibility is by displaying a competence in dealing with problems as they arise. If we can brief people that something is about to happen, rather than them discover it on the airwaves, then we have taken the first step. They will also give us time to say look, we have a holding product here; it may be OK, it may not. If we can be in a position where we can do that, then that is all we can ask for.

538. Subsequent issues and incidents that thankfully did not materialise or turn into anything serious have given me a degree of confidence that the position that we are in today is a much better one than it was then.

539. Mr Shannon: That would be my concern. For many of us, the first realisation of what was happening was when we heard the radio, which was then confirmed about 5 o’clock as everyone was trying to scurry and find information. I appreciate that response, it is very positive. Thank you.

540. Mr P O’Neill: In our written submission, we have made a couple of recommendations. I think something that you might want to consider as a Committee when you are reporting is should there be some sort of an emergency organisation put together, a crisis management team, that would very quickly meet if such an incident arose in future, and be aware that that meeting may take place with very little hard information on the ground, but at least everyone would be in the loop.

541. The Chairperson: Would it be like a conference call meeting as well, just put everyone together so that they could have a quick think?

542. Mr P O’Neill: That is correct, absolutely.

543. The Chairperson: I think a number of people here today have made similar recommendations, from the Ulster Farmers’ Union through to yourself. Each of them have mentioned that sort of communication. I think there is an indication that it is getting to that point. Just last week, there could have been a crisis, but there was not because it appears that there was better communication and therefore sensible response.

544. Mr P O’Neill: That was a very good example of how we engage with each other.

545. The Chairperson: Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our evidence session today. I would like to thank Phelim O’Neill for coming here today and for presenting the evidence to us. I thank all of our witnesses from DARD, the Ulster Farmers’ Union, the FSA, and NIMEA for taking the opportunity to be here. It will form a valuable part of our considerations and deliberations for our report. The next evidence session will be held on Thursday 8 October in Buswells Hotel in Dublin, and I look forward to joining you there.

8 October 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr (Chairperson)
Mr Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr George Savage

Witnesses:

Mr Raymond Ellard
Professor Alan Reilly
Ms Jane Ryder

 

Food Safety Authority of Ireland

546. The Chairperson (Mr Paisley Jnr): I thank members of the Committee and members of the public for attending. Today’s meeting forms part of the Committee’s inquiry into the sequence of events, and the actions of all the relevant parties, during the dioxin contamination that occurred in Northern Ireland in December 2008. The Committee intends to produce a report that will include recommendations on how to minimise the likelihood of a recurrence of such an incident and its effect on the Northern Ireland agriculture and food processing industry.

547. The Committee’s specific terms of reference are to establish an accurate timeline for the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up during the dioxin contamination of live animal meat and other products; to establish and clarify the key roles and responsibilities, and the inter-relationships between the relevant agencies and authorities; to identify any strengths and weaknesses in those key roles; and to recommend ways forward to ensure that we fulfil our aim of minimising any potential problem in the future.

548. The Committee decided to come to Dublin to facilitate the attendance of officials from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) and others who wish to give evidence that we consider essential to the inquiry. At this point, I would have liked to call representatives of DAFF. Unfortunately, however, they will not appear today. As Chairperson of the Committee, I am most disappointed that the Department decided not to appear today. It received ample notice, and the Committee facilitated its appearance by holding the meeting in Dublin. Last week, we heard that there may be a problem, but I understand that there is more than one official who could have appeared. It has been suggested that DAFF officials may want to come to Northern Ireland in the next couple of weeks to give evidence.

549. However, the Committee has a timeline to work off. The dioxin scare occurred almost a year ago, and rather than our investigation continuing well into December, we want to complete the report quickly. I would have liked officials from DAFF to have attended today, but they decided not to do so.

550. The Committee must decide whether it wishes to invite DAFF representatives to Stormont to hear further evidence. That would extend our timeline, and we would, therefore, fail to meet our deadline. Alternatively, we could proceed on the basis of the written communication that has been received from DAFF. When the Deputy Chairperson arrives, we can ratify the decision. My view is reasonably clear, and I am prepared to hear members’ views.

551. Mr Doherty: We should discuss those options, because we do have a timeline to work off. If we could hear that evidence without going way beyond the deadline, we should consider doing so. However, if that would push us way beyond our deadline, we have a decision to make. DAFF must tell us when it is prepared to give evidence.

552. The Chairperson: The Committee Clerk has been liaising with the secretary-general’s office, which offered to meet on the morning of 13 October in Parliament Buildings. However, the secretary-general cannot attend on that date.

553. The Committee Clerk: That is correct. As the secretary-general is unable to make it on that date, his deputy or senior officials would attend in his place. The Committee’s forward work plan signals its intention to report by the middle of October. If the Committee continues to hear evidence, the report will not be debated in a plenary sitting until the middle of November.

554. The Chairperson: Furthermore, a deputy or one of the secretary-general’s underlings could have given evidence today, because other officials would have been available. He will not be able to attend on 13 October, and the Assembly takes its half-term break from 23 October. Therefore, it could be December by the time a debate is held in the House. Given the legislative programme, it is in the Committee’s interest to get the report out of the way.

555. Mr Burns: I would have liked as much evidence as possible to be submitted to the inquiry, but I understand that the Committee has a time frame within which to work. The inquiry has been ongoing for a year, and we would like to draw it to a close. Are there any other dates, within the next few weeks, on which we could facilitate the attendance of DAFF officials to give evidence? I appreciate that we need to get this cleared up in the next few weeks, if possible. If it is possible for those witnesses to come and give evidence in a couple of weeks’ time, we should allow that to happen. However, we have to have a definite deadline.

556. Mr Savage: We have a time limit and a target to meet. If some of the participants do not turn up, the press and everyone else will think that they have something to hide. That puts a bigger question mark over the whole issue, and we do not want that to happen.

557. The Chairperson: I have been fascinated today to hear answers to questions about the relationship and how information was passed. Their attendance would have helped to enlighten us and, perhaps, clear up some concerns and allow us to pose other questions. We will not get that opportunity today, nor will we get it until 13 October or after. If members ponder that, we will take a decision at the end of the meeting. The Deputy Chairman will be here and he can give us his views on the matter.

558. Mr Doherty: Are there any other potential dates after 13 October?

559. The Committee Clerk: I have not scheduled anything. The idea was to try to get the evidence session scheduled as soon as possible to enable us to stick as closely as possible to our timescale. I have not considered other dates.

560. Mr Doherty: Has DAFF offered to attend on any other dates?

561. The Committee Clerk: No. I provisionally offered 13 October to see whether we could pin them down on a date. The secretary-general is unable to make it on that date, but will send his deputy secretary and other senior officials, if the Committee so wishes. It will have to be in the morning of Tuesday 13 October, because the Committee has its weekly meeting in the afternoon.

562. The Chairperson: I feel particularly bad that I came to Dublin and DAFF has run away. We will take a decision at the end of the meeting.

563. I welcome the witnesses from the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), who are led by Professor Alan Reilly. Please introduce us to your team.

564. Professor Alan Reilly (Food Safety Authority of Ireland): Mr Ray Ellard is the authority’s director of audit and compliance; Ms Jane Ryder is the authority’s public relations officer.

565. The Chairperson: You will be aware of the Committee’s terms of reference for this inquiry. You kindly provided the Committee with a written submission. Please take a maximum of 20 minutes to speak to your paper, although you do not have to use all the time. After that, we will ask questions.

566. Professor Reilly: I welcome you all to Dublin. I thank you for inviting my colleagues and me to update the Committee’s distinguished members on the events and actions surrounding the discovery of animal feed that was contaminated by dioxins, and the subsequent recall of pork products that were manufactured from pigs that were slaughtered in Ireland between 1 September 2008 and 6 December 2008.

567. With your permission, Chairperson I will cover four areas: first, the role of the Food Safety Authority in our national feed safety control system; secondly, the public-health implications of dioxins; thirdly, the actions that were taken following the detection of the problem; and, fourthly, the lessons that were learned. During my presentation, I will address, when I can, issues that were raised in the Committee’s terms of reference. I hope to reassure the Committee that the actions that were taken here were appropriate, measured and proportionate, not only from the point of view of protecting consumers’ health but from a legal standpoint.

568. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland was established in 1999 as the national body with responsibility for enforcing food law in Ireland. The FSAI is a statutory, independent science-based agency that is dedicated to protecting public health and the interests of consumers in the area of food safety. It was set up as an agency independent of the food industry, and it operates under the aegis of the Minister for Health and Children. The principal function of the FSAI is to take all reasonable steps to ensure that food that is consumed, distributed, marketed or produced in Ireland meets the highest standards of food safety and hygiene. It is also charged with bringing about the general acceptance that the primary responsibility for food safety is borne by the food industry across the food chain.

569. Over the past 10 years, the FSAI has worked in partnership with all interested parties to ensure a consistent standard of enforcement of food legislation, and to underpin food law with science-based risk assessment. Enforcement of food law is carried out on behalf of the FSAI in partnership with other state bodies that are known as official agencies. The system that operates in the Republic of Ireland is somewhat different to that of the UK. The official agencies act as agents of the FSAI under a service-contract system, and the main official agencies are the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the local authorities, the Health Service Executive, the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority and the Marine Institute. Those agencies are accountable to the FSAI for their work programmes, their standards of work and the actions that they take on food law enforcement.

570. The job of the FSAI is to co-ordinate the food control activities of those agencies and to audit them for compliance with service-contract commitments — an arrangement is not too dissimilar to the relationship that exists between the Foods Standards Agency and the local authorities in the UK. The national residues monitoring programme, which detected the dioxin contamination incident, forms part of the service contract between the FSAI and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

571. As well as its food law enforcement role, the FSAI seeks to promote the highest standards of food safety and hygiene. To that end, it aspires to develop a culture of food safety in Ireland by engaging with those who can directly improve food safety practices. Stakeholders include the food industry and their representative groups, as well as consumer groups and state agencies that can positively influence food safety standards.

572. The remit of the FSAI does not cover the entire food chain, which is important when trying to understand the role that the food-control agencies played in the management of the dioxin crisis. When the FSAI was set up in 1999, it was given responsibility for food safety from the farm gate forwards. Animal-feed controls and animal-health controls on the farm are the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, not that of the FSAI. Therefore, the responsibility of the FSAI starts at the farm gate, but everything that goes on in the farm is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

573. The controls governing the approval, licensing and inspection of animal-feed establishments and the marketing of animal feeds are not included in the service contract between the FSAI and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Instead, those are enforced under the feed hygiene regulations which require that feed business operators have safety management systems in place, and those are based on the principles of the hazard analysis and critical control point system. Furthermore, the enforcement of regulations associated with animal welfare and animal health are not part of the service contract, which is different from how the controls are organised in the United Kingdom.

574. Apart from its role as a food law enforcement agency, the FSAI advises on scientific and technical aspects of legislation, and participates in expert working groups of the European Commission in the preparation of EU food regulations. The FSAI does not have the powers to make food legislation; rather, the enactment of national food regulations is the responsibility of the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Oireachtas.

575. I will briefly discuss the public health implications of dioxin contamination, because it will help to explain the outcome of sample testing that was carried out during the incident. Dioxins are referred to in European regulations and cover a complex group of 75 polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxin congeners and 135 polychlorinated dibenzofuran congeners. A congener is the term used to describe different configurations of similar chemical compounds. Only 17 of those 210 compounds are of toxicological concern.

576. On the other hand, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a group of 209 different congeners that can be divided into two groups according to their toxicological properties. Twelve congeners exhibit toxicological properties that are similar to dioxins; they are referred to as dioxin-like PCBs. The other PCBs, known as marker PCBs, do not exhibit dioxin-like toxicity and have a lower and different toxicological profile. That is an important point. Each congener of dioxins or dioxin-like PCB exhibits a different level of toxicity, and, to be able to sum up the toxicity of those different congeners, the concept of toxic equivalency factors was introduced to facilitate risk assessment and regulatory control. Each congener is given a different weighting that is relative to its toxicity and is analysed independently.

577. Since the Belgian dioxin crisis in 1999, the European Union has been increasingly aware of the dangers posed by dioxins and dioxin-related PCBs in foods. Those contaminants are very resistant to biological breakdown and, hence, persist and accumulate in the environment and in the food chain, particularly in the fat of animals. It is well established that approximately 90% of human exposure to those compounds results from food consumption. Therefore, the most effective method to protect consumers’ health is to control the contamination of food.

578. The fact that consumers are primarily exposed to dioxins and PCBs through the foods that they eat has caused the FSAI to examine whether those contaminants are present in foods on the Irish market. Since 2001, we have, in collaboration with our official agencies, regularly monitored the food supply for dioxins and related compounds to ensure compliance with legislation and to follow trends in contaminant occurrence. Regular national surveys are carried out on high-risk foods, and monitoring programmes have been implemented. The results of those surveys are published on the FSAI website and complement the national residues monitoring programme. All those studies demonstrate that the environmental levels of dioxins are low, and, hence, the exposure of the Irish population to dioxins is well below the European average. Before the recent incident, Irish foods were one of the safest in the world for lack of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds.

579. Under European regulations, Ireland is required to sample and test foods of animal origin on the Irish market for levels of dioxins and related contaminants. Dioxins pose a risk to human health, and foods that contain harmful contaminants must be removed from the market. The focus of European and Irish legislation is to limit human exposure to dioxins. The risk of serious adverse health effects increases the longer that a person is exposed to dioxins. That is a key reason why the FSAI recalled pork products from the market. Human exposure to dioxins can result in a range of health problems, including cancer, the disturbance of the reproductive and immune systems and harmful effects on the skin. Long-term exposure has resulted in several types of cancer.

580. Given their serious health effects and the presence of dioxins in the environment, it is essential to minimise exposure to such contaminants through foods. Given that dioxins persist in the environment, all people have a background exposure and a certain level of dioxins in the body; that is described as a body burden. Toxicity is related to the build-up of those toxins in the body, and the food safety controls focus on efforts to reduce the body burden. Maximum levels of PCBs in meat, fish, eggs, milk and other foods have been outlined in European legislation. Those levels aim to minimise exposure and ensure that consumers’ health is not affected. Separate legislation establishes maximum levels of dioxins and PCBs for animal feeds, because that is another important source of contamination of the food chain.

581. One of the Committee’s terms of reference is to establish accurate timelines of the actions that were taken during the crisis. On the evening of 28 November 2008, the FSAI was informed by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that a sample of pork fat from an Irish slaughter plant that was taken as part of the routine national residues monitoring programme was found to be tentatively positive for marker PCBs, and that it was investigating the incident.

582. Marker PCBs, although considered to be of low toxicity, are used in routine monitoring as indicators of possible contamination with dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs. It is more cost-effective and easier to analyse marker PCBs when compared with the analysis of dioxins. There is no regulatory level or legal limit for marker PCBs in European regulations. The discovery of marker PCBs in feed or food samples does not always mean that dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs will be present.

583. It is normal practice, upon the detection of non-compliance with contaminants legislation, for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food contacts the FSAI to have a risk assessment carried out and to seek advice. That is our standard protocol. When the test results became known, we followed the usual systems that are in place under the service contracts.

584. On Monday 1 December 2008, the Department confirmed that the pork-fat sample had tested positive for marker PCBs and that samples of breadcrumb that were produced by a food recycling plant for use in animal feed were also likely to test positive for PCBs. The FSAI was also informed that the pig farm responsible was under restriction, and that pigs could only move from the farm on a positive-release basis in line with European Commission guidelines on the management of a dioxin incident. A positive-release basis means that representative samples of pigs would be tested after slaughter, and pigs would be released onto the market only if the herds had tested negative.

585. The FSAI recommended that samples be tested for the presence of dioxins. That was arranged by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with the central science laboratory in York. We did not have our own facility in Ireland to test for dioxins at that time, so we were relying on that laboratory in York to do the work for us.

586. Additional samples of fat from pigs were confirmed for marker PCBs on 2 December 2008, and samples were sent to the UK for dioxin analysis. Also on 2 December, the Department confirmed the presence of marker PCBs in breadcrumb that was produced by the food recycling plant and in additional pig-fat samples. On that date, the FSAI informed the Department of Health and Children that an investigation was under way and of the evolving nature of the incident. The FSAI remained in close contact with the food unit of the Department of Health and Children during the incident, as we report back to the Department through the food unit.

587. On 4 December, following discussions with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, a press statement was issued that stated that an investigation was under way. At that stage, I informed the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK that an investigation was under way. I should clarify that I was due in London at the Food Standards Agency to take part in a review of the nutrition-research programme as part of an expert panel on Friday 5 December 2008. At that stage, I thought that I could not turn up for that meeting. I phoned the person who was running the review to say that I could not make it because we were investigating an incident. That was all that I said at that stage.

588. The Chairperson: Was that on 4 December?

589. Professor Reilly: Yes. On 5 December, the FSAI informed the European Commission that an investigation was under way and of what the results had been to date. The information that was released was that an investigation was under way and that marker PCBs had been found. The FSAI informed the rapid alert system for food and feed (RASFF) in the European Union about the investigation on 5 December. At that stage, I again contacted the Food Standards Agency in the UK to confirm that I would not be attending the meeting, and sent them a copy of the press statement that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had released the previous night.

590. The FSAI was contacted on 5 December by the Voedsel en Waren Autoriteit (VWA). That contact was triggered by the VWA reading the press statement that was issued by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 4 December. The press statement led the VWA to believe that it was investigating an incident that was connected to the Irish investigation.

591. The VWA informed the FSAI that, on 24 November, a Dutch pork-processing company had been notified by one of its customers in France of the discovery of dioxins at a level of 433 picograms per gram during routine monitoring of a pork loin that it had supplied. The legal maximum limit for dioxins in pig fat is 1 picogram per gram, so the sample was well above the legal limit. The Dutch company reported those findings to the VWA on 25 November.

592. The VWA informed us that the production date for that sample of pork loin was 13 October. Subsequent investigations showed that a total of 1,049 pig carcasses were processed at the Dutch plant on that date. Those carcasses could have originated from six European countries, including Ireland. On 5 December, the FSAI was also informed that the VWA had begun intensive sampling on 27 November to identify the source of the contamination, and that it had identified marker PCBs in a pork carcass from Ireland.

593. In addition, the VWA reported that a pork-processing plant in Belgium, which was owned by the same Dutch company, had identified an increase in dioxin levels in composite rendered fat from around mid-September 2008. That Belgian processing plant used pig fat from several European countries, including Ireland. The congener profile of the dioxins and PCBs indicated a single source of contamination, which was most likely to be transformer oil. Until that point, we had been trying to determine the source of the marker PCBs and were looking at everything under the sun. Therefore, the ability of Dutch authorities to identify the congener profile of the dioxins as transformer oil was very useful.

594. On Saturday 6 December, the FSAI held a teleconference with the European Commission and the Dutch authorities to discuss the incident. The VWA had been expecting results of its dioxin analysis over that weekend. Risk-management options were discussed with the Commission, and the FSAI explained that it was awaiting the results of dioxin analysis of pork fat and animal feed and that appropriate action would be taken as soon as those results were available.

595. The Irish results were reported by the central science laboratory in the UK at 3.40 pm on 6 December. The results showed the dioxin level in pig fat to be between 80 and 200 pg/g and in breadcrumbs to be greater than 2,500 pg/g. As I said, the legal limit for dioxins in pig fat is 1 pg/g and 0·75 pg/g in animal feed, so those levels were very high. The FSAI was aware that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had identified the source of contamination to a food recycling plant. The Department was able to do that because of the traceability systems in place in the farming and animal-feed sectors.

596. The evidence available to the FSAI on 6 December indicated that the dioxin contamination started around the middle of September. The indications were that the first known contaminated pork product from Ireland came from a sample that was taken in France in mid-October. The congener profile of that sample suggested that contaminated feed was consumed in the period shortly before slaughter of the animal. In addition, monitoring in the pork-processing plant in Belgium showed an increase in dioxin levels from mid-September. Therefore, as a practical approach, the FSAI determined the 1 September to be appropriate. Subsequent testing of pork and feed samples proved that decision to be correct.

597. At the interdepartmental and inter-agency meeting that was convened on 6 December by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, consultations took place with An Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Ministers of State, and senior Government officials to assess the emerging crisis. The outcome of those discussions was that the FSAI required that all pork products from pigs slaughtered in Ireland since 1 September be removed from sale. That decision was made to stop ongoing consumer exposure, thereby removing the risk to public health. The FSAI activated its crisis management plan at that stage.

598. On 6 December, I spoke with Mr Gerry McCurdy, director of the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland, at around 9.45 pm and with Dr Andrew Wadge, chief scientist at the Food Standards Agency in the UK, at 8.45 pm, and I briefed them on the situation.

599. On 7 December, the interdepartmental and inter-agency group met throughout the day. In addition, an ad hoc expert group on human health was convened by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, at the request of the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health and Children, to consider and advise on the health implications of dioxins in pork in the context of this incident. That was a channel for advice from Ireland’s top public-health experts and scientists to feed into the risk assessment process.

600. The FSAI co-ordinated the recall of pork products and managed communications with the industry and consumers. The FSAI rapid alert team was in contact with counterparts in the Commission and the Food Standards Agency in the UK. Throughout the day, I was in fairly regular contact with Dr Andrew Wadge in London. The FSAI advice line received over 2,600 calls from consumers and industry seeking information on the recall. Information was constantly updated on the FSAI website, which had in excess of 20,000 visitors, throughout the day.

601. A teleconference took place on 8 December between the Irish authorities, the European Commission, other member states, and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). The outcome of that teleconference was a request by the Commission to EFSA for advice on the risks to public health. A number of Europe-wide alerts were issued through the rapid alert system. We had issued our first alert through that system on the evening of 6 December.

602. The European Food Safety Authority issued an opinion on 10 December stating that, following its risk assessment, there was no obvious risk to health for anyone who had consumed potentially contaminated pork products in the three months prior to the recall of all Irish pork products. That reaffirmed the action taken by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, which limited further exposure to pork products contaminated with dioxins. The European Commission and member states agreed conditions that must be met for product to be placed on the market. Those included rules for composite products, such as pizza and ready-to-eat meals that have pork ingredients.

603. Results for marker PCBs for samples taken from the remaining cattle herds became available over the weekend. On Thursday, 18 December, the FSAI concluded its risk assessment and published a statement indicating that exposure from beef was 300 times lower than that posed by pork. Additionally, it was confirmed that only 21 of the 120,000 cattle farms in Ireland had been identified as having received the implicated animal feed. In other words, 99.98% of the national herd did not receive any contaminated feed. As a precautionary measure, on the recommendation of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, a decision was taken to slaughter and remove from the food chain all animals in those 21 herds.

604. Over the past 10 years, the Food Safety Authority has encouraged and part-funded the development of a comprehensive database on food consumption, which it has used to monitor dioxin intakes by consumers in Ireland. The data allowed the FSAI to rapidly carry out an exposure assessment to determine the level of risk posed by this dioxin incident. Mathematical modelling was used to calculate the potential exposure of the population to dioxins from the consumption of contaminated pork. Those calculations were based on the known range of daily intakes of fat from pork and pork products, combined with information on the levels of pork fat in foods. The regulatory limits for dioxins and related contaminants are set on a lifetime exposure, and considerable safety margins are built into those limits. The FSAI’s conclusion was that the safety margins had been considerably eroded and that ongoing exposure would put consumers’ health at risk.

605. A crucial factor in determining risk to public health in a dioxin incident such as this is to calculate the increase in body burden resulting from the consumption of contaminated foods. The European Food Safety Authority calculated that, during the limited timescale of the incident, the body burden was increased by 10%, and it considered that that increase would not be of concern for human health. However, the EFSA was only able to reach that conclusion because exposure to those high levels was short-lived due to the effective measures taken by the Irish authorities to remove the source of contamination and prevent exposure.

606. I will review some of the key issues arising from the incident, starting with traceability. In line with European food regulations, Irish food business operators are required to keep records of their suppliers and customers. That is the minimum legal requirement for traceability. All food businesses involved in the incident had those basic requirements in place. That allowed the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to trace the contaminated feed from the manufacturer to farms and to trace pigs from farms to abattoirs and cutting plants.

607. Pigs from implicated farms that used contaminated feed were supplied to 10 main abattoirs in the country that accounted for 98% of national pork production. For traceability purposes, one day’s production was considered by abattoirs and pork processors to be a batch size. Products could be traced only to the date of production. Essentially, the main abattoirs had taken animals from many farms each day and were unable to distinguish between products or cuts of pork from the contaminated farms and those that were unaffected.

608. The farms that used contaminated feed accounted for only 8% of the national kill, or approximately 50,000 pigs, slaughtered between 1 September and 6 December 2008. Due to commingling in the abattoirs of meat from pigs from farms that used contaminated feed with that from farms that did not use contaminated feed, it was not possible to distinguish between contaminated and non-contaminated products in about 98% of the national throughput of pork. That was the basis for the total recall.

609. In respect of the proportionality of the response, there are three main reasons why it was necessary to recall all pork products manufactured from pigs that were slaughtered in Ireland between 1 September and 6 December. First, it was essential to limit exposure to contaminated products to the shortest possible period. To protect consumer’s health and to limit exposure to dioxins, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland required that all pork products manufactured from pigs slaughtered between those dates be recalled from sale. That had the immediate effect of removing contaminated food from the market. It also allowed time for the possibility of identifying uncontaminated products and returning those to the market.

610. Secondly, the levels of dioxins found in pork and in the animal feeds were well in excess of legal limits. Under European regulations, they could not have remained on the market because they were illegal. Thirdly and critically, it was, as I said, impossible to distinguish between the contaminated and the non-contaminated pork.

611. With respect to the recall of products other than pork, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food restricted on a precautionary basis 12 beef farms that it had identified as having received contaminated feed. The FSAI decided that a recall of that beef was not required on public health grounds, and I will share with you the reasons why it made that decision.

612. First, the traceability requirements for beef are more stringent when compared with those for pork, and there is greater process traceability in the beef industry. For the marketing of beef, labelling requirements are required under European beef-labelling regulations that came into effect in July 2000 and were enacted in Ireland in 2002. That legislation requires beef to be labeled with the reference number or code of the animal or group of animals from which the beef was derived; the country of the slaughterhouse and the approval number; the country of the de-boning hall and the approval number; the country of birth; and all countries in which fattening took place . Essentially, it was possible for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to trace and isolate beef products from farms that had received contaminated feed. That was not the case with pork.

613. Secondly, the number of animals involved represented only a tiny fraction of national beef production. Traceability records demonstrated that 99.98% of Irish beef was free of contamination. Carcasses and prime cuts from the 0.02% of national beef production affected were traced and withdrawn from trade.

614. Thirdly, the FSAI carried out a risk assessment, which showed that consumption of beef would contribute to only a 0·035% increase in the body burden. That was about 300 times less than the additional body burden than would have been contributed by the contaminated pork. In other words, the beef was 300 times safer than the pork. The FSAI considered that that increase in body burden would not cause appreciable adverse health effects and was of no concern in such a short-term exposure event.

615. The dioxin incident is under national review, and the FSAI is pleased to co-operate and support reviews to ensure that all links in the food chain are safeguarded and that our national control system continues to evolve and improve. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food published its report in May 2009. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has established an inter-agency group under the chairmanship of Dr Patrick Wall to consider which adjustments of controls are necessary in light of the experience gained in dealing with the contamination incident. That group is expected to report soon to the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

616. The incident has reinforced the value of good co-operation across all national agencies. The FSAI worked closely with officials from the Health Service Executive, the Local Authority Veterinary Service and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to ensure openness and transparency in the system for getting safe pork products back on the market. The incident also reinforced the value of networking between food safety agencies and organisations across the EU.

617. I will take this opportunity to note the large degree of collaboration that took place and continues to take place between the FSAI and the UK Food Standards Agency. Such co-operation is vital, as both Ireland and the UK draw their food supplies from similar sources, our populations share the same influences, and we are subject to common media. Inter-agency collaboration occurs at many levels and in many different forums, such as direct meetings of the chief executives and regular interaction of staff at scientific and operational levels from both organisations during food incidents, enforcement action and communications on food safety.

618. Such an incident illustrates plainly the need to be able to communicate clear messages to the food sector, consumers, regulatory staff and the media. Over the first two days of the incident, the FSAI received approximately 3,000 phone calls in addition to numerous press queries and requests for radio and TV interviews.

619. The incident demonstrated that the Irish food safety control system works well. The considerable investment made over the years in the national food-safety-control infrastructure in Ireland paid dividends in the management of the crisis. A very hard and critical decision was taken to instigate a total recall of pork from the market, but it was the correct decision.

620. The dioxin incident was identified through the routine national residue monitoring programme. The source of the dioxins was identified, and all products were traced and recalled from the market, thus reducing the potential for exposure to dioxins. The fact that the staff in so many organisations worked closely together for a common cause and that a strong national science base exists to carry out risk assessments in order to determine risks to public health all adds up to an effective management of a national food crisis.

621. Thank you for your attention. I am happy to answer any questions that you might have.

622. The Chairperson: Thank you very much, Professor. Your presentation was very useful. I appreciate you taking us through it and giving us a blow-by-blow account as much as possible. I wish to clarify a couple of points. You mentioned that the tests were carried out in the central science lab in York, and you seemed to indicate that that is no longer case. Is the Food Safety Authority now able to carry out such tests?

623. Professor Reilly: Since February, the state laboratory in Backweston, just south of Dublin, has been set up as the national reference laboratory for dioxin testing. However, the testing is being carried out in parallel: the laboratory runs tests, but it checks the results with other laboratories.

624. The Chairperson: Does that speed things up?

625. Professor Reilly: I do not think that it would have sped things up in this instance. We have a good relationship with the central science lab and have worked with it for a number of years. It was excellent and worked over the weekend to get us the results. However, even if our laboratory could have carried out the testing then, I do not think that it would have sped the process up.

626. The Chairperson: You mentioned the phrase “long-term exposure to dioxins" and the concerns about human safety. What does that phrase mean with regard to consumption? Are we talking about consuming a product with those levels of toxins three times a day for a year, or for a shorter or longer time? When does real danger start?

627. Professor Reilly: I do not think that it is possible to say when real danger starts. The regulatory limits are based on a lifetime exposure of something like 40 years for an average individual who weighs 70kg. The rationale of the legislation and the regulation is to limit that exposure. There are low levels of dioxins in the environment, and the regulations are there to ensure that people’s consumption does not increase and to limit exposure as much as possible.

628. The Chairperson: For clarity, is there absolutely no chance that anyone will contract a serious illness as a result of consuming the pork that was available at that time?

629. Professor Reilly: In hindsight, I can say that that is the case. An increase of 10% in body burden for three months will not contribute significantly to a person’s health. That is the view of the European Food Safety Authority.

630. The Chairperson: It is very honest of you to say that. I know that you can say that now with hindsight; we are all clever with hindsight. It is important to establish that point largely to reinforce the positive message that food production here is safe.

631. Professor Reilly: Indeed. However, the issue is that the levels of dioxins in those pork products were illegal. Those products could not remain on the market, so they had to be taken off the shelves. You would not want to feed your children sausages that had those levels of dioxins in them because children have a full lifetime ahead of them. Therefore, children should not be fed a product that will contribute to their body burden, given that they might be exposed to another incident in later life, because the net result of high levels of exposure is serious illness.

632. The Chairperson: I appreciate the rationale behind it. It is important, for the sake of proportionality, that we know exactly what we are talking about and that we set that out in a helpful way, so that the public understand what is going on.

633. According to your submission, 28 November 2008 was quite an important date, because you were notified of a tentative positive marker of PCBs at that point. Was it never considered appropriate at that point to network with or to inform the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland (FSA NI), which is in the closest jurisdiction?

634. Professor Reilly: No, that was a Friday evening from what I remember, and I had received two phone calls from two different officials in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The answer is simply no; I did not really think of informing anyone, as it was fairly routine. The message was that it was a tentative positive marker. One would not act on that. We handle lots of food incidents; some of them come to nothing, and some of them develop. However, at that stage, we had no indication of what was waiting for us down the track.

635. The Chairperson: You say that a tentative positive marker is fairly routine. What does “routine" mean? How often do you receive such a call?

636. Professor Reilly: On marker PCBs, never; that was the first time, but on other —

637. The Chairperson: That is hardly routine.

638. Professor Reilly: It is routine to receive calls on other breaches of regulations. If there was a technical breach of the legislation involving some chemical contaminant or pesticide, or a range of different contaminants, the Department would call FSAI, and we would say whether it posed a risk. However, there is no legal limit for marker PCBs; they are not covered by legislation. Had the results shown dioxins at that type of level, it would have been a completely different story.

639. The Chairperson: Yes, but it was not an average call to receive on a Friday night. It was not routine. There was something slightly different about it. With hindsight, if you were to receive a call like that again, would you pick up the phone to speak to somebody at FSA NI to let them know that there was something going on, or would that not happen?

640. Professor Reilly: At that stage of an investigation, apart from dealing with it internally and trying to assess the magnitude of it, we would not start ringing people. We would end up doing that two or three times a week. With that type of a food incident, a judgment call needs to be made about the level of risk.

641. The Chairperson: In December 2008, how was the FSAI’s relationship with FSA NI? You have indicated that you have a good relationship with FSA UK. Indeed, there is a chief executive’s forum, which appears to get together quite regularly. At that time, had you a direct and good network with FSA NI?

642. Professor Reilly: Yes, we had a very good network. I have the mobile phone number of Morris McAllister, the previous director, and of Gerry McCurdy. We do tick-tack. Over the years, we have been involved in joint investigations and so on. We meet fairly regularly throughout the year and have very good relations.

643. The Chairperson: The next date that jumps out at me is 4 December 2008. You indicated that you were going to London that day for a meeting and, because of what had come to light on the Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, you decided that you would not go, so you made a telephone call to FSA UK to cancel that meeting. You did not contact anyone in FSA NI. Am I right to assume that you believed that FSA UK would inform FSA NI?

644. Professor Reilly: At that stage we were investigating what appeared to be a problem with animal feed. We are not responsible for the controls on animal feed; that is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. For all intents and purposes, at that stage, it was an investigation into animal feed, and the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Food was leading on it. That is why I did not inform FSA NI. We did not know what was going to happen. On the Thursday and Friday, we had no idea what awaited us on the Saturday.

645. The Chairperson: I accept that. It is easy to make certain comments with the benefit of hindsight, and I am not asking you to condemn the FSAI. However, we need to learn from the event and ensure that the impact of such events is minimised. Is there now a mindset that, in future, you should first inform FSA NI, as well as FSA UK?

646. Professor Reilly: Yes; we will develop a memorandum of understanding with the Food Standards Agency in the North of Ireland and ensure that we include all this type of —

647. The Chairperson: Have you done that?

648. Professor Reilly: We had a memorandum of understanding in place, but we are drafting an updated version. We will ensure that there will be a different level of communication if a similar incident were to occur in future.

649. The Chairperson: Even by 5 and 6 December, no one had picked up the phone and spoken to the authorities in Northern Ireland about the situation. Obviously, that was the jurisdiction that was most likely to be affected. As you know, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food reported on the issue and published its ‘Report on the contamination of Irish pork products’ in May, which stated:

“the myriad of agencies responsible for food safety operating under service level agreements by the FSAI is not satisfactory."

You stated in your written submission, and repeated today, that the Irish food-safety control system works well. Your statement and that of the joint Committee do not correlate very well when juxtaposed. You say that the control system works well, but the joint Committee says it is not satisfactory. Who is right?

650. Professor Reilly: The Oireachtas joint Committee’s statement refers to on-farm controls and animal feeds. Our system of 39 different agencies operating under service contracts works very well. We have streamlined that system over the last 10 years. We do not have farm-to-fork controls, and, as I explained at the beginning of my presentation, the FSAI’s remit begins at the farm gate.

651. The Chairperson: Can you give us any assurance that the controls that are now in place or that the memorandum of understanding that you are drawing up will ensure the collaboration, networking, good relations and common cause that you have spoken about? Having listened to the views of our authorities, my impression is that we were out of the loop for a few days too long and that that caused the severity of the problem in Northern Ireland. Had we been in the loop from the Thursday night, the impact on Northern Ireland could have been lessened considerably.

652. Professor Reilly: We have collaborated with the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland on incidents that occurred after the dioxin incident. We had a problem, for example, with listeria in sandwiches that were produced here and sent to the North. Within hours of finding out about that, we were in contact with our colleagues in the Food Standards Agency in the North of Ireland. We have made contact when we have had concrete evidence that something is happening. On the Thursday and Friday, we did not know the scale of what was going to happen. With the benefit of hindsight, and had we known the scale of the effect that the situation would have on everyone, we would have made contact.

653. The Chairperson: Professor, you were concerned enough to cancel a meeting in London and to ring FSA UK to let it know about the situation, but you were not concerned enough to phone your friend on his mobile to alert him about it.

654. Professor Reilly: The rapid alert system for food and feed that operates throughout the European Union exists to communicate risks that are associated with food that is traded between member states. The system’s UK contact point — the UK Food Standards Agency — is in London, so we are regularly in contact with that rapid alert office, which is the normal channel when an issue arises.

655. When I alerted the Food Standards Agency in London to the fact that I was not going to turn up to the meeting, its rapid alert office called the corresponding office in the Food Safety Authority of Ireland to ask whether something was happening that it should know about. At that stage, we said that there was not, and we repeated the message that we had given the night before about an ongoing investigation. However, we did not expect to find the levels of dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in the feed or the animals.

656. The Chairperson: Who did you speak to on 4 December?

657. Professor Reilly: Do you mean in the UK?

658. The Chairperson: I spoke to Dr Alison Tedstone in the nutrition division.

659. The Chairperson: Could she confirm that this issue was the reason for cancelling the meeting?

660. Professor Reilly: I would have told her that an investigation was under way, although I did not know the level of what was going on. On Friday 5 December, after I had copied the press release to her, she passed it on. I emphasise that on 4 December, I did not know the scale of what was going to happen, and if I had known, it would have been a wholly different story.

661. The Chairperson: I asked that question — and forgive my impertinence — because FSAI is using that casual call to cover itself, in the sense that it called FSA UK on 4 December. Should it have done more?

662. Professor Reilly: I am not suggesting that it is cover at all. Member states communicate using the rapid alert system, and, on that Friday, we issued a rapid alert that would have gone to FSA UK.

663. The Chairperson: So, that was the real pushing of the button.

664. Professor Reilly: We routinely issue rapid alerts.

665. The Chairperson: How many would you issue, on average, in a month?

666. Professor Reilly: I cannot tell you. We get lots in, but I would have to check the numbers.

667. The Chairperson: Are you talking about double figures?

668. Professor Reilly: Yes. We probably issue 20 a year, but approximately 6,000 a year are interchanged between member states through the rapid alert system. If a member state becomes aware of a problem about food that has gone to other member states, it alerts the Commission in Brussels, which sends details of the alert to all other member states. That is how the system works.

669. Mr Elliott: Thank you, Chairman, and I apologise to all for being late. The traffic in Dublin was much heavier than I expected.

670. Professor Reilly, on Sunday 7 December, you moved swiftly and recommended that pork products be removed from sale —

671. Professor Reilly: We decided to recall all pork products on Saturday 6 December.

672. Mr Elliott: Your notes state that the FSAI co-ordinated the recall of the pork products on Sunday 7 December.

673. Professor Reilly: That is quite true. We did co-ordinate the recall, but the decision was made on the evening of Saturday 6 December.

674. Mr Elliott: I do not see it noted that the decision was taken on the Saturday. The notes state that the FSAI co-ordinated the recall of the pork products on Sunday 7 December 2008, so I assumed that the decision was taken then.

675. Professor Reilly: The decision was taken on Saturday 6 December after we received the results from the central science lab at 3.40 pm. There was a delay of a few hours, and, that evening, it was announced at a Government press conference that the FSAI required a recall of all pork and pork products.

676. The Chairperson: You should be aware that that statement, which was broadcast on RTÉ, was the first time that our Minister of Agriculture heard about the incident. That is not the best way to be alerted about a situation.

677. Professor Reilly: In fairness, it was also the first notice that many of our officials and food inspectors received. As soon as we learned that pork and pork products were on the market with a level of dioxins that created a risk to consumer health, we took the decision to protect consumer health, which was our paramount consideration.

678. Mr Elliott: You got the results and made the decision on Saturday 6 December. I assume that quite a bit of internal discussion took place prior to that and that there was some suspicion that the results would be positive. You can tell me if I am wrong, but I assume that contingency plans were made for the recall, probably on the previous Thursday or Friday. Is that a reasonable assumption?

679. Professor Reilly: What type of contingency plans do you have in mind?

680. Mr Elliott: A contingency plan to take the decision to recall the pork.

681. Professor Reilly: Taking that decision was one of the options if the pork was going to come back positive, and if we could not find which products were positive and had been co-mingled. However, that did not materialise until 3.40 pm on Saturday 6 December.

682. Mr Elliott: Did you have no discussions or thoughts about that prior to 3.40 pm on the Saturday?

683. Professor Reilly: That is when it was confirmed.

684. Mr Elliott: We are aware of that, but, internally, did you, prior to 3.40 pm on 6 December, have any plans on how to handle or deal with the situation if the results were positive or negative?

685. Professor Reilly: During the day, from 10.00 am, when the interdepartmental and inter-agency meeting took place, various options will have been discussed on how to deal with the crisis. The priority focus was on customer protection. If the results were to come back positive on the Saturday, we would have been alerted to the enormity of what would possibly happen.

686. Mr Elliott: So, no thought was given to that when the original PCB test was carried out in late November or early December.

687. Professor Reilly: No, I stress to the Committee that we had absolutely no idea of the enormity of the scale of the problem. Had I had an idea, of course I would have been on the phone to others. We also knew that, when we did learn, we would have to take a decision. The decision was taken to protect the health of consumers. I know that your people were inconvenienced and that there was a financial knock-on effect. Many countries were affected. The recall of pork affected probably 54 countries. Ireland had exported pork to 22 countries. Therefore, all those countries were in the same position.

688. The Chairperson: There is a difference in the proportionate response. Almost a year later, we are, unfortunately, still feeling the inconvenience of processing plants being affected, with the potential knock-on effect for jobs and the impact on consumer confidence. “Inconvenienced" is too mild a word. Yet, as you said, ultimately, if that product had all been consumed, no one would have been harmed. The Committee is trying to get a perspective for itself and the public on why we were put through the wringer. I must say, Professor Reilly, that we were a hell of a lot more than merely inconvenienced.

689. Professor Reilly: Indeed. We were all affected. The industry and certainly its food control systems went through six days of hell. It was certainly more than an inconvenience. However, subsequent tests on other products led to only one coming back with 13,600 picograms per gram. The national reference laboratory for dioxins in Europe tested a sow’s liver that returned with that type of high level of dioxins.

690. I have no doubt that we took proportionate action to protect consumers’ health. Illegal products could not be left on the market. Who would want to buy pork that is known to contain dioxins? Would one feed those products to their children? There really is not a chance of that. Therefore, we had no option but to take the action that we did.

691. In 1999, Belgium had a very similar incident, but its authorities did not do anything for some time. Other countries then started to examine products in which low levels of dioxin were found — similar or even lower levels than we found. That had an enormous impact on Belgium, its trade and its political system. We did not want to have the same consequences of that experience.

692. The Chairperson: There is a saying that there is more than one way to skin a cat. The way that this was skinned sent a tremor just short of panic through the public life, which proved to be completely unnecessary. That panic could have been avoided by the adoption of a gradual and more reserved approach to the scare, accompanied by a slow recall, if that had been deemed necessary. However, it turned into a cross-jurisdictional national panic that, a year later, turns out to have been totally unnecessary. That is why I again make the point that, although the authority believes its control system worked well, other people say that it was unsatisfactory because of the reasons that I outlined and because it caused panic.

693. Professor Reilly: I maintain that our system worked well. First, through the national residues monitoring programme, we identified the problem and were able to trace the sample back to its source. From that farm, we traced it to the recycling plant, and so on. Therefore, we were able to test the product, conduct a risk assessment and carry out all the exposure calculations. Our conclusion was that that pork had to come off the market because it would put consumer health at risk.

694. As it turned out, an increase of 10% in the body burden was not going to have catastrophic public-health implications, but it was certainly not desirable. The products’ presence on the market was illegal, so it had to be removed. I maintain that our response was proportionate and correct.

695. The Chairperson: You must see it from our perspective. By saying that people were simply inconvenienced makes a mockery of any notion of good relationships.

696. Professor Reilly: In fairness, as I stated, we did not know the scale of the problem at the time. With hindsight, we now do. On the evening in question, I phoned Gerry McCurdy and Andrew Wadge to explain what was going on. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland’s first and foremost consideration is consumer protection. Our priority was to get contaminated pork off the market.

697. Mr Elliott: To some degree, for an internal situation in ROI, you probably handled it speedily and resolved it much quicker than we did. Our concern is how that was transferred to our people in Northern Ireland. That is why I wanted to tease out the issue of contingency plans and what they had been prior to that decision being taken. When you recalled pork products, was Northern Ireland on your radar? Were you concerned that any products may have been exported to Northern Ireland and entered the food chain there? Did you think solely of ROI, or did you have broader concerns?

698. Professor Reilly: I believe that 40% of our pork goes to the UK. The seriousness of the affair was why I decided on the Saturday evening to call Gerry McCurdy and Andrew Wadge. Every country that received Irish pork was in the same position. Trying to co-ordinate every call that was made on the Sunday was extremely difficult as we did not have all the information, classification of products, and so on. That was all done as we moved through the crisis. We were trying to classify which types of product had to come off the market. The European Commission then decided that composite products that contained 20% pork could stay on the market, but we had already taken some of those products off the market.

699. Mr Elliott: Prior to that, had no indication been given to either the UK-wide or Northern Ireland authorities that there may be a problem?

700. Professor Reilly: No. Again, I am at pains to point out that we really did not have an inkling of the scale of the problem. Certainly, I did not have an inkling of the impact that it would have. Of course, had we known, we would have reacted differently. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

701. Since the crisis, we have worked closely with the Food Standards Agency in Northern Ireland on a number of different food-related incidents, although none of them was on that scale. When an incident such as that happens, it has to be investigated proportionately. Since the dioxins incident, there was one other incident that involved both the North and the South of Ireland, and its effect could have been devastating. However, we worked through it together and it became a non-issue. It could have been on the same scale as the dioxins incident though. As luck would have it, it did not turn out that way. We did not go for a nuclear option, we did not ring people and we did not make a huge issue of it. We reviewed all the information and made a judgement call. That is how such an incident is managed.

702. Mr Elliott: Chairman, I have one final point that goes back to a question that you asked about PCBs when the FSAI was notified in late November or early December. Professor Reilly, you said that that was fairly routine, but you accepted that it was not really normal for that type of incident to come forward with high PCB readings. I am trying to get a handle on that. Perhaps you could clarify that point, because I am somewhat confused.

703. Professor Reilly: The standard operating procedure is that when the Department of Agriculture finds an excess of a contaminant during its monitoring programme, it notifies us. We then perform a risk assessment, after which we, together with the Department, make a judgment call on the extent of the problem. That routinely happens, and that is how we were notified of the marker PCBs.

704. Mr Elliott: Is it routine to have that level of PCBs?

705. Professor Reilly: That was not routine, but the mechanism of informing us of the excess was routine.

706. Mr Elliott: So the mechanism of informing you was routine, but the particular incident was not routine?

707. Professor Reilly: It was the first time that we had marker PCBs.

708. Mr Elliott: Did that give you any serious rise for concern that we may have been approaching an incident of that scale?

709. Professor Reilly: No; not at all. We have been monitoring the Irish food supply for the past number of years, and we have never found any PCBs or dioxins in the food.

710. Mr Elliott: Were you not surprised to hear of a high PCB reading? That is what I cannot get over. If you have been doing that for a long time and you have not found any PCBs, but then, all of a sudden, DAFF came to you and said that it had very high readings of PCBs and was carrying out further tests, why did it not cause alarm?

711. Professor Reilly: On the evening of Friday 5 December, we were informed that there was a tentative positive result for marker PCBs. For a long time, we could not figure out where the contamination came from.

712. The Chairperson: Your evidence indicates that, on Monday 8 December, it was confirmed that it was more than tentative; it was a positive.

713. Professor Reilly: Yes. The result was positive for marker PCBs.

714. The Chairperson: To be fair, and we will be reflecting it in our evidence, you accepted that that was not routine.

715. Professor Reilly: The mechanism of reporting was routine, but it was the first time that marker PCBs had been reported.

716. The Chairperson: That is an important distinction.

717. Professor Reilly: The issue of having marker PCBs does not indicate that there are dioxin-like PCBs in food. There is no legal limit or level in European legislation for marker PCBs. If there were regulations that we could enforce, that would have been a whole different story, but there are not. It is important —

718. The Chairperson: But, it was confirmed on Monday 8 December.

719. Professor Reilly: Yes. From Monday 8 December, it was confirmed that we had marker PCBs.

720. Mr Elliott: Is it normal that to have high readings of PCBs but not of dioxins? Is that possible?

721. Professor Reilly: It could be possible.

722. Mr Elliott: But, not normal?

723. Professor Reilly: No, not normal.

724. Mr Elliott: So, in actual fact, are you saying that it would be normal for a high PCB reading to follow on from a high dioxin reading?

725. Professor Reilly: There is no correlation between the non-dioxin-like PCBs and PCBs and dioxins. In each incident that we have had over the years, there were different ratios of marker PCBs and the dioxin and dioxin-like PCBs.

726. Mr Doherty: Thank you for your evidence and for being here with your team. When an incident of this nature breaks, is the lead agency DAFF or the FSAI?

727. Professor Reilly: As the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is responsible for animal feed, and this was an animal-feed issue, it was the lead agency. In the initial stages of the incident, probably up until the evening of Saturday 6 December, DAFF would have been the lead agency. When it became a food issue, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland was the lead agency.

728. Mr Doherty: So, DAFF was the lead agency until 6 December?

729. Professor Reilly: Once it became a food issue, the FSAI became responsible.

730. Mr Doherty: I read your submission and listened to your evidence. Lots of dialogue between your agency and its counterparts in the UK took place, and you referred to protocols and procedures with member states. However, on this island, the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement indicate that agriculture and food safety are areas in which there should be co-operation. That seems to have fallen through the cracks.

731. According to our information, on Thursday 4 December, DAFF drew up a list of customers in the North and in the South who received feed from the recycling plant over the previous six months. The Department drew up that list, but did no one ever think of their counterparts in the North?

732. Professor Reilly: You should put that question to DAFF, which is the contact point for the rapid alert system for food and feed. We have nothing to do with it. Anything to do with the controls for feed and informing people about feed contamination is the responsibility of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland does not see that data, and it is not part of our routine work. The responsibility of our agency starts at the farm gate. As soon as it became a food issue on the Saturday night and the recall was issued, the FSAI became the lead agency.

733. Mr Doherty: In the days leading up to that Saturday, DAFF knew what was happening. Did it not inform the FSAI that it was drawing up a list of potentially affected farms that included farms in the North?

734. Professor Reilly: Did DAFF not inform the Department of Agriculture in the North on the Friday about what was happening?

735. Mr Doherty: No. Our information is that Michelle Gildernew, the Northern Minister, heard the news by way of a press release. She then informed her Department.

736. The Chairperson: That was on the Saturday.

737. Professor Reilly: I cannot speak on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or comment about when it informed the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. It might be useful to put that question to DAFF officials when you eventually discuss the issue with them. I do not have the data at hand. However, as I recall, on the Friday, there was e-mail correspondence about the incident between the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland. I do not know what was said in that correspondence.

738. Mr Doherty: My point is not about how the agencies in the South responded; rather, it is about how their slowness in informing the Northern authorities created a negative dynamic. It is inconcievable that, on the one hand, we have good working relationship on a practical day-to-day basis and an agreement to co-operate but, on the other, it was not routine to give officials in the North a heads-up that something was happening and that co-ordination may have been required. Will you explain that?

739. Professor Reilly: The only explanation is that we did not realise the scale of the problem. If feed had gone to the North, my agency had no idea about it. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has no information at all about feed, feed controls and feed moving between North and South. That is not our responsibility. The questions you are asking me about feed and contaminated feed are matters for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

740. Mr Doherty: Are you saying that that DAFF did not inform your agency on the Thursday that it had drawn up a list that included Northern farms?

741. Professor Reilly: I would have to look through my notes to determine when that information was exchanged, because we are eight months down the track. The focus of all the FSAI’s work is on food; we do not focus on animal feed. I know that the Food Standards Agency in the North of Ireland has responsibility for feed.

742. Mr Doherty: There was a lot of initial activity on Friday 5, Saturday 6 and Sunday 7 December. After that, according to our timescales, your agency seems to have taken a step back. What happened in the period after 7 December?

743. Professor Reilly: The product recall was instigated, but we had nothing to do with the financial and industry support issues that followed. We stood back from that, and DAFF handled all those controls. Our focus is on protecting the health and interests of consumers. We stood back from issues relating to feed, including feed that goes to farms in the North, and let the Food Standards Agency contact DAFF directly.

744. Mr Doherty: Do you think that there are lessons to be learned from a North/South point of view?

745. Professor Reilly: In hindsight, phone calls to colleagues in the North of Ireland could have been made. We have liaised fairly well with people in the North of Ireland when incidents have happened since then. We have been tick-tacking. It must be recognised that, until 3.40 pm on Saturday 6 December, we had no inclination of the scale of the problem. In hindsight, had we known that, of course we would have informed colleagues, but we did not. We routinely investigate many incidents, which could have devastating consequences but which do not go anywhere.

746. Mr Doherty: You said that you had no inclination of the scale of the problem until 3.40 pm on Saturday 6 December, but it was 9.30 pm before the Northern Minister heard about a press release, and she informed her staff.

747. Professor Reilly: The Food Safety Authority would not contact Ministers. That would be a question for DAFF.

748. The Chairperson: I want to pick up on one of Mr Doherty’s questions. As a senior practitioner in this field, are you surprised by the apparent lack of dialogue on such an issue between DAFF here and DARD in Northern Ireland?

749. Professor Reilly: The simple answer is that I do not know. Hindsight is a wonderful thing; knowing what I know now, I would have picked up the phone to Gerry McCurdy earlier, for sure. But there was no indication that the incident would develop in the way that it did. It is a question that should be put to our colleagues in both Departments.

750. The Chairperson: We would have loved to have done that this morning. We do not mean to beat up on you for our inability to beat up on them. We are getting to the crux of the matter, and Mr Doherty has highlighted the issue of relationships. Looking at the evidence, the episode was a shambles. We have not come to a conclusion yet, but, somehow, Northern Ireland was left completely out of the loop for too long. The evidence that we have seen suggests that some sort of notification happened between DAFF and DARD sometime on the morning of Friday 5 December. However, it was at such a low level — making them aware of certain products and foodstuffs — and there was not a serious enough indication of an incident that had caused you that to cancel meetings 24 hours earlier.

751. I understand what you have said and all the caveats. Surely, however, as a practitioner in the field who meets such people, you are surprised by that lack of contact?

752. Professor Reilly: I do not know what the relationship is between both Departments. It is as simple as that. You can put that question to our colleagues in DAFF when you meet them.

753. The Chairperson: The worst fear is that there is an agenda: namely, that because Northern Ireland pork products have quite a good foothold in the rest of the UK, bad-mouthing our food products and production opens up a market opportunity for food producers here. If anyone is party to that, willingly, unwillingly or unwittingly, you can understand the anger and frustration that is being felt 90 miles north of here.

754. Professor Reilly: The Food Safety Authority of Ireland was set up to be independent of the food sector, with the remit to protect consumers’ health and interests, and that is what the authority did during the dioxin incident: it protected consumers’ health and interests. The FSAI is not party to trade issues. We set up the controls in such a way that that agency which supports and promotes the food industry is separate. From our perspective, we did the right thing.

755. I know nothing about any agenda, and this is the first time that I have heard such a suggestion. Our focus is on protecting consumers’ health, in the North of Ireland as well as in the South, and protecting consumers who eat Irish foods all over the world. The FSAI was set up to protect those people, and to be independent of the food sector in order to relieve us of the responsibilities of trade issues.

756. Mr Doherty: You said that the FSAI was set up to be independent. Is it answerable to any Department?

757. Professor Reilly: I said that we were set up to be independent of the food sector. We work under the aegis of the Minister for Health and Children, and we report to the Minister through our board. However, the FSAI was set up in such a way as to put distance between us and the food sector.

758. The Chairperson: Our Food Standards Agency has a similar relationship.

759. Mr Savage: The joint Committee report states that the FSAI, although it has primary responsibility for food safety:

“does not currently have the required legal authority to police all aspects of the food/feed chain."

How did that hinder you in investigating the dioxin incident? Can you assure the Committee that all the contaminated meat has been disposed of and is not in cold storage, North or South of the border?

760. Professor Reilly: Again, could the Committee put that question to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, because it was in charge of taking in that contaminated material? A lot of it has gone to be rendered, but I am not aware where the remainder is, if there is a remainder. The Department is co-ordinating that aspect of the recall, so perhaps you could put that question to them.

761. Mr Savage: I am glad to hear your response, but I will certainly follow up the matter with the Department.

762. The Chairperson: The joint Committee recommended that the FSAI should have the legal power to deal with contaminated material, and you are telling us to ask someone else. Surely we are getting to the point when a crunch decision has to taken as to whether the FSAI should have that power. Should you have that power?

763. Professor Reilly: With respect, 197 rapid alerts were issued in relation to the recall. All over Europe, member states recalled and disposed of products. The Government have to take the decision about the powers of the Food Safety Authority, and we must await such a decision. We cannot take those decisions. The Government’s decision about the powers of the Food Safety Authority has not yet been made.

764. The Chairperson: I understand that you want that authority.

765. Professor Reilly: We could do a very good job of overseeing the controls on animal feed; it would be similar to the role that we play in other parts of the food chain.

766. The Chairperson: Would you be concerned if any product that was removed from retailers’ shelves and from circulation was still in cold storage?

767. Professor Reilly: I would be concerned if those products could potentially go back on the market. However, to my knowledge — and I am being straight up — any product has gone into rendering. It has cost the state quite a few million pounds to ensure that that has all been rendered.

768. Mr Savage: One of my constituents — I will not name his location — is a major distributor of pork feeds and pork products across the island of Ireland, North and South. The incident has practically put him out of business. That worries me. Products have been taken from his shelves, disposed of and placed in cold storage. I am concerned that the product is lying somewhere and will be used when there is a scarcity. Today’s discussion has been interesting, and I know that you are in a difficult situation. You said that hindsight is a wonderful thing. That is true. Many businesses have nearly gone to the wall over this crisis. We must assure our people that it will not happen again. There is a big onus on you and us to find the solution to the problem.

769. Professor Reilly: I would be concerned if there was even a slightest chance that any product would return to the market. That would be illegal.

770. The Chairperson: George has raised an interesting point. Members should be aware that some dairy farmers were affected by the incident, because they brought in some of the animal feed for their cattle. Those farmers were not included in the compensation scheme. They comprise a small number; one could count them on the fingers of one hand. However, the financial impact on their business has been severe. Our report should draw attention to that matter.

771. Mr Burns: You said that hindsight is a wonderful thing. Indeed it is; we would all act differently with hindsight. However, the Committee is seriously concerned about how the scare affected Northern Ireland. In the European Union, Ireland is, in many ways, treated as an island. One of our great aims is to eradicate diseases and create a clean bill of health for all animals throughout Ireland. We want to get to the bottom of the incident and uncover how communications broke down so badly between yourselves and the Department in Northern Ireland. What lessons have you learnt from the episode? What systems will you put in place to ensure that it will never happen again and that you will share information with us at an early stage?

772. Professor Reilly: I sit on the review group that is examining those issues and will report in a month’s time. I believe that the FSAI and the Food Standards Agency in the North of Ireland can improve communications. We will formally improve them in a couple of months’ time. Since the pork dioxins crisis, we have been in touch when incidents have happened, and we have done so in a timely fashion.

773. The question of how the dioxins crisis happened and where the contamination came from is something that we will have to look at. We have to put systems in place so that it will never happen again. As for ensuring the oversight of controls, it is the primary responsibility of the feed and food industries to ensure that safe food is placed on the market. The feed and food-safety management systems that are in place should be robust enough to identify hazards and the associated risks and ensure that they do not happen. It is about working with the industry to ensure that it complies with the legislation. The systems are there to ensure that such an incident should not happen.

774. Mr Burns: Food safety is important. The consumer must be 100% sure that the food that they buy is safe. There is no room for “maybe" or “might be" — food safety must be 100% guaranteed.

775. Professor Reilly: I totally agree with you.

776. Mr Burns: We had never come across this problem before, but we understand that, for example, where incinerators are used, there is a great fear that toxins could be consumed by animals and would, in turn, get into the food chain. It is about putting procedures in place that guarantee that food that is bought by the consumer is 100% safe.

777. Professor Reilly: I agree. That is why we required a recall of all the pork. The pork was not 100% safe to eat. We acted on the basis of consumer protection.

778. Mr Burns: We feel that the traceability system in Northern Ireland would have guaranteed that all the pork that was on our supermarket shelves was 100% toxin-free. We got caught up in an incident that had a devastating effect on our markets.

779. Professor Reilly: As I explained, approximately 8% of the total production was contaminated. All of that was commingled with the remainder, and, in all, about 98% of the pork had to come off the market. Many companies were in the same situation.

780. I am at pains to point out that it was not until 3.40 pm on that Saturday, when we got the results, that things went as they did. I cannot say much more than that.

781. Mr Elliott: I have one more question, if that is OK.

782. The Chairperson: Go ahead, but be very quick, because the Professor has been very generous by speaking to us for two hours.

783. Mr Elliott: Do you have any concerns that pork that was contaminated before you became aware of the incident was actually consumed by the public?

784. Professor Reilly: Yes, we do have concerns. The risk assessment that was carried out by FSA indicated that, if all the pork one had eaten had come from Ireland, it would have increased one’s body burden by 10%. I do have concerns about that. However, the action that we took meant that, within six days, pork was back on the market down here. The actions that we took were proportionate. You have a lot of questions that you could put to colleagues in DAFF. As regards your questions about talking to Ministers and so on, we are not in that space.

785. The Chairperson: On that point, Professor, I thank you, Jane and Raymond for your generosity in allowing us almost two hours in which to speak with you. We appreciate it; it has been very helpful and informative. I think that you are absolutely right; we have questions which can only be answered by DAFF. We will consider your comments when we deliberate on how to take the matter forward.

786. Thank you for giving us your time so generously, and for providing the opportunity to go through those issues. As I am sure you can understand, from what you have heard from this side of the table, those issues are very significant and had a consequence for us, which we believe could have been handled very differently. Of course, 20/20 hindsight is always perfect, but we have to learn from such things. The important question, which will be asked in our report, is whether the lessons have been learned. Let us identify how those lessons can be improved. Thank you very much.

787. Professor Reilly: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the Committee. I hope that you can appreciate that the actions that we took protected consumers in the North of Ireland as well as in the South. Getting that pork off the market immediately reduced the opportunity for consumers to add to their body burden. We were very lucky that the dioxin levels in the pork were such that no major public health problems arose from the consumption of pork in that three-month period. I firmly believe that the actions that we took were taken to protect consumers; that is, all consumers of Irish food anywhere in the world.

788. The Chairperson: I will now turn to the minutes of the Committee’s meeting on 24 September 2009. Are those minutes a fair reflection of our business?

Members indicated assent.

789. The Chairperson: We had a discussion before you arrived, Mr Deputy Chairman, about how we might handle the situation regarding DAFF. I must say that all members probably share my frustration that the DAFF officials are not here today.

790. There are one or two courses of action that we could take. We could conclude our own business and rely on the written evidence. However, from what I have heard today, DAFF could answer some of our questions. We have some pointed questions, which the FSAI would like to hear answered as much as we would. We have the opportunity to meet a representative from DAFF. It will not be the Secretary General, but one of his deputies will, potentially, meet us on Tuesday 13 October at Stormont, if members are content.

791. Mr Doherty: Is he a co-equal deputy?

792. The Chairperson: I have no idea. I doubt it. Are members content to have that meeting?

793. Mr Burns: Having heard the evidence today, I want to nail DAFF and have someone answer our questions. We need someone to answer the questions to keep the inquiry going.

794. Mr Doherty: I reflect Thomas’ view; based on the evidence that we heard today, we cannot let DAFF off the hook. It might extend timelines and put us under pressure, but we have to have some answers.

795. The Chairperson: If members are content, we shall invite DAFF to come to our meeting next Tuesday at Stormont.

Members indicated assent.

796. The Chairperson: Thank you. The meeting is now closed.

Tuesday 13 October

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr (Chairperson)
Mr Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr William Irwin
Mr Francie Molloy
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:

Mr Martin Heraghty
Mr Dermot Ryan

 

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

797. The Chairperson (Mr Paisley Jnr): We now turn to the Committee’s inquiry into the dioxin incident of December 2008. I remind everyone that the session is being recorded by Hansard, and it is imperative that mobile phones be switched off as they interfere with recording. Please take a moment to do that. I ask members to declare interests. Members have no interests other than those recorded on the Register of Members’ Interests.

798. We held a Committee meeting in Dublin on 8 October at which we heard from the Food Safety Authority for Ireland (FSAI). We were also due to take evidence from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF), but, unfortunately, the representatives of the Department were unable to join us then. However, I am delighted to say that they have been able to attend today.

799. You are all very welcome. Assistant secretary, I would be grateful if you would introduce yourself and your colleague.

800. Mr Martin Heraghty (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food): We are very pleased to attend. I am Martin Heraghty, assistant secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and this is my colleague, deputy chief inspector Dermot Ryan.

801. The Chairperson: Assistant secretary and Mr Ryan, you are both very welcome, and I thank you for taking the time to attend.

802. The Committee established an inquiry into the dioxin incident to establish the sequence of events and actions of all the relevant parties in relation to the contamination incident in December, with a view to producing a report of recommendations in order to minimize the likelihood of a recurrence of any such incident and its effects on the Northern Ireland agriculture and food processing industries. We want to establish four things: an accurate timeline, detailing who knew what, where, when and how; the communications along that timeline and the chain of events; the key roles and responsibilities of the various interrelationships and relevant authorities; and the strengths and weaknesses of those key roles and responsibilities. We will then make recommendations as a result of the investigation. That is why we want to talk to you.

803. Throughout our inquiry, reference has been made to DAFF by our Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. We have considered your written evidence, but we felt it imperative to talk with you directly. We have about 20 minutes in which you can outline your position for us and speak to the brief, and then we will put some questions to you.

804. Mr Heraghty: Thank you, Mr Chairman and Committee members. We are pleased to attend this meeting to elaborate on our written submission, which was forwarded in July. I will provide the Committee with a copy of my speaking notes. We wish to explain our perspective on the dioxin contamination incident in December 2008.

805. Unfortunately, we were unable to attend the Committee meeting on 8 October. We had indicated in advance of the meeting that there may be difficulties in that respect. Following receipt of the Committee’s letter on 23 September, we agreed to attend at a mutually convenient date either in Belfast or Dublin. We are pleased to provide whatever information we can to help the Committee in its inquiry.

806. The written submission provided to you in July outlined the organisational and legislative arrangements in relation to food safety in Ireland. It detailed the chronology of the incident and covered the pig meat recall financial assistance scheme. Also in that submission, we referred to reviews of the incident and touched on some of the adjustments made since it occurred.

807. This morning, I will focus on points which I hope will be helpful to your inquiry. After my presentation, we will endeavour to provide any information that the Committee requires.

808. For the purpose of clarity, I will begin by referring to organisational structures. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland is primarily responsible, by statute, for the enforcement of food law in Ireland. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act, 1998, enables the authority to carry out its remit by service contracts with various official agencies. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food operates under such a service contract with the Food Safety Authority. The control of animal feed is not included in the service contract arrangement.

809. The dioxin incident is noteworthy in that it developed rapidly into a crisis of unprecedented proportions, but it is also true that the speed and decisiveness of the action taken, in which consumer protection was the overriding priority, resulted in an equally rapid restoration of the market for pig meat, although some market issues are still being addressed. At its meeting in December, the European Council expressed its support for Ireland’s efforts to deal with the situation relating to pig meat and its prompt precautionary action.

810. The first indication of a problem was the disclosure on 28 November of non-dioxin-like marker polychlorinated byphenols (PCBs) in pork fat that was routinely sampled under our national residue monitoring programme. That result was confirmed on 1 December 2008. The FSAI advised the Department that there were no legal or regulatory limits for non-dioxin-like PCBs, and that that result, and the subsequent results on the feed sample, did not necessarily pose a risk to public health. I understand that that advice was given by the FSAI after consultation with the European Commission. The FSAI was satisfied with the actions taken by the Department in the week commencing 1 December.

811. I should at this point provide more precise information than is outlined in our written submission on the receipt of information in relation to tracing the use of the feed ingredients, which should be helpful to you in your inquiry in focusing on the precise timeline of events. On receipt of the initial indicative marker PCB results on 28 November, samples were taken of all the types of animal feed used in the farm of origin. On 2 December, one of the feed ingredient library samples presented as positive for non-dioxin-like PCBs. The source of that feed ingredient was traced to a registered surplus food plant, Millstream Power Recycling Limited, in County Carlow. On Wednesday 3 December, samples of current feed from that plant taken on 2 December were negative for non-dioxin-like PCBs, and that appeared to indicate that the contamination had occurred in the past.

812. That required further in-depth investigation, including the testing of library samples that were held at the plant. On Wednesday evening, the plant in question provided the Department with a list of eight customers, covering 10 pig farms that had received the dried bread. None of those was located in Northern Ireland. On 4 December, the Department received from the plant several lists of sales transactions that had taken place in the previous six months. A definitive list of customers who had received feed from the plant in the previous six months, as well as the quantities involved, was established by the Department. It transpired that some of the customers were located in Northern Ireland.

813. That was the first indication that Northern Ireland might have received contaminated feed. On Friday 5 December, the Department informed its normal contact point in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland by phone of that information, with a commitment to confirm the information by e-mail later that day. I emphasise that there is a very close working relationship between the Department’s feed control staff and their counterparts in Northern Ireland and Great Britain. For some years now, the relevant Department officials have been meeting their colleagues from DARD and the Food Standards Agency twice a year to exchange views on matters of mutual interest.

814. In the first week, the incident was treated primarily as an animal-feed problem, as is evidenced by the press release that was issued by the Department on the evening of 4 December. Samples of the pork fat and the feed had, however, been sent on Tuesday 2 December to the central science laboratory in York because of a possible link between PCBs and dioxins. The results of those samples became available to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland — earlier than expected, I might add — on Saturday 6 December at 3.40 pm; they indicated the presence of dioxins in the pork fat and the feed samples.

815. Consultations were held immediately with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Minister for Health and Children, the Chief Medical Officer, the Food Safety Authority, and Department officials. Following on from the meeting, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland decided that it was necessary for the food industry to recall all Irish pork and bacon products from pigs slaughtered in Ireland since 1 September 2008. It was also decided that that information should be put into the public domain immediately, and a press conference was arranged for circa 7.00 pm.

816. The FSAI arranged to issue an alert notification on the rapid alert system for food and feed (RASFF) to advise the European Commission and all EU member states. Trader notifications were also issued by the Department later that evening. As the Committee heard from the chief executive of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, there was also telephone contact between the FSAI and the Food Standards Agency that evening.

817. The Department’s crisis management group was convened on Sunday 7 December. The point to note is that the incident escalated rapidly on the evening of Saturday 6 December. The gravity of that unprecedented situation was not anticipated until the results were received that afternoon and information on the extent of the production potentially affected was assembled and assessed. The assessment, which was carried out that day and evening by the FSAI, required consultations with the European Commission and other regulatory authorities.

818. Pig meat processing in Ireland ceased in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the pig meat recall. The processors made it clear that the extent of the recall was such that it undermined their financial viability and that they would no longer be in a position to trade. There were intensive discussions over the following days, I think, until Wednesday or Thursday of the following week, with the pig-processing industry to facilitate the resumption of slaughter. Notwithstanding the difficult budgetary position, the Government agreed to make a limited financial facility available to assist the industry, having regard to the impact of the recall on the industry, the necessity to ensure that the recall could be effected and the need to avoid potential animal welfare problems. The financial assistance was provided so that the industry might effect a comprehensive product recall as required by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. The industry itself was not in a position to fund a recall, and failure to ensure an international recall would have had serious consequences for the pig meat sector and, indeed, for the reputation of all Irish food exports.

819. I should make it clear that the financial assistance provided was not a compensation scheme. Food and feed business operators are legally responsible, under the food and feed hygiene legislation, for putting safe food on the market. The pig meat recall scheme was a financial assistance scheme related to the cost of recall of the product and introduced for the reasons that I stated. Claims for recompense from customers affected in the more than 30 markets that were supplied worldwide with Irish pig meat are clearly a matter to be pursued at industry level. Payments in respect of pig and cattle herds depopulated as a result of the dioxin incident were treated in the same manner as in cases of herd depopulation, for example, under the TB or brucellosis schemes. State aid approval and a certain level of EU co-funding were granted in respect of those schemes.

820. Although the dioxin incident may be viewed as being identified or originating as a feed-contamination issue in Ireland, to go back a stage further, all the indications are that it may well be the direct or indirect use of an oil that contained dioxin and PCB contaminates, and that may ultimately constitute a criminal offence involving one or more jurisdictions. That remains to be seen. Investigations by the Irish national Bureau of Fraud Investigation and the Northern Ireland authorities — the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency and, possibly, the Police Service of Northern Ireland — are ongoing, and I am constrained from making any further comment on that matter at this time.

821. Like any incident of this nature and scale, there are lessons to be learned — in this case, by operators in the food and feed chain, the control authorities and, indeed, the European Commission. In this regard, adjustments have already been made to the national feed inspection programme, notably a change in the risk categorisation of feed and grain-drying operators. Under the national feed inspection programme, feed business operators have also been reminded of the fuels that can be used in burners for direct drying.

822. In the context of discussions on the all-island animal health strategy, improvements to the communication system between the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and colleagues in DARD have also been implemented and were evident in dealing with the recent swine flu incident. Both Departments have worked closely over the years in dealing with a variety of animal diseases, in particular, in recent years, in dealing with the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. The dioxin contamination incident introduced an extra dimension in which communications by food safety agencies were also activated.

823. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has established an inter-agency group, under the chairmanship of Professor Patrick Wall of University College Dublin, to review the incident. That review process is consistent with the approach adopted after the food-and-mouth disease outbreak in 2001, when the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food updated its contingency arrangements in the light of the experience gained. The review group, chaired by Dr Wall, is expected to present its report soon to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for Health and Children.

824. That concludes my opening statement. I thank you for your attention. My colleague and I are happy to answer any questions that remain.

825. The Chairperson: That is excellent. Thank you very much, assistant secretary. Having heard your statement, we realise that we were absolutely right to wait to receive that information. What you have told us is very valuable, and we appreciate the candour of some of the points that you made.

826. In your presentation, you stated that the first indication of a problem with non-dioxin-like PCBs appeared on 28 November. You went on to state that the result was confirmed on 1 December. The Department was advised by the FSAI that there were no legal limits of non-dioxin-like PCBs. That result, and the subsequent results on the feed samples, did not necessarily pose a risk to public health. I understand that that advice was given by the FSAI after consultation with the EU Commission, and that the FSAI was satisfied with the actions taken by the Department that week.

827. Do you confirm that there was no significant risk to the public?

828. Mr Heraghty: That was the assessment made by the FSAI on receipt of those results, which were confirmed on 1 December, and on receipt of further results that came through on the feed samples later that week. That was the FSAI’s assessment; it is the body charged with risk assessment in those circumstances, and it advised us accordingly. It influenced the manner in which we treated the incident in that week.

829. The Chairperson: I do not know whether you have had an opportunity to see the evidence that FSAI gave us last week. It seems to suggest something very different about the levels of contamination and the threat to the public. It indicates that those dioxins posed a risk, and there is clearly a difference of opinion, to put it mildly.

830. Mr Heraghty: I have not seen a full transcript of the evidence that was given last week, but Professor Alan Reilly, in his written submission to the Committee last week, informed the Committee that the discovery of marker PCBs in food and feed samples does not always mean that dioxin and dioxin-like PCBs will be present.

831. The Department worked in close consultation with the FSAI throughout that week, even up to and including the time when the press release was issued on the Thursday. It is notable that, in the press release, there is no reference to a risk to public health. That bears out my point: the FSAI had advised the Department that there were no maximum levels for non-dioxin-like PCBs laid down in legislation. It was happy with our course of action in dealing with the disclosure of non-dioxin-like PCBs. A lot was learned about the ratio between the levels of PCBs and the levels of dioxin as a result of the incident. However, when the PCB results were received, the FSAI gave us no reason to believe that we would have to take the type of recall action that was ultimately required on Saturday 6 December.

832. The Chairperson: Is it fair to characterise the difference of opinion that has emerged and the actual view on PCBs as confusing? Can one say that that confusion has potentially created issues in the public mind over the safety of these foods?

833. Mr Heraghty: I do not agree that there was a difference of opinion between DAFF and the FSAI during that week. We worked in close co-operation and consultation with the FSAI, and we took its advice on risk assessment. That was the advice given to us, and it was the reason why we took that course of action that week and made the public statement in the press release on Thursday. A lot was learned, after the event, about the correlation between the levels of PCBs and dioxins as a result of the incident. However, I do not agree that there was a difference of views between the FSAI and the Department in the way in which we were treating it. We were working on the advice of the FSAI during that week.

834. The Chairperson: Who has responsibility for animal food controls? Is it the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the FSAI?

835. Mr Heraghty: As I said in my presentation, animal-feed controls are not included in the service contract arrangement with the FSAI. However, there is a requirement in the service contract arrangement that, if we find a result — as we did in the pork-fat sample — we notify the FSAI of the result. We notified the FSAI immediately after we got that result, and we worked with it thereafter.

836. The Chairperson: Does that mean that you have responsibility?

837. Mr Heraghty: We have responsibility for animal-feed control, as of now.

838. The Chairperson: As of now? What about as of —

839. Mr Heraghty: At that time, we had responsibility for animal-feed controls, but the FSAI had responsibility for food safety. You will note, and I tried to bring the fact out in my opening statement, that when the incident became a food-safety incident on the Saturday, the FSAI was the lead agency, and we worked in close consultation with it throughout the week when the incident was being dealt with primarily as an animal-feed problem.

840. The Chairperson: According to your statement, it appears that the key date for Northern Ireland being informed was around 5 and 6 December. However, you said that, on 4 December, your Department knew that some customers who received those feedstuffs were located in Ulster. That being the case, why was there a delay between the 4 December and 5 December? Why did you not pick up the phone at that point and have someone deliver the message through the normal contact point to Northern Ireland officials to give them a heads up, so that they could get on with looking at the issue at the earliest possible opportunity?

841. By the evening of 5 December, you were having meetings with the Taoiseach and the various Ministers and having a detailed examination of the problem. In the meantime, we were left in the dark until some time on 5 December. As you know, or maybe you do not, our Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development found out only after hearing the bulletin on the RTÉ news.

842. Mr Heraghty: The Taoiseach and other Ministers became involved on 6 December when we got the information that we had a dioxin positive. As for the sequence of events that week, we got some information on the Wednesday from the plant, and we got more information on the Thursday from the plant. A lot of information was being requested from the plant. However, the first information that we got from the plant on Thursday gave only the name — not the address — of the recipients of the feed. There was some interaction with the plant and with our people who were visiting the plant on the Thursday to get that information. It was later on the Thursday that we got the full details, including the addresses to which the feed went. That information was passed on on Friday morning by telephone.

843. The Chairperson: At what time on the Thursday did you know about it?

844. Mr Heraghty: I do not know the exact time, but it would have been late on Thursday afternoon. Some exchanges went on with the plant to get the first information that came in the morning or mid-morning.

845. The Chairperson: However, you knew enough, early enough, to restrict herds in the Republic on the Thursday.

846. Mr Heraghty: We restricted some herds on the Thursday, yes: that is true. They were pig herds. The information that was passed on to our colleagues in DARD indicated that feed went to cattle herds, and we did not take any action on cattle herds until the Friday. The action taken on restricting cattle herds took place concurrently, in the sense that it was done around the same time in the South as it was in the North. As it transpired, none of the feed had gone to pig herds in the North.

847. The Chairperson: You said that the normal contact point in DARD was informed by telephone. Who is the normal contact point? Talk us through that situation.

848. Mr Heraghty: The agreed contact arrangement is that the deputy head of the feed control division of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food makes that contact. I am not sure whether the Committee wants me to go into the details of who that person contacts in DARD, but I can do that if it is desirable.

849. The Chairperson: That information would be helpful.

850. Mr Heraghty: The normal contact in DARD, Stephen Nixon, was not present, but his colleague Ciaran Cunningham took the initial call.

851. The Chairperson: Who in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food made the call?

852. Mr Heraghty: The call was made by the assistant principal officer in the feed control division of the Department, Mr Downey.

853. The Chairperson: IS Mr Downey senior or middle management in the Department?

854. Mr Heraghty: The Department is divided into divisions and Mr Downey is the assistant principal of the feed control division, which is headed by a principal officer. He was the agreed communications contact point.

855. The Chairperson: When was that contact made?

856. Mr Heraghty: It was made on the morning of Friday 5 December 2008, which was followed by a detailed e-mail later that day.

857. The Chairperson: Do you accept that, had that information been passed to DARD on Thursday 4 December 2008, giving it a heads-up, it would have been able to be more fleet of foot in getting something done before the weekend?

858. Mr Heraghty: From the Department’s view —

859. The Chairperson: In asking that question, I am aware that I am asking you to have hindsight. However, part of the Committee’s report will be made up of reflections on those matters.

860. Mr Heraghty: A great deal was going on in the feed division on Thursday 4 December 2008 about getting as much information as possible from the plant in question, and a great deal of information had been pooled in an attempt to assess the extent of the problem.

861. In hindsight, it could be said that the information could have been made available on Thursday 4 December. However, the reality was that a great deal of information was being assembled and assessed, and the people who were involved were under a great deal of pressure to complete that exercise. The Department contacted DARD as soon as possible, and that contact was made by phone the following morning.

862. The Chairperson: Is it fair to say that Northern Ireland was an afterthought in that process?

863. Mr Heraghty: No. There is an agreed communication system on the feed side which has operated previously. It was a matter of pooling the information, dealing with that information and passing that information on as quickly as possible.

864. The restriction of the cattle herds were carried out concurrently, in the North and the South, on Friday 5 December.

865. The Chairperson: The big problem for Northern Ireland was that the Republic of Ireland had considerably more information, which placed us at a distinct disadvantage. Again, that comes down to timing, because had DARD received an earlier warning, it would have been able to be more fleet of foot and been able to deal with the problem. By Monday or Tuesday of the following week, Northern Ireland was in the midst of a stampede of crisis, and we could have been able to get a handle on that crisis sooner.

866. There is a view that by holding back that information, and not telling DARD until Friday 5 December, Northern Ireland was left in the dark, had a weekend of panic and had a real crisis by the following Monday, while the Republic of Ireland was able to manage the situation, thereby enabling the Taoiseach to be well briefed and in a good position by Monday 8 December.

867. This Committee was told that it is very difficult to get back into a market in the modern retail world having lost it on a negative. Northern Ireland was on a double negative, because it was also blind to a lot of the information that should have been made available.

868. Mr Heraghty: As I said in my opening statement, the Department was treating the situation primarily as an animal-feed issue that week. The information was being obtained from the plant in question. We got some information on Wednesday 3 December and more on Thursday 4 December, and it took some effort to collate that information. That information was passed on to our colleagues in Northern Ireland at the earliest time possible, which was Friday morning. Actions on herd restrictions were taken concurrently on the Friday. Therefore, on Friday, we were at the same point.

869. The Chairperson: I want to be clear: from what we can gather from your written evidence, no specifics were given. A general phone call was made to the quality assurance branch in which a problem was reported. No specifics were given, but an e-mail was promised for later that day. The information that was received was limited.

870. Mr Heraghty: It is not in the statement, but the information that was given on the phone provided the names and addresses of the herds, and that was followed by the e-mail at midday.

871. The Chairperson: Our Department does not say that. It has not told us that names and addresses, and such specifics, were made available by a phone call.

872. Mr Heraghty: The recollection of the officer concerned is that he passed on that information.

873. The Chairperson: I am sorry to press you on this, but was the phone call recorded?

874. Mr Heraghty: I have not seen evidence that it was recorded, but I have seen the evidence of the e-mail that was sent with the details.

875. The Chairperson: Do you have a copy of the e-mail?

876. Mr Heraghty: We can get a copy of it; I do not have it to hand.

877. The Chairperson: Our Department advised us that the e-mail was not as specific as you are indicating that your officials recall it to be.

878. Mr Heraghty: My colleague might be able to give some detail about the e-mail. My understanding is that it provided the full details, because it allowed action to be taken on the herds in Northern Ireland.

879. Mr Dermot Ryan (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food)

880. The details of the nine herds that were located in Northern Ireland were provided in the e-mail.

881. The Chairperson: What time on the Friday was the e-mail sent?

882. Mr Ryan: It was sent on Friday at 1.00 pm.

883. The Chairperson: There is a slight disparity between what our Department told us about the telephone call and the time until lunchtime before that detailed information was received.

884. Mr Ryan: Our understanding is that a DARD official had left the office and gone to visit farms by the time that we sent the e-mail at 1.00 pm.

885. The Chairperson: Had the official gone to visit the farms in question?

886. Mr Ryan: Yes. That is the understanding of our colleague who made the phone call and who spoke with Mr Price, another colleague in DARD. Our colleague understands that the official concerned had commenced visiting the farms prior to the arrival of the e-mail.

887. The Chairperson: You are giving us a robust defence that the communication was strong and that it worked. To date, the evidence that we received shows that there was a breakdown some time between the Thursday and Saturday, and that it was Friday and Saturday before we started to get an idea of what was going on. By the Monday, we had a crisis management situation to deal with. Your evidence is different in that the key date for you is the evening of 6 December, when things were well in hand.

888. Mr Heraghty: The information on the movement of the feed was provided on Friday morning and confirmed via e-mail. At that point, we were dealing with it as primarily as an animal-feed issue. Also at that point, restrictions had been placed on herds in Northern Ireland and in the South. The situation changed dramatically on Saturday, when we got the dioxin result earlier than expected. We had indicated in the press release that went out on the Thursday evening that we did not anticipate having results until the Monday. In any event, the result came through on the Saturday, and that changed the whole scenario. It became a food-safety issue at that stage. Communication about the movement of the animal feed was going on here, and communication was going on between the FSAI and the Food Standards Agency. The situation changed quite dramatically on the Saturday, when it became a dioxin and a food-safety issue.

889. Lessons about communications in general can always be learned and improvements made. In our more recent discussions, we have put in place an enhanced communications system. However, as I said, communications were going on at several levels.

890. The difference between the dioxin contamination and the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, for example, is that communications were happening between food-safety agencies that had the lead role, namely the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Food Standards Agency. Therefore, when the situation became an issue of food safety, there was separate layer of communication between lead agencies.

891. The Chairperson: There seems to have been an issue about whether the main issue was food safety for the consumer or protecting the product and assisting the production of good food. There was confusion — and I acknowledge that you do not call it confusion — about who had the lead role and what the key issue was. That confusion may have resulted in our industry not being made fully aware, as early as possible, of what was going on.

892. Mr Heraghty: Until the Saturday, we were dealing with the matter as an animal-feed issue. We certainly did not anticipate that the entire product would be recalled by Saturday evening. The situation escalated dramatically on the Saturday, and our industry had not anticipated the nature of the final outcome.

893. The Chairperson: Your written submission makes it clear that the pig meat recall scheme was not a compensation scheme, so let us call it a financial assistance scheme. Did DAFF attempt to include Northern Ireland producers and processors in that original scheme? Did it respond to the Northern Ireland Executive’s requests for our producers and processors to be included?

894. Mr Heraghty: Pig meat processing in Ireland ceased once the recall was announced on the Saturday. Some 5,000 or 6,000 employees in the pig meat processing sector were laid off temporarily. There were potential animal welfare problems, and there was an issue about who would effect the recall. On request from the industry, and after negotiations, the Government provided limited financial assistance in those circumstances. It was not a compensation scheme, and it was not intended to be a compensation scheme.

895. The scheme’s primary purpose was to ensure that the recall was effected. Had that not been the case, damage could have been done to Ireland’s reputation. It is normal practice for member states to deal with financial assistance schemes for the industry or producers within their jurisdiction, and we dealt with the situation in that manner. The FSAI had decided to recall pig meat from pigs that were slaughtered in Ireland from the market, and the industry had requested financial assistance.

896. The Chairperson: Can you give a ballpark figure for the percentage of your pig product that comes to Northern Ireland?

897. Mr Heraghty: Our overall kill is something in the region of 2·5 million pigs per annum. Some 400,000 or 500,000 pigs go to Northern Ireland annually.

898. The Chairperson: Does the lion’s share of your kill go to GB?

899. Mr Heraghty: Yes; GB takes a lot of our product.

900. The Chairperson: On that basis, was there no attempt by DAFF to include Northern Ireland in the scheme?

901. Mr Heraghty: No; it is not normal practice for a member state to provide financial assistance for an industry outside its jurisdiction. The scheme was a response to a specific request from, and specific circumstances in, our own industry.

902. The Chairperson: Did the Northern Ireland Executive contact DAFF to ask to be included in the scheme?

903. Mr Heraghty: There was a lot of contact between Ministers, and the matter was raised at a plenary meeting of the North/South Ministerial Council. Meetings took place between Northern Ireland Ministers and our own Ministers.

904. The Chairperson: Who mentioned the scheme at the North/South plenary meeting?

905. Mr Heraghty: Minister Gildernew and Minister Foster had separately been in touch with Minister Smith about the issue, and it was subsequently discussed at a plenary session of the North/South Ministerial Council, but I cannot recall which meeting. The points that were made in those discussions were the same as those that I am making about the financial assistance scheme, which is that it is normal practice for a member state to deal with the industry in its own jurisdiction. Given the existing budgetary difficulties, the Government provided only limited financial assistance.

906. The Chairperson: So, you resisted calls to have us included.

907. Mr Heraghty: Yes, that is true.

908. The Chairperson: Was a business case put to you?

909. Mr Heraghty: There was a business case about the impact of the recall and the impact that the decision would have on Northern Ireland.

910. The Chairperson: The dioxins scare had the potential to blight our pig market. Given that we have the same customer base for our pigs — namely GB — it was pretty disadvantageous for Northern Ireland to be left out of the financial scheme.

911. Mr Heraghty: There are two issues: the financial assistance scheme and the question of liability. As I said about the scheme, it is normal for a member state to deal with its own industries. However, the question of liability is quite a different issue and rests at industry level. Under the food and feed hygiene legislation, the primary responsibility for putting safe food on the market lies with the food and feed business operators. The question of liability is a different matter.

912. The Chairperson: Who do you think was liable in this case?

913. Mr Heraghty: I would not go down that road. In my submission, I said that investigations are ongoing that involve the Gardaí and the Northern Irish authorities. The sooner they are concluded, the better as the issue about culpability is important.

914. Mr Elliott: Gentlemen, thank you for your presentation. It was very helpful, and I apologise for missing the start of it.

915. Was the disclosure about the discovery of PCBs in late November routine or out of the norm?

916. Mr Heraghty: If my recollection is right, that was the first occasion in which PCBs had been disclosed under the national residues monitoring programme. Under that programme, we take around 30,000 samples every year, and that was the first occasion in which PCBs were disclosed.

917. Mr Elliott: So, it was out of the norm.

918. Mr Heraghty: Yes; it was unusual.

919. Mr Elliott: Did you treat the disclosure as significant, or did you think that it was an abnormal occurrence that would be resolved in the near future? I am trying to find out whether it raised any huge concerns.

920. Mr Heraghty: We immediately contacted the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and informed it of the result. We then had the benefit of that body’s risk assessment. We discussed earlier how the FSAI said that the discovery of marker PCBs in food and feed samples does not always mean that dioxin or dioxin-like PCBs will also be present. The FSAI also advised that there were no specific levels laid down, regulatory or legal, for non-dioxin PCBs, and said that it was happy with the course of action that we had taken. We rapidly tried to find out the cause and extent of the problem and immediately traced it back from the pork factory to the animal feed. We then traced the animal feed and found out where it has been sent.

921. In the presentation, I tried to point out that there were differences in the results. Some library samples showed a positive result but, equally, some samples from production showed up as negative. In that week, the assessment was done as rapidly as possible to allow the FSAI and ourselves to assess the situation.

922. Mr Elliott: The report from the joint Committee of the Dáil found that your traceability systems did not work. Will you elaborate on that? What did those systems lack, and what has been done to rectify that problem?

923. Mr Heraghty: The traceability system worked in the sense that we were immediately able to trace the pork to the feed and trace the feed to its various recipients. The joint Oireachtas Committee raised several issues, which Professor Wall is considering in his review, one of which is the question of traceability. There is an EU requirement on traceability that adopts a one-step-forward-and-one-step-back approach; that is, people should know where they got the product and to whom they sold it on. Professor Wall’s group will undoubtedly consider the matter of traceability, and come to a conclusion or make a recommendation. The EU requirement does exist, but it is difficult to draw a conclusion that that requirement is not being followed by the industry. However, Professor Wall’s group will study the matter in some detail.

924. Mr Elliott: I raised this matter at a previous inquiry session. Northern Ireland uses the farm quality assurance scheme, which would have approved the animal feed. Although I cannot recall the name of the quality assurance scheme in the Republic, I know that one exists. Would that system have approved the feed?

925. Mr Ryan: Surplus bread would be acceptable in a quality assured scheme.

926. Mr Elliott: How is the feed assessed and monitored? I assume that samples are taken at regular intervals? Why was the feed in the system for a period before it was discovered? There was talk that the feed was supplied from September 2008. Was the feed not inspected between September and November?

927. Mr Ryan: Like every other member state, we have a national feed inspection and sampling programme that involves about 1,800 inspections throughout the feed chain. It begins with imports, continues in mills and moves down the line to wholesalers and farmers. The sampling system and the testing of samples extend through the feed chain, and approximately 2,200 to 2,300 samples are tested. Approximately 7,500 individual tests are carried out on those 2,200 samples to discover, for example, prohibited substances or to determine ingredients or percentage of protein. When establishing that programme every year, each member state must take cognisance of the requirements of EU regulations. There is a risk assessment process, the objective of which is to try to pick up all feed materials along the chain.

928. Mr Elliott: Is it likely that that feed was not tested in the period between September and the end of November?

929. Mr Ryan: I cannot say that categorically, but I know that dried bread was tested in recent years, and something would have been picked up somewhere along the chain. In fact, some of the bread that would have been picked up would have been imported from Northern Ireland — not necessarily that year, but in previous years. Dried bread would have been picked up and tested.

930. Mr Elliott: I have been in a couple of feed mills in Northern Ireland, and I know that a small sample is taken and tested from each batch of feed that is made. I would think that that would apply to most feed that was going to the animal industry. Is that the case in feed mills in the Republic of Ireland? Are individual samples taken from each batch of feed?

931. Mr Ryan: Yes, that is correct. In the particular plant that we are talking about — the surplus food recycling plant — there were library samples going back three or six months. The fact that those samples were available to us and that we got them tested quickly for PCBs helped us greatly. When we visited the food recycling plant, the initial samples of the then current production were negative. On Wednesday 3 December, the situation was that the then current production in that plant was negative; we did not have any problem with the then current production.

932. On Wednesday 3 December, however, we obtained more library samples of production going back a number of weeks or months, and by testing those samples, we had a result on the morning of Thursday 4 December that indicated that, for the first time, this was a historical problem going back some time. The availability of the library samples was crucial in trying to identify the problem in that case. When the farm from which the original pig came was visited, the sample that was picked up was a library sample. That library sample tested positive, but the then current feed on the farm tested negative. All those results created a picture that took a lot of investigating, because it was not a current problem; it was a problem that arose from the testing of library samples.

933. Mr Elliott: I appreciate that.

934. Mr Ryan: The issue then was to identify the window during which the contamination occurred, which led us to the oil that was supplied from Northern Ireland. The next issue was to test oil on the premises, that is, oil samples that had been retained by the feed business operator. Those samples were found to be heavily contaminated, and the pattern of contamination in the oil was similar to the pattern in the feed, which in turn was similar to the pattern in the pork fat, thereby linking the oil, the feed and the pork fat.

935. We had to wait for a number of days for the results to come so that we could get a picture of how the situation came about. Early on, there had been speculation that the contamination could have come from another source. It was suggested that some plastic materials may have been subjected to excessive heat during the drying operation and may have given off PCBs. However, that theory was taken off the table fairly quickly, and the oil situation took over. It was clarified after a number of days, and we could begin to determine the cause of the problem.

936. Mr Elliott: You said that it was useful to have those historical samples. Have you any idea how long that contaminated feed was there after being supplied to that plant?

937. Mr Ryan: It is very difficult to pin it down —

938. Mr Elliott: It should not have been that difficult if you had the samples for each day.

939. Mr Ryan: Some of the samples showed very mild traces, and some of them showed significant contamination. That led to our trying to link the deliveries of oil with the results from the samples. It is difficult to elaborate on that, because, as my colleague said, that is the subject of an ongoing police investigation.

940. The Chairperson: You are giving the impression that you are hiding behind the investigation. It is easy to say that there is an ongoing investigation and that the guards and other agencies are looking at it, therefore you can say nowt, and by saying nowt you create a distance between the scare and the conclusion. The conclusion may be that your Department was liable.

941. Mr Ryan: The results of the feed samples, particularly the library ones, indicated that the appropriate time to withdraw pork meat from sale was from 1 September 2008.

942. Mr Doherty: Thank you for your written and verbal evidence. You said that your Department has a service contract with FSAI, and your submission states that the control of animal feed is not included in that contract. Who controls animal feed?

943. Mr Heraghty: The Department controls animal feed in accordance with EU feed and food-hygiene legislation. The principles of that legislation require primary responsibility to be on the feed-business operator, and they must have hazard-analysis critical-control-point plans. The control of animal feed is not included in the service contract arrangement with the FSAI, but the FSAI has other arrangements with the Department in food-safety areas where it has an oversight function. The Food Safety Authority has an oversight and auditing function in the control work that we carry out, with the exception of animal feed. That issue was not covered in the service contract arrangement when the Food Safety Authority was established in 1999.

944. Mr Doherty: I want to focus on the relationship between DAFF and the FSAI. At the beginning, DAFF was the lead agency, but once it became an issue to do with food and food safety, the FSAI became the lead agency. Is there rivalry or tension there?

945. Mr Heraghty: No; in fact, we regard the Food Safety Authority as a very important agency, as it has an oversight function in our controls on food safety. The FSAI is independent; it reports to the Minister for Health and Children; and it can speak with credibility with relation to food safety, because it checks our controls.

946. The FSAI brings an added authority to food-safety control. It is not only the Department that carries out food-safety controls. The FSAI makes a judgement on how the Department is carrying out those controls in any particular area. It operates at an oversight level and audits our work, where it specifies the type of controls required under the service contract arrangements.

947. That system has worked for 10 years. It has worked very satisfactorily, from our point of view. The FSAI has gained credibility as an independent, science-based organisation, and it is removed from production matters in which the Department might be more involved.

948. Mr Doherty: I would like to focus on co-operation and on the timescales of the information that came from the South to the North on Thursday 4 December.

949. When we were in Dublin last week, the representatives of the FSAI told us that it related to the UK as another EU member-state; it had all types of procedures; and it informed the Food Standards Agency UK on the Thursday. I reminded the officials that there were also agreements on this island, called the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements. I asked why the same courtesy was not extended to, or the same relationship not developed with, the Food Standards Agency in the North. That is for the FSAI to answer. However, the same question may be asked of the relationship between DAFF and DARD. Why was there not a more serious level of contact between them on the Thursday, particularly as, according to our information, your Department was drawing up a list of customers that included customers in the North? Although you had not completed the list, you might have given DARD a heads-up to let them know that the list extended throughout the whole island. Why was there not that speed of communication on the Thursday?

950. Mr Heraghty: As I have tried to explain, the Department was attempting to obtain a lot of information from the food recycling plant on that Thursday. A certain amount of information was made available mid-morning or at mid-day that had names without addresses. Subsequent inquiries were made to obtain the addresses. That information was pulled together from sales transactions that had taken place over the previous six months. The Department’s feed section was working on all that information, trying to get it together and put it in a way in which it could communicate, and it did that on Friday morning.

951. Mr Doherty: I understand that the feed section did that on the Friday morning. However, it was starting the process, and it must have known that there was some type of crisis involving Northern Ireland. It should have given a heads-up to DARD that there was a potential problem coming down the line and that DARD had better be on the alert.

952. Mr Heraghty: My understanding is that it was trying to complete the information to pass on to DARD, so that DARD could take the necessary action on restrictions. It was working to complete that information on the Thursday. The first opportunity to transmit that information was on Friday morning.

953. There is a good relationship on the feed side between my Department and its colleagues in DARD. It was a question of trying to obtain a complete set of information that could be acted upon by DARD.

954. Mr Ryan: There is also the fact that, as I have already mentioned, we had received a negative result from feed from the plant on Wednesday. It was not until Thursday that we got a positive result from the library samples. Naturally, having received positive results from historical samples from the plant on Thursday morning, there was greater clarity, and we had to dig deeper at the plant to get further details of customers over a longer period. That took some hours to get from the plant and some further hours to assimilate. That process went on until late in the evening.

955. Mr Doherty: It was completed on the Thursday?

956. Mr Ryan: It went into Friday morning, as well; but work on getting the information together went on until 8.00 pm on Thursday night.

957. Mr Doherty: I accept that. However, you were gathering the information on Thursday but, still, it was Friday before you informed DARD. Time was of the essence, and that takes us back to the Chairperson’s point that there is a suspicion that you were more concerned about protecting the Southern market, as opposed to the market on the whole island.

958. Mr Ryan: What happened on the Friday in both jurisdictions, as Martin has pointed out, is that cattle herds that had received that feed were locked up.

959. Mr Heraghty: I seek to reassure you that there was no question of trying to delay the transmission of information. We were trying to complete the set of information and pass it on to DARD to allow appropriate action to be taken. Having made the assessment, and compiled the results in relation to PCBs, we then passed that on so that action could be taken by our colleagues in DARD.

960. Mr Doherty: Even if it was not as bad as I am suggesting, given that agriculture is an area of co-operation, it must be a weakness that the foremost thought was not to keep in touch with the Northern authorities at all times.

961. Mr Ryan: It would have been the foremost thought, because we have lots of experience, going back years, of feed contamination incidents in both directions. Once we or our colleagues in DARD establish that contaminated feed has crossed the border, we contact each other. There have been several instances of particular types of contamination, most of which turned out to be rather minor. For example, there have been instances when bone spicules were found in feed that was imported into Ireland and finished up in Northern Ireland, and vice versa. We have an agreement to contact each other as soon as the information about the recipients of the feed becomes available. That agreement has been built up during a series of bilateral meetings that have taken place twice a year in past years.

962. The Chairperson: At what point did the secretary general of your Department know what was going on? Was he fully informed on the Thursday evening?

963. Mr Heraghty: I cannot say precisely, but he would certainly have known when the press release was issued. He would have been aware of the press release stating that we had restricted herds. He may well have known earlier, but he would certainly have known at that point.

964. The Chairperson: Would the Minister have known?

965. Mr Heraghty: The Minister would have known by the time the press release was issued.

966. The Chairperson: Do you not see the point that my colleague and others have made to you, that it makes a nonsense of good relationships if the Minister knew, the assistant secretary knew, and there was a flurry of activity at a very senior level in your Department — rightly so — to deal with an issue that was affecting your jurisdiction, but no one decided to pick up the phone to have a quick word with Malcolm McKibbin or the Minister to let them know that something was going on that should have been on their radar? Instead, someone at level 3 in DARD received a call on a Friday morning and later, at 1.01 pm, a more detailed email including some names and addresses. That really sends out a poor signal about the state of the relationship, which should have been much more co-operative.

967. Mr Heraghty: No, I think the relationship —

968. The Chairperson: Martin, you cannot seriously tell us that that was a good relationship.

969. Mr Heraghty: No, but I will say that we put out a press release when we restricted some herds. At that stage we were still receiving information about herds. The press release went out in relation to some of the information that was received on the Wednesday. At that point we had no indication that any feed had gone to Northern Ireland. We did not realise that there was any issue in relation to Northern Ireland. That is what caused the press release to be issued on the Thursday.

970. The Chairperson: Are you telling us that, on the Thursday night, it did not register with Brendan Smith that he should pick up the phone and tell Michelle Gildernew what was going on? Are you telling us that no one in your Department thought about doing that, and you were quite content to leave it until Michelle Gildernew found out by way of a press release and statement that appeared the following evening on RTÉ television and radio news?

971. Mr Heraghty: I think it was the Saturday, actually. On the Thursday, an effort was being made to compile the information so that it could be provided to our colleagues in DARD.

972. The Chairperson: You had recalled product on the Friday?

973. Mr Ryan: No.

974. The Chairperson: Sorry, you had restricted a herd on the Thursday?

975. Mr Ryan: We restricted pigs.

976. The Chairperson: You had issued a press release, yet no one thought, by the Saturday, that they should telephone Michelle Gildernew or Malcolm McKibbin. That is a shambles of a relationship.

977. Mr Heraghty: No. I would not accept that.

978. The Chairperson: We are over the hedge, and you could not turn round and say,

“By the way, boys, this is going on, and you need to be aware of it".

979. Mr Heraghty: There was an animal-feed issue going on that week. We issued a press release on the Thursday on the foot of the information that we had received from the plant in question on the Wednesday. There was no suggestion that any of the feed from the plant had, at that point, gone to Northern Ireland. We got the information on the Thursday; we compiled it and simply provided it to our colleagues in DARD on the Friday. It was an animal-feed issue, which was being dealt with as an animal-feed issue for the reasons that I have stated. At that point, it was not a question of a recall.

980. The Chairperson: The product was recalled on the Saturday?

981. Mr Heraghty: The product was recalled on the Saturday, but the situation, as I tried to explain in my opening statement, changed completely on the Saturday —

982. The Chairperson: Yes, but our Minister still did not know about it until that evening.

983. Mr Heraghty: From our point of view, on the Thursday or the Friday, we had not anticipated a total product recall. We were dealing with an animal-feed issue at that point. The situation escalated and changed dramatically on the Saturday at 3.40 pm, when the result came back from York earlier than anticipated. At that point, the situation changed to become much more fast moving, and an intense couple of hours followed before a decision was made to recall the product. In accordance with agreed procedures, we compiled information on the Thursday so that complete information could be sent to our colleagues in DARD, and that was done at the first practical moment, which was Friday morning.

984. The Chairperson: When was the first point of contact between Brendan Smith and Michelle Gildernew on the issue?

985. Mr Heraghty: I cannot say for certain. However, I know that they spoke on the Sunday. As I said, the result came in at about 3.40 pm on the Saturday, when there was an intense and difficult period in which difficult decisions had to be taken.

986. The Chairperson: Are you telling me that, despite all the political apparatus that we have on this island, there was no official contact, Minister to Minister, until after it became a news story — indeed, almost 12 hours after the story broke?

987. Mr Heraghty: No. It is important to make the point that, when it became a food-safety issue on the Saturday, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland was the lead agency as far as we were concerned, and it made contact, as I understand it, on Saturday evening with the Food Standards Agency in London and the Food Standards Agency in Belfast. That was lead agency speaking to lead agency on the Saturday on a food-safety issue; that was the appropriate channel of communication in those circumstances.

988. The Chairperson: You are saying that there was contact made by FSAI to FSA UK and FSA NI?

989. Mr Heraghty: That is my understanding.

990. The Chairperson: That did not happen. We have categoric evidence that shows that there was contact between FSAI and FSA UK, but that it was two days before information came to the Northern Ireland branch of the FSA.

991. Mr Heraghty: To be clear, the first point of contact, as I understand it, between the FSAI and the Food Standards Agency UK was on the Thursday. On the Saturday evening, the FSAI, now the lead agency in relation to food-safety issues, was in contact with the director of the FSA in Northern Ireland and with the FSA UK. That was within a couple of hours of the recall decision.

992. The Chairperson: The first contact was when the FSA NI received a copy of the DAFF e-mail to a DARD veterinary surgeon, which included details of eight premises in Northern Ireland that were reported to have received suspected contaminated feed from premises in the Republic of Ireland, accompanied by the press statement from DAFF that indicated that it was awaiting further test results that would not be available until the next week. That was late on the Friday.

993. Mr Heraghty: Yes. The point that I am trying to make is that, when it became a food-safety issue — as it did on the Saturday when we got the result back earlier than anticipated from York, when dioxins were disclosed — the information had to be assessed and the extent of recall had to be decided. Once that decision was made, a couple of actions were taken. The matter was put into the public domain pretty much immediately. Simultaneously, the various alert notifications were triggered, including the EU rapid alert system for feed and food. The FSAI then contacted the FSA in Northern Ireland and the chief scientist of the FSA UK on Saturday evening. Those bodies were alerted when it became a food safety issue and to make them aware of the recall decision. Prior to that, however, we were still dealing with an animal-feed issue, and that was where we passed on the information.

994. The Chairperson: Do you not see the irony of this Committee and its Chairperson questioning the level of the relationship? You are justifying a relationship that we feel was woefully inadequate. Do you not see the irony in that?

995. Mr Heraghty: No. As I said, there is a very good relationship between DAFF and DARD, and it has functioned quite well with regard to other issues. In this case, it became a food safety issue, and the food safety communication mechanisms were activated on the Saturday. It is important to make that point, and there was direct contact with the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland and with the Food Standards Agency in the UK on the Saturday on the food safety issue. That was the appropriate course of action: lead agencies on both sides were speaking to each other.

996. Mr Irwin: You said, in response to a question from Mr Elliott, that there were 2,200 samples. Were those samples of feed taken from different farms and feed suppliers?

997. Mr Ryan: I am sorry; could you repeat the question?

998. Mr Irwin: Yes; how often are samples of feedstuffs taken from individual mills that supply feedstuffs? Was a feed sample taken from the supplier which had the problem prior to the incident?

999. Mr Ryan: As I said, approximately 1,800 samples per annum are taken from right across the feed chain, from imports, from production and through to the farmer receiving the feed. A sampling plan, based on risk assessment, is set out at the start of the year. Samples would have been taken periodically at that plant according to that plan. I cannot tell you when exactly samples were taken at that plant within the previous year, because I do not know that. However, its production would have been picked up at the plant or along the line at the mill stage, or, perhaps, at the on-farm stage.

1000. Mr Irwin: Am I right in thinking that the joint Committee’s report said that those premises had not been inspected at all in 2008?

1001. Mr Ryan: It was due for inspection in 2008, according to our risk assessment.

1002. Mr Irwin: But it did not happen, and that was at almost the end of the year.

1003. Mr Ryan: The inspection had not taken place by 29 November. The plant was due to be inspected in December.

1004. The Chairperson: Who is liable for that?

1005. Mr Ryan: Pardon?

1006. The Chairperson: Who is liable if something is found to be wrong and an inspection did not take place?

1007. Mr Ryan: Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food inspectors carry out inspections. If there are problems, there is a procedure for dealing with problems.

1008. The Chairperson: You obviously play rugby, because that is a very neat side-step. [Laughter.] Who is liable if an inspection is scheduled but does not take place, and something is found to have been wrong? Is it the inspector for failing?

1009. Mr Ryan: No. It is not a question of the inspector failing. The inspection was due to take place in 2008. It had not taken place by the end of November, so it would have taken place in December.

1010. The Chairperson: Would it?

1011. Mr Ryan: Yes.

1012. The Chairperson: You had a date scheduled for it?

1013. Mr Ryan: Not necessarily, but it would have taken place. The plant was due for inspection.

1014. The Chairperson: You’re good. Honestly, I am incredulous. My colleague put his finger on potential liability.

1015. Mr Heraghty: We need to be very clear about liability. We must go back to first principles: under the legislation, the responsibility is on the feed-business operator to put safe feed onto the market. That is clear.

1016. The Department carries out controls. It carried out an inspection in 2006 and in 2007, and it was due to do so in 2008. The fact that the inspection had not taken place by the time of the incident does not mean that the control authority should assume liability. Responsibility still rests with the operator. Even if the Department had carried out the inspection, there was a danger that, given that there was a possibility of criminal activity in the background, a controlled inspection might not necessarily have discovered it. It is like saying that the police are to blame if a crime is committed.

1017. The Chairperson: A control mechanism was in place, whereby you were obliged to carry out an inspection. Failure to do so results in a liability issue. I know that you are saying, “don’t worry, Guv" and that the inspection would have been carried out in the remaining five weeks of the year. However, that requires the Committee to adopt a degree of flexibility in its belief about what would happen.

1018. Mr Ryan: There is no question of a failure to carry out an inspection. The plant was, as my colleague said, inspected once per annum in 2006 and 2007 and was due for inspection in 2008. There is no question of a failure to carry out an inspection.

1019. The Chairperson: You had three or four weeks left in which to inspect the plant. If you consider the Christmas holiday, you probably had about two and a half weeks.

1020. Mr Ryan: I will repeat: there was no question of a failure to carry out the inspection at that plant. It was in the plan.

1021. Mr Irwin: In light of what happened, have you reassessed or changed your examination and testing procedures? You said that you test 2,200 samples; I would have thought that suppliers’ samples pose a greater risk than those of individual farmers. Given that the procedures did not discover the contamination, they do not seem to be effective.

1022. Mr Ryan: The annual feed-inspection plan, which each member state is obliged to put in place, must be drawn up in accordance with EU legislation. The amount of samples taken under our inspection programme exceeds the requirements of the EU legislation. We are the only member state that concentrates significantly on imports. We have a higher rate of sampling of feed imports than the legislation requires and a higher rate of inspection and sampling of imports than most other member states.

1023. Mr Irwin: You did not answer the question. In light of what happened, have you changed your system for sampling or testing feed suppliers?

1024. Mr Ryan: In our presentation, we outlined that we reviewed the risk assessment in light of the experience, or, in other words, in light of the findings in operation. That involved drying feed by using oil in a direct drying situation. We changed our risk assessment and now take more samples in, for instance, grain-drying places to prevent any contamination of oil that might lead to a similar PCB/dioxin incident.

1025. The Chairperson: For the record, will you indicate how many other plants had not been investigated before that date in December? That will provide an idea of what your officials had to do in the remainder of the year.

1026. Mr Ryan: I do not have that information to hand.

1027. The Chairperson: Was it more than 10, or fewer?

1028. Mr Ryan: I honestly do not know.

1029. The Chairperson: If there were quite a number, the likelihood of you being able to complete those inspections in a three-week period — if you exclude the Christmas week — is low. It stretches our belief that it would happen. I am pushing the issue of liability because, if it is proven that your Department had some liability, the financial assistance that you provided to the trade in the Republic of Ireland ought to have been extended to traders in Northern Ireland.

1030. Mr Ryan: I have no reason to believe that the plant would not have been inspected.

1031. The Chairperson: Yes, but you would say that anyway, particularly given what your senior colleague said in his evidence to the Committee this morning. You must say that because of the investigation that is ongoing and because it is your defence.

1032. Mr Ryan: I have to say that on the basis that it is my belief, and not on any other basis. It was in the plan, and it would have been carried out by the officer whose responsibility it was to carry out the inspections in the particular area in which he or she was assigned.

1033. Mr Molloy: I thank the witnesses for their presentations to the Committee.

1034. It is late in the day and that most questions have been covered. However, during the early stages of the crisis, your Department dealt with the issue solely as a problem with pigs, despite the fact that there was no evidence that the contaminated feed was confined only to pigs. Furthermore, it took a week before any advice was given about the impact on cattle and the possibility that restrictions would need to be placed on the movement of cattle herds.

1035. You have suggested that tests were ongoing and that the Department wanted to wait for the results of those tests. However, would such an approach be acceptable if there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the North? Would the authorities in the South be content to wait for those results to come back from York before DARD alerted them?

1036. Mr Heraghty: As I said, the situation was being dealt with as an animal-feed issue in that week. Tests were being carried out on library and current production samples of animal feed to ascertain where it had been used, where it had been dispatched to and when the contamination had occurred. Therefore, it was an animal-feed issue, and it was dealt with as such during the four or five days after the confirmed result on the Monday. The situation changed only when the Department received the positive dioxin result on the Saturday.

1037. Mr Molloy: The issue of animal feed applies not only to the Department but to the entire agricultural industry. However, the reality is that you, as civil servants, acted as partitionists and took a view to act within your own state. On several occasions today, you referred to the fact that it was your issue and that it was an issue within your state. In taking that approach, you were looking after your interests first, rather than the interests of the entire agricultural industry on the island of Ireland.

1038. Mr Heraghty: I do not accept that. The Department went to the plant in question, which appeared to be where the problem originated. It sought information on where that plant had sent its feed and it compiled that information as quickly as possible. Once the Department had that information, it was provided to DARD.

1039. Mr Molloy: In reality, you provided that information to your own agencies first. North/South Ministerial Council meetings are not in place simply for the meetings. A structure is built into those meetings, yet the Agriculture Minister in the South failed to call the Agriculture Minister in the North to advise her of the situation. Indeed, Michelle Gildernew had to ring the Minister in the South to find out what had actually happened. Even in the later stages, when the press statement had been issued, the Agriculture Minister in the South still did not ring DARD to advise it of the situation; therefore, you adopted a partitionist attitude.

1040. Mr Heraghty: I do not accept that. The situation was being dealt with as an animal-feed issue, and the normal arrangements were followed in contacting the animal-feed division in DARD. The information was compiled and transmitted as quickly as possible to DARD on Friday 5 December, and that was done as a feed issue.

1041. When it became a food-safety issue on the Saturday, the lead agencies — the FSAI in the South and the Food Standards Agency in London and Belfast — were notified. A specific phone call was made to those agencies, which was in addition to the rapid alert system for food and feed messages that were sent to all affected European member states and the European Commission on the Saturday evening.

1042. Mr Molloy: Let us not get confused about which Saturday that took place on. A week had passed between the results and then.

1043. Mr Heraghty: During the first week, it was being dealt with as a feed issue.

1044. Mr Molly: It does not matter whether it was a feed issue or a food issue. The fact is that the feed was being exported out of your jurisdiction. That raises a question about the quality of the feed that was being exported from your jurisdiction. It appears that no testing was done on that feed. It was mentioned that dried bread was kept in plastic wrappings. What was the quality of that feed?

1045. Mr Heraghty: My colleague will talk about the quality of the feed. On Thursday 4 December, we received information that the feed had gone into Northern Ireland. Once that information was complete, it was passed on to our colleagues in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland.

1046. Mr Molloy: That raises another question. Testing had been undertaken; as an exporter, were you not aware that such feed was going out of your jurisdiction?

1047. Mr Heraghty: We got a positive result on the pork —

1048. Mr Molloy: Let me bring you back to the point. If you had never got the list from the factory, you would not have known that feed was going out of your jurisdiction to feed animals in the North.

1049. Mr Ryan: We may have been aware of that. A lot of trade of feed takes place in both directions. For example, maize gluten distillers grain is imported to the North of Ireland, and it comes South to mills and vice versa. That happens all the time.

1050. Secondly, there are compound feed manufacturers in the North of Ireland who, everyday, supply compound feed to the South and vice versa. Today, bread comes from Scotland to Northern Ireland and goes to Southern Ireland. That has been happening for years. Similarly, feed ingredients travel to the North of Ireland, depending on the market requirements.

1051. Mr Molloy: That is my point. You knew that bread that had been dried was going into animal feed that was likely to go out of your jurisdiction, and you waited to get list from the factory, rather than immediately notifying the Minister or the Department here that there was a possibility of contamination. That brings into question —

1052. Mr Ryan: On the Thursday, we got —

1053. Mr Molloy: Your investigation started the previous month, on 28 November.

1054. Mr Heraghty: It was the previous Friday.

1055. Mr Molloy: Yes, in the previous month. Your investigation started earlier —

1056. Mr Ryan: The investigation began on 29 November.

1057. Mr Molloy: That was in the previous month. It was December before you notified the Department here.

1058. Mr Ryan: The investigation began on 29 November.

1059. Mr Molloy: Yes, and it was December before you notified the Department here.

1060. Mr Heraghty: We were dealing with positive results, and non-dioxin-like marker PCBs were confirmed on Monday 1 December. On Thursday, we got an indication that the feed, which may have been the cause of the positive non-dioxin-like marker PCBs, had gone from the plant in question to Northern Ireland. On Friday morning, when we got the complete list of the destination of the feed, which we established on Thursday, we provided it to our colleagues in DARD.

1061. Mr Molloy: Do you not have confidence that the Department here can deal with the issues in the same way that your Department did? Did you have no confidence that the Department here could have held the information without making it public until the results were confirmed?

1062. Mr Heraghty: We have absolute confidence in, and we have a great deal of co-operation with, our colleagues in DARD. We did not have any information, and we were trying to assess the situation. Much work was going on to carry out tests on library samples of feed and current samples to see what we were dealing with. Once we knew that Northern Ireland was implicated, we passed on that information.

1063. Mr Molloy: If you had confidence in DARD officials, the first thing that you would have done would have been to lift the telephone speak to them. You would have told them that there was an issue that you were dealing with and that feed products that may be contaminated were going into the North. However, you did not have that confidence in them. Although there is North/South ministerial linkage, your Minister did not think that it would be worthwhile to make a phone call to alert our Minister. If there was an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the North, would you be happy for your industry to be jeopardised while we waited for test results to come back from York before giving you confirmation?

1064. Mr Heraghty: Co-operation on the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease a few years ago was very good.

1065. Mr Molloy: Yes; and the call was made from the North to the South.

1066. Mr Heraghty: Co-operation was very good on both sides. In the dioxin case, we were active in trying to establish what we were dealing with. Once we had established that, and once we knew that Northern Ireland could be affected, we provided that information to our colleagues in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. We have good co-operation with DARD, and we meet regularly to discuss feed issues; that has gone on for some time. There is absolutely no reason for us not to co-operate with our colleagues in Northern Ireland.

1067. Mr Molloy: You did not co-operate.

1068. Mr Heraghty: We did; we provided the full information.

1069. Mr Molloy: You did not. What do you do at those meetings? What do you talk about if you do not talk about the relevant issues? Are they just meetings for the sake of meetings? You did not correspond with your DARD colleagues; you did not alert them; you did not consult with them; and you did not exchange information with them. You are hiding behind the issue of food safety, feed and the idea that there may be an inquiry. You are not dealing with the broad farming issue.

1070. Mr Heraghty: I am not hiding behind any issue. I am trying to explain what happened, and, in doing so, it is important to explain that there are organisational issues about who leads in a particular area. We led on animal-feed issues, and, as soon as we had compiled proper and complete information, we provided it to our DARD colleagues. When the dioxin incident became a food-safety issue, the Food Safety Authority decided to effect a full recall, and it communicated separately with the Food Standards Agency. It is important to be clear about those communications. We are always open to learning lessons in order to improve. Even since the dioxin incident, there has been enhanced communication in discussions on the all-island animal health and welfare strategy.

1071. Mr Molloy: Do you feel, with the benefit of hindsight, that there could have been a better structure of communication?

1072. Mr Heraghty: Hindsight is a great thing, and anything can be improved upon. We do not have a perfect system, but I do not think that anyone has a perfect system.

1073. Mr Molloy: You still will not admit that you made a mistake.

1074. Mr Heraghty: What we did was reasonable, given the demands that were being placed on people in difficult circumstances. Over a period of three or four days —

1075. Mr Molloy: We have heard all that several times.

1076. Mr Heraghty: It does not change the facts.

1077. The Chairperson: I will tell you what does not change. By Saturday 6 December, FSAI knew; the Food Standards Authority UK knew; the Food Standards Authority NI knew something; the Taoiseach was being informed; two Ministers in your jurisdiction were being informed; and the European Commission knew that something was going on. However, by that date, no one had bothered to pick up the phone to inform Michelle Gildernew or Malcolm McKibbin, and instead, they had to wait for RTÉ news to tell them what was going on. No matter what way we cut it, with or without hindsight, that was not good.

1078. Mr Heraghty: The decision to effect a total recall was not made until around 6.00 pm on the Saturday. Given the impact of the recall, it was decided that the relevant information should go into the public domain immediately; therefore a press conference was held.

1079. The Chairperson: But the phones still work after 6.00 pm.

1080. Mr Heraghty: There was contact between the lead organisations, that is, the FSAI and the Food Standards Agency.

1081. The Chairperson: Let me just tell you something: for my sins, I was a Minister for a short time in this Administration, and I had a reasonably good working relationship with Dermot Ahern. He could pick up the phone and tell me, Minister to Minister, about things that were happening that would have been of assistance to me. Had I been the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development at the time of the incident, I would have been furious with you lot. I would have been absolutely furious that no one, throughout that sequence of events, picked up the phone and told us that we needed to be aware of the situation.

1082. The line of questioning that you have been subjected to from Mr Molloy indicates to you the level of frustration that exists. If that communication had been just a wee bit better, we might have avoided a crisis situation by the Monday or the Tuesday of that week in December and had a managed situation in which a negative market, from a consumer point of view, could have been turned into a positive situation a lot quicker. We still have a considerable financial burden as a result of what happened. Thankfully for your trading folk, you have given them some financial assistance that has helped them no end. Our traders still feel pretty much let down and disadvantaged, in some instances, to the tune of £10 million to £20 million.

1083. Mr Heraghty: Our traders are also feeling the financial burden. Far be it from me to answer for the Minister, but the facts are that the FSAI and the Food Standards Agency, the lead organisations, communicated with each other. The information was conveyed through that channel.

1084. The Chairperson: We have a phrase for what you have just said — “passing the buck".

1085. Mr Heraghty: No. The information was conveyed through the appropriate channels.

1086. Mr Molloy: A week later.

1087. Mr Heraghty: No. It was on the Saturday evening.

1088. Mr Molloy: Not on the first Saturday evening.

1089. Mr Ryan: We knew nothing on the first Saturday evening.

1090. Mr Molloy: But you were investigating the matter, so you knew something.

1091. Mr Ryan: We got a PCB positive result on Monday 1 December.

1092. Mr Molloy: You did not communicate it at that stage.

1093. Mr Ryan: That was a PCB positive result —

1094. Mr Molloy: You did not communicate that information on that Monday.

1095. Mr Ryan: That was because we were still investigating the matter.

1096. Mr Molloy: The point that I have been making all along is that you did not communicate the fact that you were investigating an issue, regardless of the outcome.

1097. Mr Ryan: We did not have —

1098. Mr Molloy: That is what I keep coming back to. It looks as though you do not have confidence in the Department here that it would have held that information. You were taking advantage of the time that you had so that your industry would be protected, and when the recall happened, the industry here was in second place.

1099. Mr Ryan: That is incorrect.

1100. Mr Molloy: Your industry traded that week without any problems.

1101. Mr Ryan: That is completely incorrect, because we had no knowledge that week that we were facing a massive pork recall.

1102. Mr Molloy: You were investigating the matter, but the Department here did not know that you were investigating it.

1103. Mr Ryan: We were investigating samples. On the Wednesday, as I said, we had negative samples from the plant. On Thursday, we had positive samples.

1104. The Chairperson: You had the positive samples on the Tuesday.

1105. Mr Ryan: We had a positive feed sample on the Tuesday from the farm. We traced that back to the food recycling plant, took samples there on the Tuesday and had the results by the Wednesday. All the results, which were taken from the then current production, were negative.

1106. The Chairperson: That was from the plant that had not been inspected since 2006.

1107. Mr Ryan: On the Wednesday, we took library samples, which tested positive on the Thursday. At that stage it became evident that the food recycling plant was the source of the problem, and that the problem was not current, but was a historical problem. Hence, the drive on the Thursday to concentrate on the full details of all the suppliers and the people who had received product from that plant.

1108. Mr Molloy: The samples were in store for some time. If those library samples had been inspected earlier, as part of the inspection of the plant, the contamination would have been detected much earlier.

1109. Mr Ryan: As I said, samples are required to be retained in a plant for three months or six months.

1110. Mr Molloy: Yes, but they are not retained just to look at or for decoration on the wall. Samples are required to be retained so that you can inspect them, so that your industry can be protected in a situation such as this, and so that our industry can be protected. You did not do that. You failed to carry out the proper inspection.

1111. Mr Ryan: There are more than one hundred plants and mills, and every sample is not analysed. Some samples are analysed, as is required. As I said, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food analyses samples according to its annual feed programme and on a risk basis.

1112. Mr Burns: I support my colleagues and where they are coming from. We feel let down and disappointed that we were not informed much earlier about what was going on, and because there has been a complete breakdown in communications. It is quite obvious that, as early as the previous week, you knew that there was a problem. Our pig farmers are under the impression that everyone was sleeping, everyone was off at the weekend, and nobody was on alert. That is correct. Our people were not put on alert about the possibility of a problem coming down the line.

1113. I feel that you knew that you were in the right area to find the toxins when you were at the recycling plant in Carlow. The initial samples that you took were negative; however, you did not leave it there and move on. You decided to go back and look at the historical samples, which were found to be positive.

1114. In your presentation, you said that in trying to track down where the feed from the contaminated plant had gone, you were given the names of the farms but not the addresses. I find that a bit difficult to take in. That is similar to giving someone your Christian name but not your surname. In a business such as that, the name and address of where the feed is going should be readily available. Nobody would be as vague as to say that the feed was sent out to the “Jones’s". The name and address of where that feed went would have indicated, at an earlier stage in the week, that feed from the contaminated mill had gone to Northern Ireland farmers.

1115. It transpired that the contaminated feed did not go to any of our pig farmers. However, it did go to cattle farmers. A fortune has been spent here around the issue of traceability. We could have identified, right away, that the pig meat on our shelves was safe to eat. Traceability quite clearly showed that the problem lay with the cattle that had been given feed from the contaminated mill.

1116. The Committee has questioned the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development and departmental officials. We want to get to the bottom of how the situation became one of panic here. As the Chairman said, we became aware of it by watching the RTÉ news. Prior to that, none of us on the Committee knew anything about it, and DARD officials did not know enough about it. We feel that there has been a complete breakdown in communication and that our people should have been put on alert much sooner. It is all right to talk in hindsight about what could have been done if you had known that the situation would blow up. However, the Committee believes that we should have known about such information much sooner.

1117. Mr Heraghty: We have gone over the facts about what happened that week. Effectively, we are talking about what happened between Monday 1 December and Thursday 4 December because, as I said, the result was confirmed on the Monday. We have explained the difficulties and the reasons only the first names were supplied by the plant on the Thursday, but further enquiries were made and the addresses were obtained that same day.

1118. There were issues about the proprietor not being available on the day because they were out of the country, which caused difficulties in getting the information. The reality was that the names were supplied on the Thursday, and some further enquiries with the plant were required to get the addresses. There was no advantage at all to us in any of that. We wanted to get the information and we wanted to collate it as quickly as possible. We were still dealing only with an animal-feed issue, but, nonetheless, we wanted to have it so that we could deal with it. That is what happened, and we passed it on.

1119. Mr Burns: On Thursday 4 December, you knew that feed had left that mill and had gone to cattle farms in Northern Ireland.

1120. Mr Heraghty: We established that some time on the Thursday afternoon or evening. We passed it on as soon as was practicable and when it was complete on the Friday morning.

1121. Mr Burns: Our information did not come until the e-mail that was sent on Friday 5 December at 1.00 pm, which contained the names of the people who were contacted and their addresses. That meant that a day had passed. It does not appear that anyone worked during the night; it seems to have been a nine-to-five situation. There was no urgency to get the information up here that provided names and addresses of our cattle men, and which stated that our pig meat was not affected.

1122. Mr Ryan: The information that the plant concerned manufactured two types of product — one for cattle and one for pigs — was passed on. Our information was that none of the feed for pigs went to the North of Ireland, and that was conveyed. On Thursday 4 December, we became aware that the other product, which was material for cattle, did go North. My recollection is that my two colleagues worked hard all day Thursday and into Thursday evening. They did not finalise their work until around 7.00 pm or 8.00 pm. The phone call was then made to colleagues in DARD on Friday morning. As I recollect —

1123. The Chairperson: It was Friday lunchtime.

1124. Mr Ryan: My colleague recollects that the names and addresses were passed on over the phone. We think that that is the case, because when there was a further telephone call at 12.00 pm, the official concerned told us that his colleague had gone out to visit farms.

1125. The Chairperson: I will read to you what Malcolm McKibbin told us in evidence about that point:

“The initial contact was from a DAFF official to our quality assurance branch, which came in at what we call grade 3, which is probably about staff officer, middle-management level. DAFF advised that it contacted us at that level because the senior quality assurance officer was on leave. The person concerned was the other contact name that was provided for feed quality assurance issues. The initial contact was by phone at 11.00 am. The officer was then told that he would receive further communication by e-mail. He had not received that by lunchtime, so he put a call through to DAFF and said that anything that was being sent through should be copied to the Veterinary Service. That was copied through to a veterinary officer, who then escalated the issue to the appropriate level in our Veterinary Service."

1126. That is what Malcolm McKibbin said. Was he lying to us?

1127. Mr Ryan: I am not suggesting that anybody lied. I am telling you that the recollection of my colleague in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food who made the phone call on the Friday morning is that he passed on the names and addresses, because there were not that many. A further phone call came from DARD at approximately 12.00 noon. My colleague’s recollection is that he was told, in the course of that conversation, that another colleague had gone out to the farms.

1128. As we have said a number of times, the actions that were taken on cattle farms in both jurisdictions happened simultaneously on Friday 28 November — herds were locked up in both jurisdictions. Things were progressing concurrently on that Friday. All we were doing on Friday was locking up herds in case something was wrong.

1129. The Chairperson: We will have to draw our own conclusions on the evidence that is put to us, but I should tell you that it is my understanding that those telephone calls are recorded — at our end, anyway. I am not suggesting that we will listen to those recordings; I am not sure that we have the time or the resources to do that. If there is a disparity, it can be looked into, and you should be aware of that.

1130. Mr Shannon: I apologise for not being here when you made your presentation, gentlemen. You are probably punch-drunk at this stage, because these boys have been hitting you left, right and centre. I have to endorse what they have said, however. I declare an interest as a pork retailer; I have been selling bacon, sausages and cooked hams for years.

1131. The Chairperson: He sells very good ones, I might add.

1132. Mr Shannon: I buy them from producers in the Chairperson’s constituency and from Mr Irwin’s constituency too.

1133. I want to look at the situation from a slightly different angle, if I may. I realise, first, that confidence in food products is paramount. The customer must be sure that there is nothing wrong and that the product on the shelves is A1. I apologise for repeating what other members have said, but I cannot sit here and not express, on behalf of people who have contacted me, the concern that exists about the non-co-operation or non-co-ordination between DAFF, in the South, and DARD.

1134. Having looked at your written submission, the incident began on Friday 28 November, when you had the first indications of a problem. Samples that tested positive for PCBs were confirmed on Monday 1 December and Tuesday 2 December, and more results came through on the evening of Wednesday 3 December, which suggested that none of the affected customers were in Northern Ireland. It went on until the early hours of Thursday 4 December, when it transpired that there were some customers from Northern Ireland.

1135. My frustration, which is shared by all members, is about the lack of contact between DAFF and our Department here in Northern Ireland. You failed miserably to deliver on that occasion. As you said in your answers to questions from Tommy Burns and other members, DAFF confirmed some of the issues on Friday 5 December. I was contacted by representatives of the pork industry in the Chairperson’s constituency, and I called the Department that Friday, because rumours were circulating. The Department could not confirm, in the early hours of Friday morning, that there was a problem. I contacted the pork producer in the Chairperson’s constituency, who told me that there was no truth in the rumours. They did not buy any products from the Republic of Ireland, so it was not an issue for them, but the industry was approaching turmoil. It was like a hurricane over Bermuda or Florida; the storm gathered on the Saturday and the Sunday.

1136. I received phone calls from three different pork producers. On Sunday, as I came out of church, I was thinking about the message that I had received from the Minister, but it evaporated when I heard the 1.00 pm news and discovered that something else was coming. I prayed hard, by the way —

1137. Mr Ryan: So did we.

1138. Mr Shannon: I expect that you did; lots of other people were doing the same thing. The fact is that many people were unaware of what was going on. I was, perhaps unfairly, critical of our Minister at that time. I spoke to the press about the matter, but I think that her Department was not aware of what was going on either.

1139. Another problem was that you were aware of what was going on 28 November, but it was the following Sunday, 7 November, before the whole thing unfolded. Retailers were in the build-up to Christmas, and a customer of mine from Belfast, who had in his stores goods worth £100,000, which were ready to go out in the following weeks, telephoned me and said that he was worried sick. He said that, if the situation multiplied and he had to throw out his stock, he would be finished. Another customer from my colleague’s part of the country told me the same thing.

1140. First, what financial assistance do you have? The problem originated in the Republic of Ireland and that customer had bought some products from the Republic of Ireland — not the pigs but the finished products — that were contaminated. What financial assistance have you been able to give to firms that lost products and have yet to be paid for them?

1141. Secondly, co-ordination and co-operation has been mentioned by every member, particularly the Chairperson. How has the situation improved? As the Chairperson said, could you not have lifted the telephone on 28 November and made the Department aware of the issue, even though it might have come to nothing?

1142. Thirdly, was a mountain made out of a molehill? It would have been a problem only if people had been eating dioxin-contaminated products for 365 days a year. From a food-safety aspect, was it right to have the situation blown up out of all proportion, given that the fears were not realised?

1143. What lessons have been learnt about direct contact between the two Departments? Do you think that there should have been direct contact between DAFF and DARD and that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) should have been notified in between? I know that you sent samples to York to be tested, and I understand that system. However, there should have been contact early on. The Republic of Ireland was a fortress, and Northern Ireland was out of the frame, and I have real concerns about that. It was not only the pig producers that were affected; the factories in Northern Ireland that kill pigs all sourced their pigs from Northern Ireland — with one exception that I am aware of — and there was no issue with feedstuffs. However, some producers bought contaminated products from other pork firms in the South, and those products were lost.

1144. I have asked Mr Heraghty a number of questions, but I could not allow him to come all the way up here without being asked those questions. I am anxious to hit home the same issues.

1145. Mr Heraghty: You have raised a number of questions. We have already discussed the communication problems in some detail, and I have explained what communications were going on. There were communications in relation to the animal feed when we had the full information available, and that information was made available to our colleagues, as I have explained already. There were communications between the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and the Food Standards Agency on the food-safety issue.

1146. I said in my opening statement that there has been an enhancement of communications systems under the all-Ireland animal health strategy since the incident. However, with regard to this particular incident there was, in our view, no reason whatsoever for us to withhold any information, and we did not do that. We provided the information as soon as it became available and, equally, we understand that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland made the contact with the Food Standards Agency on the Thursday and again on the Saturday morning once the decision on the recall had been made. We have gone over that matter at some length.

1147. You asked whether the reaction was out of proportion. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland made a big decision to require total recall because the protection of consumer health was the overriding priority. I understand that the levels of dioxins that were disclosed in the results were well in excess of the legal limits. Therefore, many products on the market in a lot of countries contained levels of dioxins in excess of the legal limits. We had no option. The joint Oireachtas Committee’s inquiry concurred with the view that there was no option other than to initiate a total product recall. To do otherwise would have risked damaging the reputation of Ireland generally and Irish food products.

1148. The financial assistance scheme is ongoing. Our processors have experienced many difficulties as a result of the incident. I explained the basis for the financial assistance scheme. It was not a question of liability or anything of that nature; it was more a question of providing limited financial assistance to allow the industry to effect the recall. It operates effectively through the primary and secondary processors in Ireland. If customers of the primary or secondary processors in other jurisdictions or member states feel that they have a right to claim for recompense, they should approach their suppliers, who are the primary or secondary processor in Ireland. The scheme provides for that, and the full details of it are available.

1149. Mr Shannon: Are you saying that companies that have lost substantial amounts of product can claim from their supplier, who can then claim from your Department?

1150. Mr Heraghty: Yes; provided that the claim complies with the terms and conditions of the scheme. In essence, pig meat that was produced from pigs that were slaughtered in Ireland between 1 September 2008 and 6 December 2008 is covered under the scheme. It is a matter of pursuing those claims with the suppliers in Ireland.

1151. Mr Shannon: Processors would be greatly encouraged to learn about a claiming method. However, the proof of any pudding is in the eating, or the proof of this bacon is in the eating. The Committee is keen to pursue that matter. Will you make the Chairman and the Committee aware of how that system works?

1152. A supplier from William Irwin’s territory has yet to receive financial recompense for his loss, and the paper trail for the product shows clearly where it came from. Another supplier from North Down, who is a major producer, emptied his freezers of all product because of its origin. The paper trail is there. You have not delivered financially. I want to see, in black and white, how that system works.

1153. Mr Heraghty: The system has been published. The details of the pig meat recall scheme are available and in the public domain. There is no difficulty with that. The process has been slow because all sorts of verifications and issues around state aid have arisen. The pig meat industry in Ireland has told us that. It has been difficult, but a substantial amount of funding has been provided. As I said earlier, the financial assistance scheme is limited; it was never intended to cover the full costs.

1154. The Chairperson: If you received applications, would you go out of your way to assist and facilitate them?

1155. Mr Heraghty: The scheme is published and has been in the public domain for some time. There are closing dates, which I cannot recall now, for claims under that scheme. Therefore, anybody who feels that they are eligible —

1156. The Chairperson: There is a strong view that Northern Ireland has been excluded from benefiting from the scheme. Will you provide a public message that DAFF will go out of its way to facilitate those claims and to realise some of them?

1157. Mr Heraghty: Yes; provided that applications satisfy the terms and conditions of the scheme.

1158. The Chairperson: I am not asking you to bend the rules.

1159. Mr Heraghty: The scheme is in the public domain. Customers in any market may make a claim if they feel that they may be entitled. However, the claim goes back to the suppliers; that is the normal course of action. Whether the supplier can draw on financial assistance is another matter, and the supplier would have to do that under the scheme.

1160. The Chairperson: Would you be surprised if anyone qualified for assistance under the mechanism that you outline?

1161. Mr Heraghty: Some 30,000 tons of product have qualified under the scheme; 5,000 tons of which have been rendered and destroyed in other member states; 25,000 tons has been brought back to Ireland and been rendered and destroyed. All of that has been processed through the scheme.

1162. Mr Shannon: In order to establish confidence in the product that we are all trying to sell, would you notify the Department in Northern Ireland as early as possible, were an issue to occur? In this case, that would have been on 28 November. I understand the need for confidentiality; however, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is unlikely to go on TV to disclose what you tell it. The system needs to be aware of what is going on.

1163. The Minister of Health spoke to the Committee about the Food Standards Agency. Had one product line that we discussed come to light even a week later, that would have been a disaster. We want early notification.

1164. Mr Heraghty: I said in my opening statement that communication had already been enhanced. We have tried to explain on several occasions what happened. We did everything possible to provide full information on the issue at the earliest possible date. There was an extra dimension to the issue in the sense that the communication mechanisms between food safety authorities were activated in this case, and that was different from incidences in the past.

1165. A point that should not be overlooked is that the national feed inspection programme is one of two elements in the national control plan for Ireland. My colleague described the feed inspection element: the inspection of premises and the taking of samples. The second element is the national residues programme, under which some 30,000 food samples are taken every year for analysis. It was under that programme that this incident was detected. Therefore the problem was detected as part of the control system.

1166. The feed inspections programme is one element of an overall national control plan; the second element is the national residues programme, which detected the problem.

1167. Mr Shannon: The Committee is trying to point out the critical importance to the industry here of your close relationship with Northern Ireland in relation to borders and exports. We faced a meltdown of what was left of the pig industry. That relationship has to be kept tight and sweet; we must tip each other off and let each other know what is going on. If improvements have come out of this debacle, that is a step in the right direction. However, we need reassurance that there have been improvements.

1168. Mr Heraghty: I touched on the improvements. The industry in Ireland faced a total recall with virtually no notice. We issued a press release on Thursday, but at that stage it was being dealt with as an animal-feed issue. The total recall was not anticipated until the results came back on Saturday. There was a major issue for the industry on both sides of the border in dealing with a recall. I am sure that you are aware of what happened to our own industry. We touched on that point at length when discussing communications, what we were trying to do and our efforts to assemble information over the three or four days of that week.

1169. Mr Ryan: Actually, our colleagues from London and DARD were actually in Dublin on Wednesday 10 December 2008 for a routine bilateral meeting.

1170. The Chairperson: You said earlier that no system is perfect. However, will you assure us that there will be better contact and alertness from Department to Department and from Minister to Minister about such issues as a result of this experience?

1171. Mr Heraghty: In my opening statement, I mentioned that improvements to the communication system between the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and DARD have been implemented in the meantime. I wish to point that there was also communication on the dioxins incident between the food safety agencies, which were the lead agencies.

1172. The Chairperson: I am aware of that.

1173. Mr Heraghty: There are issues about communications then in respect of —

1174. The Chairperson: Believe me; we have put the FSAI, the FSA UK, and the FSA NI through the ringer on this issue, too. However, will you give an assurance that there will be better communication between your Department and our Department in future?

1175. Mr Heraghty: As I said, I indicated in my opening statement what has been done in that respect. It is important that communications between the food safety authorities be looked at also. The Department keeps in close contact with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, in the sense that if the FSAI receives incoming communications, the Department will liaise closely with DARD on that. There are issues around communication between the food safety authorities and the Departments

1176. The Chairperson: I hear what you are saying loud and clear. As I said, we have made those points to the agencies. However, will you give us an assurance that there will be improved communications specifically between the two Departments?

1177. Mr Heraghty: I mentioned in my opening statement that improvements have been implemented.

1178. The Chairperson: That concludes our evidence session. I thank Mr Heraghty and Mr Ryan for being so amenable and for giving us more than two hours of their time. We appreciate that. I know that you have come a long way today, and we appreciate the efforts that you have made. I believe that today’s evidence will be very valuable to us in reaching our conclusions. The draft report will be available on 27 October. We will, of course, send you a copy of that report, which I hope will be of interest to you.

1179. Mr Heraghty: Thank you very much, Chairman. We were glad to help and to give as much information as possible to the inquiry.

1180. To summarise, we contend that the dioxins problem was detected by our control system. The extent of the problem was not clear in the first five or six days after the confirmation of the marker PCBs. We believe that investigations were carried out rapidly and that there was no delay in treating the incident as an animal-feed problem. At that stage, it was not considered to be a risk to public health. Professor Wall’s review of the incident is under way, and we will obviously take into account the outcome of that. We will welcome receipt of a copy of your report, when it is published.

1181. The Chairperson: Thank you, and I hope that you have a safe journey home.

3 November 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr (Chairperson)
Mr Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Thomas Burns
Mr Willie Clarke
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr William Irwin
Dr William McCrea
Mr Jim Shannon

1182. The Chairperson (Mr Paisley Jnr): We return to our report on the dioxin incident of December 2008. I hope that members have had an opportunity to read the report over the short break. Paragraphs 1 to 8 are a factual overview of the report; its powers, the members, the inquiry and our approach. I suggest that we agree those as read and move to paragraph 10, as paragraph 9 is a summary of recommendations that will be approved as we go through the rest of the report. Are members content?

Members indicated assent.

1183. The Chairperson: It is best to go through the report paragraph by paragraph to give members a chance to raise any issues that they might have. Are members content with paragraph 10?

Members indicated assent.

1184. The Chairperson: We move to paragraph 11. Are there any comments?

1185. Mr Elliott: I mentioned the number of organisations involved in the incident to the Committee Clerk. I suppose that we cannot decide not to involve organisations, but we want a single message to be sent out. We do not want three or four different messages coming from three or four different organisations. I am assuming that that is the point that we are trying to make in this paragraph. I am not sure how we would put that in.

1186. The Chairperson: We could list the agencies, but that would take up a full page.

1187. Mr Elliott: I am not asking for that. The Committee Clerk has covered the matter quite well. I just want to ensure that we get our point across.

1188. The Chairperson: Paragraph 11 reads:

“The Committee believes that too many organisations reacted during the incident confined to their particular areas of responsibility without any cognisance of the impact their particular decisions would have on the industry."

Perhaps we should add a reference to a joined-up response or a joined-up approach?

1189. Dr W McCrea: There was no joined-up approach. One Department knew, in fact, that the pig industry was not affected by the incident. If that information had been passed on, there would have been no need for another Department to make a statement. I know that everyone watches their back at times like that, but they nearly wrecked an industry because the facts were not checked, or, perhaps, they did not know the facts. A joined-up approach would have ensured that the facts would have been known.

1190. The Chairperson: After the word “industry", should we add the sentence, “A joined-up and consistent approach is therefore necessary"? Does that amplify what you are trying to get at?

1191. The Committee Clerk: Members should read the recommendation, which states that there should be a:

“review of the communication channels in order that the appropriate information is communicated to the relevant audience in a timely fashion."

1192. The recommendation asks for the establishment of an incident management team comprising the various representatives.

1193. The Chairperson: Let us deal with the first part of the recommendation.

1194. Mr Elliott: The recommendation is fine. Is it possible to add a condition that one organisation should, at all times, speak and put out the message. Is that reasonable? We should not have the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) saying one thing and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) saying something slightly different.

1195. Dr W McCrea: The big problem with that is that two different Departments are involved. The Food Standards Agency is not under the aegis of DARD; it is under the umbrella of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. The information should have been fed to them. That was vital, because by the time those Departments found out about the incident, the farmers concerned had already been investigated and it was determined that none of them had fed the contaminated feed to their pigs.

1196. The Committee Clerk: If members are content, we can say that the incident management team should assume responsibility for communication. If it is accepted that the incident management team will comprise representatives of all the interested parties, that should be the case. I have tried to emphasise that there must be a strategic approach to such incidents, rather than a piecemeal approach.

1197. The Chairperson: The point that the member is trying to get at is that there should be a single and consistent public message from whoever speaks. That was the issue; people were getting too many messages from too many angles. If we could include that, would it cover your concerns, Tom?

1198. Mr Elliott: Yes.

1199. The Committee Clerk: If members are content, I will add a new sentence to the final bullet point as follows:

“The Incident Management Team should assume responsibility for the communication of a single and consistent message."

1200. The Chairperson: Are members content?

Members indicated assent.

1201. The Committee Clerk: Paragraph 11 is as was.

1202. The Chairperson: Paragraph 12 is about sampling processes. It is a matter of fact. Are members content for paragraph 13 and its attached recommendation to remain as they are?

Members indicated assent.

1203. The Chairperson: Are we agreed on paragraph 14 and the recommendation?

Members indicated assent.

1204. The Chairperson: Are we agreed on paragraph 15 and the recommendation?

Members indicated assent.

1205. The Chairperson: Are we agreed on paragraph 16, which relates to communication?

Members indicated assent.

1206. The Chairperson: Are we agreed on paragraph 17?

Members indicated assent.

1207. The Chairperson: Are we agreed on paragraph 18?

Members indicated assent.

1208. The Chairperson: Are we agreed on paragraph 19?

Members indicated assent.

1209. The Chairperson: Are we agreed on paragraph 20(a)?

Members indicated assent.

1210. The Chairperson: Are we agreed on paragraph 20(b), which is really the knock-out one?

Members indicated assent.

1211. The Chairperson: Are we agreed on paragraph 20(c)?

Members indicated assent.

1212. The Chairperson: Are we agreed on paragraph 20(d)?

Members indicated assent.

1213. The Chairperson: Are we agreed on paragraph 20(e)?

Members indicated assent.

1214. The Chairperson: Are we agreed on paragraph 21 and the recommendations? Do we want to say somewhere in the lead up to paragraph 21 and its recommendation that there was a failure by the Minister in the Republic of Ireland to speak to the Minister in Northern Ireland? That was where the problem lay.

1215. Dr W McCrea: The Minister in Northern Ireland could not contact him.

1216. The Chairperson: Yes, it would be useful to have that amplified in the report.

1217. Dr W McCrea: Paragraph 19 refers to:

“the very positive work that had previously been taken by officials in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in respect of, for example, the All-Island Animal Health Strategy."

1218. However, that work took place only when it suited. When the muck hit the fan, the folks and the Minister in the Irish Republic looked after their own industry when it suited them to do so. The Minister here tried her best to contact him and he would not take her calls.

1219. Mr Doherty: I think that that is correct.

1220. The Chairperson: Has there been contact to date? Nearly a year has passed.

1221. The Clerk is suggesting that paragraph 17 is probably the place to say that the Committee believes that it would have been incumbent on the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to approach and contact our Minister directly.

1222. Mr Elliott: How does that fit in with the recommendation?

1223. Dr W McCrea: God forbid that a situation like that should arise again, on whichever side of the border, but we must ensure that we are prepared for that eventuality. If something were to happen here that affects the folk in the Irish Republic, we would have a duty to let them know about it at the earliest possible date, rather than putting all our ducks in a row here first and then telling them down there. However, it must work vice versa; that co-operation must be properly reciprocated. In my opinion, the chief failure in the dioxin incident was that that did not happen.

1224. The Chairperson: How will paragraph 17 read?

1225. The Committee Clerk: The final sentence will read:

“The Committee believes that it would have been incumbent on the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to contact the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development at this early stage."

1226. That means following the meeting with the Taoiseach and the various other Ministers and officials.

1227. Mr Burns: Are you talking about the meeting that took place on the Saturday afternoon?

1228. The Committee Clerk: Yes. The paragraph will read:

“The Committee believes that it is totally unacceptable for the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to learn of the total recall of Irish pork and pork products by chance whilst watching a news programme in the late evening of Saturday, 6 December 2009. This is despite a meeting having been held earlier that day between the Taoiseach, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Minister for Health and Children, the Chief Medical Officer, the FSAI and officials from the relevant statutory bodies in the Republic of Ireland. The Committee believes that it would have been incumbent on the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to have contacted the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development at this early stage."

1229. The intent of the paragraph is to say that after that meeting on the early afternoon of 6 December, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should have contacted our Minister.

1230. Mr Burns: That should have happened at the earliest opportunity. However, the situation had been going on, and they had great suspicions from the Thursday, which were confirmed absolutely at the meeting on the Saturday.

1231. The Chairperson: They had told all their Ministers. The Committee Clerk read out the list of all those who were at the meeting. That is damning.

1232. The Committee Clerk: The decision to recall pork products was taken at that meeting. From memory, at 7.30 pm the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) issued the statement saying that pork products were to be recalled.

1233. Dr W McCrea: After hearing about that, our Minister tried to contact the Minister down South and could not get him as he was away.

1234. The Committee Clerk: That is why I put in the words that the Minister had heard “by chance". If the Minister had not been watching the news, she may not have heard until the Sunday.

1235. Dr W McCrea: The recommendations on page 15 states:

“This should also indicate the key times for contacting, for example, Executive Ministers and the appropriate industry representatives."

However, the Minister could not have contacted her Executive colleagues when she did not know what had happened. She did not have that knowledge. I am talking about what is in our recommendations. That is why information must be passed on at the earliest possible date.

1236. The Committee Clerk: That paragraph is not intended to be a criticism of our Executive. What I have tried to say is that the matter is part of the review and that the review is looking at the streamlining of processes, which includes the incident management team. There will be a checklist of both internal and external contacts; it will include our Executive Ministers and our counterparts in other jurisdictions. The checklist should show the appropriate time to make contact. Obviously, contact at a ministerial level must be made very early in the process.

1237. The Chairperson: To pick up on Tom’s point, we should then amplify in the recommendation the point that we have just included at the end of paragraph 17. We should emphasise the need for direct contact between Ministers in taking responsibility and showing leadership on those issues.

1238. Dr W McCrea: Surely that is the key recommendation?

1239. The Chairperson: That is the most damning paragraph in the report.

1240. Mr Doherty: Do we have any indication as to what stage the Executive review is at?

1241. The Committee Clerk: I have had no indication of where that is at.

1242. The first line of the recommendation would read:

“Accurate and timely communication is vital in order that industry is fully aware of all available information and is briefed to handle any inquiries, particularly at a key ministerial level."

Are members content with that?

1243. Mr Elliott: It is difficult for us to recommend what ROI Ministers should do, but I assume that that is as far as we can go on that point.

1244. The Committee Clerk: The Committee’s view on the matter is clear in paragraph 17. We are addressing this to our Executive to ensure that we learn lessons and apply them in our own context. If Members are content, we will make that recommendation.

1245. Mr Elliott: The recommendation also mentions the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. I am aware, as Willie will be, of a particular farmer who asked the divisional veterinary office (DVO) in his area to send someone out to his farm to give advice, but his request was refused. I do not know how we should phrase it, but we need to include something in the paragraph about better communication and support for farmers.

1246. Dr W McCrea: Farmers were left hanging. They did not know what was happening. The Department may not have known what was happening, but neither did the farmers.

1247. The Committee Clerk: Members may be referring to an older version of the draft report that I forwarded to the Chairperson and the Deputy Chairperson. An additional paragraph was included in the version included in members’ packs, and it states: In addition, the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development should critically assess its communication lines and processes in order to prevent a repeat of those circumstances witnessed on Monday 8 December. This should focus on an assessment".

1248. Mr Elliott: Yes, I have that. Maybe that covers it.

1249. The Chairperson: What was the big criticism that we heard?

1250. Mr Elliott: The criticism was that when cattle were presented for slaughter at abattoirs on Monday 8 December, the factory told the farmers that there was a status on their herd and that they could not accept the animals. That meant that the cattle were left in the abattoirs for days; they could not be returned home or slaughtered.

1251. Dr W McCrea: The farmers could not get any help or advice on what should happen.

1252. Mr Irwin: One particular farmer had 10 cattle in the factory on that date, and he has still not received any compensation.

1253. The Chairperson: We will deal with compensation later, after we have considered paragraph 22. Let us look at paragraph 20(e).

1254. Dr W McCrea: It is more a matter of communication and advice to farmers.

1255. The Chairperson: Paragraph 20(e) states:

“Because the recall was ordered (but not communicated to DARD) on Saturday 6 December, there was a dearth of information available to producers, processors and consumers on Monday 8 December 2008. This affected DARD and other agencies ability to provide clear decisions to industry stakeholders at what was a critical time in the process;".

1256. Mr Elliott: That is fine; I totally agree with that and with the last paragraph that the Clerk has included in the recommendation. There was another issue, and, again, Willie will know what I am talking about. One of the milk producers asked the DVO to send a representative to visit his farm to give advice and guidance, but the DVO refused. The DVO should not refuse to visit a farm when such a serious incident has occurred.

1257. The Chairperson: Can we include that?

1258. Dr W McCrea: It is not only a matter of preventing a repeat of those circumstances; it is also about ensuring that there is communication with farmers and that they receive advice. That is vital.

1259. Mr Irwin: The problem was that the departmental officials did not even know what advice to give. They seemed to be at a loose end as well. They were giving certain advice one day, and, a week or two later, the advice was completely different.

1260. Dr W McCrea: It would not have been hard for the DVO to send someone out to a farm, especially given the crisis at the time.

1261. What are we putting in that paragraph?

1262. The Chairperson: I was waiting for your suggestion. To put it in the vernacular, it says that it was a shambles, and we heard that in the evidence that we took.

1263. Mr W McCrea: Is the following sentence included?:

“The Department for Agriculture and Rural Development should critically assess its communication lines and processes in order to prevent a repeat of those circumstances witnessed on Monday 8 December."

1264. The Committee Clerk: That would link it back to paragraph 20(e).

1265. Mr Elliott: Can we include the point that that should include ongoing advice and support at farm-business level?

1266. The Chairperson: Are members content with that?

Members indicated assent.

1267. The Chairperson: Paragraphs 22 to 25 deal with compensation. Are members content with paragraph 22?

Members indicated assent.

1268. The Chairperson: Are members content with paragraph 23?

Members indicated assent.

1269. The Chairperson: Are members content with paragraph 24?

1270. Mr Elliott: Paragraph 24 states that the package was limited to only 25% of eligible costs.

1271. The Committee Clerk: That was what was paid in compensation.

1272. Mr Irwin: It was 75% of the value.

1273. Mr Elliott: That was a moving fixture, and I do not know where it ended up. I think that it was around 70%. That needs to be clarified.

1274. The Chairperson: We will leave paragraph 24.

1275. Mr Elliott: The Clerk can follow that up and clarify it.

1276. The Committee Clerk: It was about compensation value rather than eligible cost.

1277. The Chairperson: The point is addressed in paragraph 25:

“The Committee believes that the aid package did not address the full range of businesses impacted by this incident, including dairy farmers who had purchased the contaminated feed, processors and retailers".

1278. Mr Irwin: I know two dairy farmers who got no compensation for two months’ milk. That adds up to quite a bit of money.

1279. Mr Elliott: The issue involving those two farmers is huge.

1280. Mr Irwin: That is exactly right.

1281. The Chairperson: I met one of the farmers when we were in Brussels. At least we have raised the issue.

1282. Mr Irwin: Can we add anything to that paragraph?

1283. Dr W McCrea: We would have to put it into a recommendation.

1284. Mr Elliott: I assume that the Department will argue over the word “compensation". It always claimed that it was not compensation but a hardship package.

1285. Dr W McCrea: That is correct. It was not compensation.

1286. The Chairperson: We could put in the term “compensation/aid package".

1287. Mr Elliott: That might be better.

1288. Dr W McCrea: I advise that we check exactly what it is called, because we do not want to call it compensation if Europe has not agreed to compensation.

1289. The Chairperson: Paragraph 22 refers to the “aid package", but the title of paragraphs 22 to 25 is “Compensation".

1290. Dr W McCrea: I advise that we check that the wording matches what was permitted by Europe, and I advise that we follow that through in the rest of the document.

1291. The Committee Clerk: If members are content, we will change the title of paragraphs 22 to 25. References are made to “aid package" throughout those paragraphs.

1292. The Chairperson: Are members content with the first paragraph of the recommendation?

Members indicated assent.

1293. The Chairperson: The second paragraph of the recommendation covers the issue that Dr McCrea was concerned about.

1294. Dr W McCrea: It recommends that the Department should:

“allow access to the scheme to those impacted on by the incident".

1295. Mr Elliott: Perhaps we should include a reference to dairy or milk. Slurry and processed retail material is mentioned, but that does not cover dairy farmers.

1296. The Committee Clerk: We will insert “dairy" before:

“businesses impacted by feeding of contaminated feeds".

1297. The Chairperson: That is a good recommendation.

1298. Mr Elliott: I suggest that the last line of that paragraph be amended to read:

“the disposal of slurry, milk and processed retail material".

1299. The Committee Clerk: I have suggested the following wording:

“In addition, the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development should review the Executive aid scheme to allow access to the scheme to those impacted on by the incident, such as those dairy businesses impacted by feeding of contaminated feeds to their animals or those with associated costs such as the disposal of slurry and processed retail material."

1300. Mr Elliott: So, do we not need to put the word “milk" in?

1301. The Committee Clerk: The paragraph refers to “dairy businesses".

1302. Dr W McCrea: Yes, but milk was disposed of as well as slurry.

1303. Mr Elliott: I think that we need to include the word “milk". In fact, those two sectors have probably been the biggest losers in the whole farming industry.

1304. Mr Irwin: They did not get a fair deal out of it.

1305. The Chairperson: If members are happy enough, we can do that.

1306. Are members content with paragraph 26, which is about proportionality?

Members indicated assent.

1307. The Chairperson: We now turn to paragraph 27.

1308. The Committee Clerk: I need to check the cost to the Northern Ireland vote. I think that the aid package that was eventually paid out was closer to £10 million.

1309. The Chairperson: Apart from that, are members content with paragraph 27?

Members indicated assent.

1310. The Chairperson: We shall turn to the recommendation.

1311. Mr Elliot: I think that the recommendation seems OK.

1312. The Chairperson: Are members content?

Members indicated assent.

1313. The Chairperson: Can we turn now to paragraph 28, which is part of the conclusion?

1314. Dr W McCrea: I have always had my suspicions about the so-called all-island animal health strategy, which applies only when it suits.

1315. The Chairperson: Do you think that we are pulling our punches in the commentary?

1316. Dr W McCrea: I believe that each country should have its own animal health strategy, but that each strategy should be relevant to the other. With the dioxin incident, the relationship fell down because proper and meaningful engagement did not occur.

1317. The Committee Clerk: In paragraph 28, I was trying to say that members expressed concern in earlier evidence sessions that the co-operation that was promised in the likes of the all-island animal health strategy failed, at the first hurdle, to come to fruition. The Committee, therefore, expresses its concern and hopes that that will not be the case in future.

1318. The Chairperson: My memory of the evidence sessions, especially of those in Dublin, is that there was a significant communication failure, and the resulting panic among some bureaucrats has had a detrimental impact on our industry.

1319. We are pulling our punches in paragraphs 28, 29 and 30; we should not be too concerned about putting the boot in a wee bit further. The dioxin case, and the evidence that we have received on it, proves that the relationship between the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (DAFF) and DARD is a shambles. Are members content for us to take a wee bit more licence in describing that shambolic relationship? It is clear that the blame lies with the Republic of Ireland.

1320. Dr W McCrea: The Republic was looking after its own industry; that is all that it was doing. It pulled down the shutters and got all its ducks in a row. It was only after its industry had been preserved that the authorities in the Republic finally concerned themselves with Northern Ireland.

1321. The Chairperson: We were an afterthought. At the Committee’s meeting in Dublin, one of the officials made a throwaway comment along the lines of “youse up there"; that seemed to sum it all up. As you said, it was only when DAFF had all its ducks in a row that its officials concerned themselves with their neighbour. That point has been well made in the evidence sessions, and we should not be shy about including it in our conclusions.

1322. Mr Shannon: I am always keen to shoot ducks in a row; it does not always work out that way, but it is rewarding when it does. I agree wholeheartedly with the Chairperson. I have not been involved in the whole process; I was involved in the latter part only. We had a Committee meeting in the Senate Chamber, and officials from the Republic of Ireland came to give evidence on the matter. I thought that those officials hedged their bets and batted carefully for their own side. Every Committee member questioned them, and I think that Francie Molloy was present at that meeting.

1323. The Chairperson: To paraphrase a member, they behaved like a bunch of Free Staters. [Laughter.]

1324. Mr Doherty: That is what they are. [Laughter.]

1325. Dr W McCrea: The dioxin contamination was a very serious incident that could have ruined Northern Ireland’s pig industry. I have no objection to a Department looking after its own interests, but the incident had serious implications for us. Officials in the Republic, and even our own Minister, talked constantly about the wonderful relationship between DAFF and DARD. However, when the chips were down, the Minister in the Republic would not even speak to our Minister and deliberately kept out of the way. Our Minister had to go begging for information, and that was totally wrong.

1326. We could have lost an entire industry. There was panic in Europe and in our Administration, and pork products were taken off the shelves under the direction of the Food Standards Agency. However, as it turned out, there was no need for that. All that we needed to know was that none of our produce had been contaminated. Then, Northern Ireland was not included in the aid package; it was only for the South and not for us boys up here. There was unfair competition, because a major factory in Northern Ireland was implicated in the affair. That factory was receiving pigs from the same area of the Irish Republic, but it was not included in the aid package.

1327. Mr W Clarke: I agree with members that there must be greater North/South co-operation. It is fundamental that that relationship is honest and fair. One of the main problems was the process by which authorities in the South passed on information. In this case, they went to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) first rather than informing DARD directly. We should recommend that DARD be contacted directly rather than being merely copied into correspondence with DEFRA.

1328. The Chairperson: Do Committee members agree that fault for this incident lies with the authorities in the Republic of Ireland in how they handled their communication strategy and passed on information to the authorities here?

1329. Do members agree that the fault lies with the authorities in the Republic of Ireland and how they handled the communication strategy and the divulging of information to authorities here? Do members agree with that as a general observation? If we can agree on that, we can get a very satisfactory conclusion, which puts the blame where it lies. We should accept that, and that there was a lack of communication from the Republic of Ireland’s Minister to our Minister. Communication was also made between officials at the wrong level in the Republic of Ireland’s Department and officials in our Department.

1330. To be fair to the officials in the Republic, they opened their books to us. They showed us a timeline, revealing hour-by-hour what happened and who got what, where and when. The boys from DAFF were, as Jim Shannon said, hedging their bets. Details were wanting. We can reach a conclusion that a complete lack of communication was central to difficulties and had a detrimental impact, principally on our industry and its associated parts. The Committee concludes that authorities in the Republic of Ireland were solely responsible for that.

1331. Are members content that we include a paragraph to that effect? We need to say what we mean, in the final analysis.

1332. Dr W McCrea: I accept that the authorities in the Republic should have contacted DARD. However, it is true that, under European law, they had to contact DEFRA, because DAFF and DEFRA are the two principals recognised by the European Union. However, that is not to excuse this. Those officials should immediately have realised the impact of this on Northern Ireland. That should have been taken seriously, and they should have contacted Northern Ireland.

1333. Mr Shannon: I presume that, through this report, we want to improve on what has happened previously. One of the ways in which to do that is to have better contact with our Minister. It is clear that she was not made aware of all that was happening, when she should have been. That is one of our recommendations.

1334. What the Republic of Ireland did was exercise a protectionist policy on its own behalf. I do not know whether we need to say that, but we should make strong comments and be clear about what we are saying. There is no sense in the Committee’s saying that we are unhappy with the situation if we do not express directly what happened in our conclusion.

1335. The Chairperson: The public, those to whom we have spoken in the industry and the farmers who have been affected by it are saying it anyway. If our report fails to hit the nail on the head, it will diminish the Committee’s role as a voice for the industry on such key issues.

1336. Mr Shannon: I am sorry, but I should have declared an interest as a pork retailer.

1337. It was not just those who are involved in producing pigs who were the fall guys. Those responsible for taking the product to the next level were also affected. I am not sure that we have said that anywhere in the report, and I need to be sure. I ask Committee members to cast their mind back for a moment to the issue of compensation. Nowhere in the report have we mentioned the possibility of compensation for those who had bought products from the Republic and were selling them retail. I asked the DAFF representatives about that on 13 October. That meeting was covered by Hansard, was it not? Is my question recorded?

1338. Dr W McCrea: We have made a reference to that in the report, contained in a recommendation. The last line of the recommendation following paragraph 25 reads:

“such as the disposal of slurry and processed retail material."

1339. Mr Shannon: DAFF officials did mention that a compensation process was in place.

1340. Dr W McCrea: No. The word “compensation" is not included. We cannot mention “compensation", because the European Union did not allow the Republic to pay compensation. The term is “aid package".

1341. Mr Shannon: I am happy to be corrected on the terminology. It does not really matter what happens to Jim Shannon — what is important is what happens to those retailers who contacted me. That is important. If the term “aid package" is used, can we include it in the report?

1342. The Chairperson: We have it in paragraphs 22 through to the beginning of paragraph 26, and in the recommendation that follows, and we mention

“the disposal of slurry and processed retail material."

1343. I believe that that covers the issues that you have raised.

1344. Mr Shannon: Did the DAFF officials not say that they had a methodology? They said that they would tell us about the process that they had for people to claim through the aid package. Is that not correct?

1345. The Committee Clerk: Something like that was mentioned, but nothing has been forthcoming.

1346. Mr Shannon: Can we not insist on that? Can we write to DAFF and ask why, three weeks to the day, we have still not received any correspondence? I want to pass the information on to the people who contacted me.

1347. The Chairperson: Do you mean information on whether the aid package is working?

1348. Mr Shannon: Yes. One of the people who contacted me comes from (JIM SHANNON POINTS AT EITHER PAT DOHERTY, WILLIE CLARKE OR TOM ELLIOTT — please confirm)’s constituency. Another comes from your area, Chairperson.

1349. Mr Elliott: I was also going to raise Jim’s point about paragraph 25. Perhaps we should deal with the issue about the all-Ireland strategy and policy first. We need to be more specific. It is clear that the Minister makes a big issue of co-operation through the all-island animal health and welfare strategy, but it has been shown not to have worked in this instance. I know that Willie Clarke said that that strategy must be operated better. That is correct, but this incident proves that the strategy has not worked. Although we were told that the policy is a good one that is progressing and doing well, it did not work in this case.

1350. The Chairperson: We need to say that.

1351. The Committee Clerk: To be clear, the all-island animal health and welfare strategy is a separate policy. The dioxin issue is a public health matter, and that is why it was controlled by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI). I included a reference to the all-island strategy because, during the inquiry, members expressed a concern about the impact that it had, and the trust that they placed in it, based on this example. A public health strategy impacted on both jurisdictions, but, because of a lack of communication, only one jurisdiction was able to react accordingly to it.

1352. Mr Elliott: I accept that it was a public health issue, but it was also an animal health issue, because it started off with dioxins in animal feed. It started off as an agriculture issue and became an issue in the public health arena. Otherwise, the Committee would not have held an inquiry into the matter — our involvement came from the fact that it began as an agriculture issue. We can consider operating the system better, but whatever system is in place has not been working.

1353. Dr W McCrea: It worked in the interests of farmers and processors in the Republic, and it was deliberately set up to do so.

1354. The Chairperson: There is a consensus that we need to tighten up and not pull our punches on saying what we mean. I ask the Committee Clerk to reflect on what we have said and to tighten up our conclusions so that we can give them a final read at next week’s meeting.

1355. We aim to have the report debated in the Assembly in the week before the Christmas recess. The debate would therefore take place on either Monday 7 December on Tuesday 8 December.

1356. Mr Shannon: That will be one full year after the incident.

1357. The Chairperson: That point has not been lost on us. You are not allowed to use that line in the debate, because it will already have been used.

1358. Dr W McCrea: The Committee meets on a Tuesday, and we do not want conflict between the debate and our meeting.

1359. The Chairperson: We will be having our Christmas dinner then.

1360. Mr Elliott: Jim Shannon made the point that those with the greatest loss should receive some sort of aid package. I understand that many of the pork processors who discarded material have not received any aid. Is that correct, Jim?

1361. Mr Shannon: That is my understanding. Promises were made, but no aid has come.

1362. Mr Elliott: The dairy farmers have not received anything to compensate them for the milk that they lost.

1363. Mr Irwin: Am I right in saying that the processed pork was bought from the Republic of Ireland? If it was purchased there, the Republic of Ireland Government should provide compensation.

1364. Mr Elliott: I suggest that, in our conclusion, we ask Government to review those issues with the ROI Government.

1365. Dr W McCrea: It seems that a number of the pigs that went to Cookstown, for example, were from down South, and yet, those affected were told that they will not be compensated.

10 November 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr (Chairperson)
Mr Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Willie Clarke
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr William Irwin
Dr William McCrea
Mr Patsy McGlone
Mr Francie Molloy
Mr George Savage

1366. The Chairperson (Mr Paisley Jnr): The next thing that I want to deal with is the dioxins report. We spent some time going through that line-by-line last week. I draw members’ attention to a number of changes that were made. They were agreed on the day. The first of those is at the top of page 9; the next is at the middle of page 11; there are further changes at the top of page 14, bottom of page 15, and on page 16, in reference to the aid package; and there is a small change on page 17.

1367. The most substantive changes are on pages 18, 19 and 20 and relate to the report’s conclusions, which we have made more robust. I have read through the changes, as, I am sure, have members. I will give the Committee a couple of minutes to read through them again now. Members may be satisfied, but if anyone wants to say anything about any of the changes, and specifically the conclusions, they are invited to do so.

1368. Mr Doherty: On page 19, in conclusion 28, I remember the first part up to the word “failure". However, I do not remember:

“proof that the cooperation heralded by the Department",

blah, blah, blah. Perhaps my memory is at fault, but did we discuss that as well?

1369. The Committee Clerk: I recollect that Mr Elliott raised that issue and asked that it be included.

1370. The Chairperson: Has anyone else anything to say? Are members content with the report and the amendments that we have made to it? I think that the amendments focus the report and give it more teeth. It will ask a question of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, in particular; if anything comes up in the future that affects our industry, we in Northern Ireland will have a right to receive early warning in order to deal with the matter appropriately.

1371. Mr Elliott: Our thanks should go to the Committee team for their work on the report. Anything that we have asked to be included has been. I formally propose acceptance of the report.

1372. Mr Irwin: I may be wrong, but on page 16, it is stated that:

“the package was limited to only 25% of the direct verifiable costs incurred or 25%".

I thought that they got more than that.

1373. The Committee Clerk: No, I checked those figures and they are in the Department of Agriculture’s recently published resource accounts.

1374. Mr Irwin: It must be that the EC paid somebody more than 25%.

1375. The Committee Clerk: Yes, but the Committee was talking about the cost to the Northern Ireland block, as opposed to the overall cost. That was the cost to the Northern Ireland block.

1376. Mr Irwin: OK.

1377. Dr W McCrea: I second the report.

1378. The Chairperson: Are members content?

Members indicated assent.

1379. The Chairperson: The report will be printed and I think that we are on schedule for it to be debated —

1380. The Committee Clerk: Well, no, we are not.

1381. The Chairperson: Are we not yet on schedule?

1382. The Committee Clerk: I checked, and we are required to give the Minister, the witnesses and those mentioned in the recommendations eight weeks in which to respond to the report, so the original date in December cannot be met.

1383. The Chairperson: We will kick off the new year with it.

1384. Mr W Clarke: I think that the 25% figure is wrong, as well. The Executive’s original offer was 25%, but I think that we got extra resources.

1385. Mr Elliott: As I said at the last meeting, there is an issue around that. The offer was 25%, but more money was found from somewhere. I think that it was 25% compensation or value rate. However, there was other money for the hardship payment, and that payment did not go on the value of the animals or the stock — although I may be wrong about that.

1386. Mr Irwin: Farmers got 75%.

1387. Mr Elliott: They got what was equivalent to 75%. However, I have a notion that that was not classified as 75% of the value of their animals.

1388. Dr W McCrea: For accuracy, I propose that the Committee Clerk check that again. It may be that it was done another way, and 25% is what has to be put down.

1389. The Chairperson: Perhaps a footnote explaining how the calculation was achieved would be helpful.

1390. Dr W McCrea: There could be a European aspect to this.

1391. The Chairperson: Putting in a footnote might be the way round it.

1392. The Committee Clerk: I will check that and contact members to get their agreement.

8 December 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr (Chairperson)
Mr Tom Elliott (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Willie Clarke
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr William Irwin
Mr Francie Molloy

1393. The Chairperson (Mr Paisley Jnr): The report, which you should all have, has not been changed since you last saw it. First, it is necessary to seek agreement from members that I can approve the minutes of this meeting so that they can be included in the final report.

1394. Mr Elliott: The minutes of this meeting?

1395. The Chairperson: Yes. Is that not right?

1396. The Committee Clerk: Yes, that the Chairperson can agree them.

1397. The Chairperson: That I can sign them off, basically.

1398. The Committee Clerk: He can sign them off as being accurate in this instance, so that they can be included in the report.

1399. Mr Elliott: I agree, then.

1400. The Committee Clerk: Obviously, members will get a Hansard transcript of this. We are hoping that it will be turned around fairly quickly, although we have not actually discussed it with Hansard yet.

1401. The Chairperson: It is called bouncing them.

1402. The Committee Clerk: I propose to issue the transcript to members by e-mail and seek any comments by return, by the end of this week. If members do not have any comments, or make a nil return, the Committee office will presume that members are content with the Hansard report. Again, that is so that it can be included in the report.

1403. The Chairperson: In the appendix.

1404. The Committee Clerk: Yes, it will be in the appendix.

1405. The Chairperson: Also, I want to draw members’ attention to the fact that the report remains confidential. It is a very good report, and I commend the Committee staff for bringing it this far. In January, it will certainly be an interesting talking point for the Committee. However, it is confidential, and we will try to keep it that way so that we can start off the year on our agenda.

1406. We need to go through it paragraph by paragraph, but we have already gone through the report on a previous occasion, and there have been no substantive changes since our last meeting. I propose that we take the paragraphs in blocks.

1407. Mr Elliott: Do we have to go through it all? There were only a couple of changes suggested.

1408. The Committee Clerk: Formally, we need to go through the report, as the Chairperson said. Rather than go paragraph by paragraph, the normal process will be as the Chairperson suggested: we take the block paragraphs and then the appendices in their entirety, without going through them page by page.

1409. Mr Elliott: OK.

1410. The Chairperson: Membership and powers; basically, paragraphs 1 to 3 on page i. Are members agreed?

Members indicated assent.

1411. The Chairperson: And on page iii, there is the table of contents, the inquiry aim and the terms of reference — paragraph 4. Are members in agreement?

Members indicated assent.

1412. The Chairperson: Paragraph 5: the approach. That is paragraphs 6, 7 and 8, actually.

Members indicated assent.

1413. The Chairperson: Turning to the summary of recommendations, I am looking at paragraph 9, which goes over two pages. Are members agreed?

Members indicated assent.

1414. The Chairperson: On, then, to page 5, which is paragraphs 10 and 11. Are members agreed?

Members indicated assent.

1415. The Chairperson: Paragraphs 12 to 15. Are members agreed?

Members indicated assent.

1416. The Chairperson: Paragraphs 16 to 21?

Members indicated assent.

1417. The Chairperson: Paragraphs 22 to 25?

Members indicated assent.

1418. The Chairperson: And finally, paragraphs 26 to 31?

Members indicated assent.

1419. The Chairperson: That is the report concluded. I would like members to agree appendix 1, appendix 2, which is the Minutes of Evidence, appendix 3, which is the written submissions, and appendix 4, which is the summary timetable.

Members indicated assent.

1420. The Chairperson: The question is that this report be the second report of the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee to the Assembly.

Members indicated assent.

1421. The Chairperson: Then there is a motion to the Business Office:

“That this Assembly approves the Report of the Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development on its Inquiry into the Dioxin Contamination Incident of December 2008; and calls on the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, in liaison with Executive colleagues, to bring forward a timetable for implementing the recommendations contained in the report."

1422. Are members agreed?

Members indicated assent.

Appendix 3

Written Submissions

Northern Ireland Region of the
Analytical Division of the Royal
Society of Chemistry (RSC) 08.09.09

Submission by the Northern Ireland Region of the Analytical Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) to the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Agriculture and Rural Development Inquiry into the Dioxin Contamination Incident of December 2008.

Members of the Analytical Division of RSC have welcomed the Committee’s inquiry into this incident and are glad to be able to provide a short written briefing on dioxins and the problems associated with their detection and determination of their levels in samples. We wish to concentrate on the methods available for the analysis of food, feed and tissue for dioxins and related compounds, because we are well aware that this is a complex area and trust the Committee will benefit from an impartial view on the topic from a professional body concerned with analytical chemistry.

Dioxins

Dioxins, (properly ‘polychlorinated dibenzodioxins’) are a group of organic chemicals based on a structural skeleton of two benzene molecules joined by two oxygen bridges. See fig 1.

Fig. 1 Chemical structure of dibenzo-p-dioxin

Chemical structure of dibenzo-p-dioxin

This skeleton has 8 carbon atoms (1 - 4 and 6 – 9) to which chlorine atoms can be attached resulting in the possibility of up to 75 different combinations (congeners). The most toxic member of this chemical family is generally regarded as TCDD, 2,3,7,8 – tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, see fig 2.

Fig. 2 Structure of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD)

Structure of 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD)

PCBs and Furans

Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) compounds are similar to dioxins but lack the central oxygen bridges. Again many permutations (congeners) of attachment of Chlorine atoms are possible and a limited number of these exhibit toxic effects. There are over 200 PCB congeners and homologs.

Polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs) resemble dioxins but have the two bridging oxygen atoms replaced by a ‘furan’ ring, a single oxygen atom in a ring structure with 4 carbon atoms. Again, the exact positions of the Chlorine atoms can differ leading to a possible 135 PCDFs.

Analysis

There are a total of 29 dioxin, dioxin-like PCB’s and dibenzofuran compounds where the permutations of attachment of the chlorine atoms generate varying levels of toxicity. The remaining possible permutations are not regarded as being of current toxicological significance. This means that for the analysis of a sample for ‘dioxins’ the analyst must be able to separate 29 very similar chemicals at very low quantities from up to over 400 other similar chemicals, be sure of their identity and be able to measure the amounts of them accurately at parts per trillion concentrations.

The analysis of samples for dioxins and related compounds is thus complex. It must be carried out in exceptionally clean conditions to exclude the possibility of cross contamination, for example from plastics often found in the laboratory.

Analysis begins with homogenisation to ensure all parts of the sample are equivalent. Liquid samples (e.g. milk) must be freeze dried a process which can take several days to complete.

To achieve the required certainty 13C labelled analogues of the target compounds are added as internal standards that can be monitored throughout the analysis. The sample is extracted with an organic solvent and this, carrying the dioxins of interest along with co-extracted similar chemicals, is ‘cleaned-up’ by passage through successive columns of modified silica and activated carbon before being finally purified on an activated alumina column. The solvent is now concentrated down to 25 – 50 micro-litres and then processed by a High Resolution Gas Chromatograph (HRGC) that separates the compounds of interest. The HRGC is coupled to a High Resolution Main Spectrometer (HRMS) that detects each compound and by examining their mass to charge fingerprint assigns a unique identity to each peak in the chromatogram produced by the HRGC. It also quantifies the amount of each detected compound of interest. High resolution instruments are only available in the most advanced laboratories.

Finally the data obtained, which is voluminous, is processed to yield results for the dioxins, PCBs and furans of interest, then taking into account their relative toxicities a Toxic Equivalent, TEQ is obtained. Multiple replicates of the sample are processed to evaluate the certainty that can be assigned to the final results. The analysis must also include determination of blanks, analysis of standards and certified reference materials to ensure that the quality of the data provided is fit for purpose. It has been estimated that a single set of ‘dioxin’ results is the culmination of several thousand individual calculations.

Other methods

There are other methods for dioxin determinations, however the process briefly described above is the definitive approach that is required for certainty.

History of Dioxin contamination incidents

These problems are not new. There were incidents in the 1960’s and a long series of problems concerning waste incineration – now eliminated by adaptation of incinerator technology to prevent dioxin discharge. More recently, contaminated clay incorporated in fish and chicken feed gave rise to problems with fish and chicken meat in the USA in the late 1990’s. Also in 1998 contaminated citrus pulp from Brazil led to elevated dioxin levels in milk. In 1999 a highly significant contamination issue arose in Belgium that resulted in intensified efforts to control the problem and a sea-change in European food control law [1, 2]. Of immediate interest to the Committee is the incident in 2003 concerning elevated dioxins in dried bakery waste used for animal feed in Germany and Holland [3].

Key References

Copies can be made available.

1. B. Nemery, B. Fischler, M. Boogaerts, D. Lison and J. Willems, “The Coca-Cola incident in Belgium, June 1999", Food and Chem. Tox., 40 (2002) 1657-1667.

2. A. Covaci, S. Voorspoels, P. Schepens, P. Jorens, R. Blust and H. Neels, “The Belgian PCB/dioxin crisis ? 8 years later. An overview", Exp. Tox.and Pharmacol., 25 (2008) 164-170.

3. R. Hoogenboom, T. Bovee, L. Portier. G. Bor, G. van der Weg, C. Onstenk and W, Traag, “The German bakery waste incident; use of a combined approach of screening and confirmation for dioxins in feed and food", Talanta, 63 (2004) 1249-1253.

Recommendations

The Analytical Division of the Royal society of Chemistry respectfully submit the following recommendations to the Committee.

1. That the Committee note that the analysis of food, feed and tissue samples for dioxin and dioxin like compounds is a lengthy and complex process. It demands unusually high standards of infrastructure, expertise and equipment. A single set of results represents the separation, identification and quantification of up to 29 significant compounds from over 400 similar chemicals. The processing of the data from a single run of analysis involves thousands of calculations. This is necessarily a lengthy and costly exercise with limited capacity in the UK.

2. That the Committee consider recommending further research into alternative more rapid and cost effective means of analysing for dioxins and related compounds.

3. That, notwithstanding the difficulties, the Committee notes the need for regular and systematic monitoring of dioxins and screening for PCBs in feed in Northern Ireland and urge that this is carried out by the appropriate authorities, i.e. the Official Agricultural Analyst and the Chief Agricultural Analyst. While recognising that this will be an exercise not without cost, it is submitted that this cost is insignificant when compared with the potential real costs to society from an incident of the kind the Committee is investigating.

D. Thorburn Burns, B.Sc., M.A. Ph.D., D.Sc., Eur.Chem., C.Chem., F.R.S.C., F.I.C.I., Hon. M.P.S. (N.I.), M.R.I.A., F.R.S.Edin., Registered Analytical Chemist.

Chairman,
Northern Ireland Region, Analytical Division of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Charles Rollston 03.07.09

Charles, William & Joy Rollston
17 Annaghananny Road
Killylea
Co Armagh
BT60 4NN

2 July 2009

Mr Paul Carlisle
Committee Clerk
Room 284
Parliament Buildings
Belfast
BT4 3XX

Dear Mr Paul Carlisle

In reply to your bulletin requesting information regarding the ‘Dioxin Contamination Incident’ I have taken this opportunity to inform your committee with a brief record of our experience being tangled up in this unfortunate dilemma.

We are dairy farmers who purchased a small quantity of biscuit meal from a reputable feed firm and unfortunately the short fall in professional Agriculture Feed Testing has left us with many financial and mental scars.

I have listed some points were we believe your committee could address in there inquest.

  • Primary professional visits on Dioxin announcement in December 2008 made us look and feel like criminals.
  • Advice and farm visits sought from local department offices were declined.
  • This disloyalty from our local department made us feel alienated.
  • Feed stuff had been used up in early November with no traces for FSA to sample.
  • Meetings in Stormont and Loughry commenced during the month of December 2008 and continued through to March 2009 to deter the best cull arrangement for those involved. We can’t understand way this procedure took such a long time.
  • We believe that the procedure used to decide what animals were ‘safe’ to remain on the farm for future Human Consumption was DEEPLY FLAWED.
  • There was no effort made within the time scale of the contract to test and clear cattle.
  • In February 2009 milk ceased to be collected from our farm, although it had been collected and diluted with other milk since the beginning of the Dioxin scare in December 2008.
  • We firmly believe that NO effort was made to get our milk back into the food chain, even though DARD and FSA could predict when the milk would fall into a safe category.
  • There was approximately 200,000 litres of milk disposed of into slurry tanks on our farm. This has cost us tens of thousands of Pounds
  • Immediately our cows were removed from the farm we were given test results of the milk confirming the samples were below the Dioxin level. These tests should have been released weeks before the cull. We believe these figures were withheld without good reason.
  • At the beginning of March we attended a meeting in Loughry where the team advised us that the cull would start a.s.a.p allowing priority to dairy farmers.
  • A contract was introduced and we were advised that our copy would arrive and encouraged to sign as it would otherwise hold up the cull procedure. This was a contradiction in its self.
  • We were one of the first to sign into the Dioxin Cull contract. This made no difference as a second draft of the contact replaced the original, this procedure took more time, feeding of cattle, loss of milk, loss of earnings and most of all the stress and anxiety we were under.
  • Cull dates were changed continuously and our priority as dairy farmers took second class to other farmers involved in the cull.
  • We heard commencement of the Cull through the press on ‘Farm Gate’. No correspondence from DARD or FSA was made to contact us personally.
  • Cull of our cattle began on the third week of March ( 3 Months from the announcement of outbreak in Northern Ireland)
  • We cannot comprehend why the time scale from the valuation of our cattle to the slaughter took 3 weeks.
  • There were only 2 small dairy farmers involved in the Dioxin scare. Why then was there no compassion and inclusion of dumped milk IN THE HARDSHIP SCHEME?
  • We feel the whole cleansing operation was a paper exercise for officials, and made no sense in washing housing that contained slurry which had tested NEGATIVE and was allowed to be spread throughout our farm. We felt there was a level of harassment in the DARD visits which followed inspections.
  • This was an expensive unnecessary experience which produced a legal bill in the region of thousands for our business.
  • The time scale it took to cull a few thousand cattle on a small island was an utter disgrace and unacceptable in todays over subscribed civil service department.
  • We as farmers have yet again been on the receiving end of a publicity gravy boat, furthermore at our own expense.

Should you have any questions or queries regarding any of the information that we have provided please do not hesitate to contact us.

Yours sincerely

Mr Charles, William & Mrs Joy Rollston

Prof. D. Thorburn Burns 30.06.09

From: d thorburn burns [member@chemistry.fsbusiness.co.uk]
Sent: 30 June 2009 16:39
To: +Comm. Agriculture Public Email
Subject: Dioxin Inquiry

Dear Mr. Carlisle,

I wish to inform you that, as an independent analytical chemist, I wish to supply information to the Dioxin Inquiry.

Due to the complexity of the topics involved and the shortness of public notice this will not be possible by 3rd July.

I wish to ensure that the Committee is aware, for example of

i) the different regulations and routes that apply to samples for animal feedstuffs as compared to food for human consumption.

ii) that it is possible for both types of samples to be dealt with by the locally based Public Analyst,

iii) that the routine analysis of fuel oils used to reduce the water content of materials inputed into animal feeds requirers consideration,

iv) raise the question of the availability and use of data bases of analytical data for samples subject to cross border trade.

Yours sincerely,

D. Thorburn Burns, B.Sc., M.A., Ph.D., D.Sc., Eur.Chem., F.I.C.I, C.Chem., F.R.S.C., M.R.I.A., F.R.S.Edin., Registered Analytical Chemist

Department of Agriculture,
Fisheries and Food 23.07.09

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food submission

Submission to the Committee for
Agriculture and Rural Development
of the Northern Ireland Assembly

Dioxin contamination of pork products July 2009

The submission covers three areas, firstly the background; secondly the detection of the dioxin contamination and actions taken; and thirdly the reviews undertaken.

Background

Department/Fsai

Statutory responsibility for food safety in Ireland is primarily the responsibility of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI). The authority was established under the FSAI Act, 1998. This Act enables the FSAI to carry out its remit by service contracts with various State agencies.

The Department operates under a service contract with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. The Department first entered into a service contract with the FSAI in 2000. Our present contract runs until 31st December 2009 and is subject to audit by the FSAI. The sectors included in the contract are:

  • Meat hygiene
  • Milk and Milk Products
  • Eggs and Egg Products
  • Pesticide Control Service
  • Border Inspection Posts
  • Residue Monitoring Programme
  • Zoonoses Directive
  • Food Labelling
Food Hygiene legislation

The legislative framework in which we are operating is as follows. European legislation governing food safety, known as the Hygiene Package came into effect at the beginning of January 2006. These measures brought together, updated and consolidated earlier EU food and feed legislation. They cover all food business operators (FBOs) throughout the food chain from farmer to retailer.

The underlying philosophy of this legislation is that all food business operators along the food chain bear full responsibility for the safety of the food they produce, process, transport or any other procedure along the food chain. This is made possible by the development of hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) principles and is in line with internationally accepted procedures. These principles take into account the variety of different operations, both in terms of products and scale, and provide operators with the flexibility to adapt ‘own checks’ control systems to the specific requirements of their operation.

National Control Plan for Ireland

Part of the Hygiene Package requires Member States to produce a single, integrated, multi-annual control plan which covers development and performance of official controls in the following sectors:

  • Food Law
  • Feed Law
  • Animal Health Rules
  • Animal Welfare Rules
  • Plant Health Rules.

The objectives of the National Control Plan for Ireland are in line with those established in the Hygiene legislation. The primary objectives are to ensure feed and food is safe and wholesome and to protect consumers’ interests.

This is achieved through:

  • Ensuring that food and feed business operators’ fulfil their primary legal responsibility to ensure food and feed safety
  • The organisation of official controls to monitor that the relevant legislative requirements are fulfilled by food and feed business operators at all stages of production, processing and distribution.

The approach taken in Ireland is to foster a culture of compliance through the use of risk based controls which protect public, animal and plant health, without imposing unnecessary burdens on the food and feed business operators that are subject to these controls or on the authorities that are responsible for undertaking official controls.

This national control plan is submitted to the Commission through the EU Food and Veterinary Office (FVO) and is used by them as a basis for audits in the sectors concerned.

The Detection of the Dioxin Contamination and Actions Taken

The following is an outline in chronological order of the events which led to the detection and the identification of the source of the dioxins from the 19th November when the sample of pork fat was taken under the National Residue Monitoring Programme, up to the Inter Departmental/Agency meeting on Saturday 6th December 2008. This was the date when the decision was taken on the recommendation of the FSAI to require the food industry to recall from the market all pork products. Some other subsequent dates and events that were of importance are also mentioned in this outline. Since the initiation of the incident the Department together with the FSAI and other agencies, have worked through the various priorities – protection of public health, restoration of consumer confidence, securing the future of the industry and maintenance of markets and national reputation.

(1) On Tuesday 19th November an officer of the Department took routine samples, under the National Residue Monitoring Programme, of pork fat from pigs slaughtered at a plant in Drumlish Co. Longford and submitted them for analysis at the Department’s Pesticides Control Laboratory (PCL) in Backweston. [I should explain that the Department takes in the region of 30,000 samples of food of animal origin annually under the National Residue Monitoring Programme. The Programme covers 11 food producing species and samples are tested for 18 distinct residue groups that fall into four broad categories; banned substances such as growth-promoting hormones, approved veterinary medicines, animal feed additives and environmental contaminants.]

(2) On Friday 28th November the analyses results indicated the presence of “marker" polychlorinated byphenols, more commonly referred to as PCBs. In accordance with standing procedures under the DAFF/FSAI service contract arrangements, FSAI was advised of these findings at this time. The source of the pork was immediately identified back to a farm in Co. Cork.

[While at this remove the time lag between the taking of the samples and receipt of the analysis results may seem inordinate, it should be noted that this was a routine monitoring sample, that the time period involved 7 working days, and that it takes three days to complete the laboratory testing procedure.]

(3) On Saturday 29th November samples were taken of all the different types of animal feed used on that farm – ten in all, including the dry bread, and these were sent to the PCL for priority analysis. In addition three samples of pork fat were submitted for priority analysis.

On Monday 1st December the laboratory confirmed that the initial sample of pork fat (taken on 19th November) as positive non-dioxin like ‘marker’ PCBs. It also indicated that the three further pork fat samples from the same farm were ‘indicatively’ positive for contamination.

(4) On Tuesday 2nd December the PCL confirmed that one of the feed ingredient samples (the dry bread) presented positive contamination (non-dioxin like ‘marker’ PCBs). The source of the dry bread was immediately identified back to a registered surplus food recycling plant in Co Carlow. Because of the link between PCBs and dioxins the samples were immediately taken by a Department official to the Central Science Laboratory in York, UK for analysis.

(5) Department personnel visited the food recycling premises in Co Carlow on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th 5th and 6th December to collect all the relevant samples and gather all the necessary information. A list of farms which received feed material from the premises was compiled and samples, both current and library going back to late July 2008, were submitted to the PCL for analysis for presence of PCBs.

It should be noted that Feed Business Operators, as part of their registration obligations under the Feed Hygiene Regulations (EU Reg 183/2005), are obliged to retain samples of manufactured products.

(6) On Wednesday 3rd December, the Department apprised the FSAI of developments at a high level meeting.

(7) On Thursday 4th December, Department officials commenced visiting all of the identified pig and cattle farms. All bread product remaining on the farms was impounded and restrictions were placed on the movement of animals from these herds.

(8) A Department Press Release also issued on that day indicating that a number of herds had been restricted following the identification of marker PCBs. On the same day, the FSAI informed the Food Standards Agency (UK) in London of the emerging incident.

(9) The list of customers who received feed from the recycling plant in the previous six months both in Northern Ireland and Ireland was completed by the Department on the evening of 4th December following receipt of detailed sales transactions information.

(10) On the morning of Friday 5th December the authorities in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland (DARDNI) were contacted by this Department and a list of farms was forwarded to them indicating that bread product from the premises may have been delivered to those farms. On that same day the Dutch authorities, following sight of the Department’s Press Release, contacted the Department and the FSAI in relation to an independent investigation into the presence of PCBs in pork fat samples originating in a number of Member States, including Ireland.

(11) On Saturday 6th December, an Inter Departmental/Agency meeting was convened to assess the emerging situation. This meeting was attended by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Minister for Health and Children, the Chief Medical Officer, the FSAI and officials from the Departments of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, and Health and Children. In light of the assessment of the position and possible implications the Taoiseach subsequently joined this meeting.

(12) At 3.40pm, the Central Science Laboratory in York, confirmed to the FSAI, the presence of dioxins in the pork fat samples. Following on from the meeting, the FSAI decided that it was necessary for the food industry to recall all Irish pork and bacon products from pigs slaughtered in Ireland since 1st September.

The 1st September date was chosen on the basis of the evidence available to the FSAI. In making the decision for a total product recall, account was taken of the fact that the 10 pig producers affected and associated farms involving 17 separate production units nationally accounted for some 8% of the national kill or approximately 50,000 pigs slaughtered between 1st September and the 1st December 2008. Taken together, they supplied eight of the ten main abattoirs in the country, which account for about 98% of the national throughput of pork.

A press conference was held at 19.00 to announce the product recall. Later that evening a Trader notice issued to all pig slaughtering and pig processing establishments setting out the requirements to be followed under the terms of the recall.

(13) An alert notification was issued to the Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food (RASFF) by the FSAI to advise the EU Commission and all EU Member States.

(14) On Sunday 7th December the Department’s Crisis Management Group convened throughout the day.

An Ad hoc expert group on human health was convened by the FSAI at the request of the Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health & Children to carry out a risk assessment. The Group met for the first time on Sunday morning at the FSAI Headquarters.

(15) A meeting was held in Agriculture House involving DAFF, the EPA and the National Bureau for Criminal Investigation of An Garda Síochána to initiate investigations into eth cause of the contamination.

(16) The FSAI advice-line received over 2,000 calls from consumers and industry seeking information on the recall.

(17) Running in parallel to all of this was ongoing activity to (i) identify the cause of the contamination; and (ii) put in place arrangements for the recall of all of the feed material impounded on the farms.

In addition, meetings were held on the weekend of the 6th and 7th December with representatives of the pig processors, producers as well as retailers. The meetings with the pig processors continued over the following days.

(18) In the meantime on Monday 8th December, results of samples for non-dioxin “marker" PCBs taken from eleven of the forty-five cattle herds initially restricted were received and on the basis of those results the FSAI concluded on Tuesday 9th December that there was no public health issues arising.

(19) A teleconference took place between the Irish Authorities, the European Commission, EFSA and a number of Member States including the U.K. and Northern Ireland. The outcome was a request by the Commission to EFSA for advice on the risks to public health.

(20) Results for “marker" PCBs for samples taken in the remaining cattle herds became available the following weekend. Results for dioxins in the beef samples were subsequently received on 17th December. On Thursday, 18th December, the FSAI on concluding it’s assessment of the these results, published a statement which indicated, based on food consumption data, that the exposure from beef was 300 times lower than that posed by the contamination found in pork.

Additionally it was confirmed that of the 120,000 cattle farms in Ireland, only 21 had been identified as having received the implicated animal feed. As a precautionary measure, on the recommendation of the FSAI, a decision was taken to slaughter and remove from the food chain all animals in these 21 herds.

(21) A significant amount of the Department’s time, with the assistance of the Gardai and the EPA, has been devoted to identifying the cause of the contamination. Given that the issue is the subject of a Garda investigation and may be subject of litigation, I am constrained on how much can be said at this stage. However, laboratory tests have indicated that the source of the contamination was the use of contaminated/inappropriate oil to fire the burner used for generating the heat to dry the bread.

Pigmeat Recall Scheme

Following the events of the 6th December there was intensive discussions with the pig processors to facilitate the resumption of slaughter. Financial assistance by the Government was agreed given the impact of the product recall on the industry and for the culling of pigs and cattle.

A facility of up to €180m was made available through a Pigmeat Recall Scheme. This was confined to processors who had suffered losses as a result of the recall and to product related to animals slaughtered in Ireland between 1st September and 6th December 2008 which could not be shown to be uncontaminated.

State aid approval was obtained from the EU Commission on 24th December in respect of the product recall financial assistance scheme. The EU Commission also agreed to co-fund some of the measures in particular the costs of slaughter out and certain product recall costs in respect of primary production.

Due to the very exceptional circumstances the decision to co-fund part of the recall was taken on foot of the support received from the 27 heads of Government at the European Council which expressed “its support for Ireland’s effort to deal with the situation relating to pigmeat and its prompt precautionary action". The Council furthermore invited “the Commission to support farmers and slaughterhouses in Ireland by way of co financed measures to remove relevant animals and product from the market." Clearly we were very pleased to receive this practical demonstration of support for our actions in this matter from our European partners.

Both Minister Gildernew and Minister Foster wrote to and met with Minister Brendan Smith seeking access to this scheme for the Northern Irish pork processing industry. As the Minister indicated at the NSMC Plenary meeting on 23rd January 209, Ireland unfortunately was not in a position to extend financial assistance to farmers and processors outside of its jurisdiction. However the Minister offered any assistance officials could provide to Northern Ireland in relation to operational aspects as well as advice in relation to the legal and administrative basis of our schemes should the Northern authorities decide to submit notification for state aid or co-financing to the EU Commission.

Officials from this Department subsequently provided guidance and assistance as required to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in the development of its case to the European Commission for permission to use State Aid.

Review

Following on from this incident the Department has already identified a number of areas requiring additional attention and in accordance with annual risk assessment procedures has amended the 2009 Animal Feed Inspection Programme to

  • afford the drying of feed and grain drying operators a higher risk category
  • place greater emphasis on the checking of HACCP plans of the Feed Business Operators
  • remind operators involved in the drying of grain and feed that only gas in particular fuels (diesel & kerosene) can be used for such drying.

The Department has also reminded feed business operators of their obligation, under the Hygiene Regulations, to take all steps necessary to ensure the safety of the feed chain.

In addition, the Minister established an inter agency task group, chaired by Dr. Patrick Wall, to review this incident. It will carry out a complete review of all aspects relevant to the dioxin contamination incident, including the risk assessment employed in annual feed inspection programme. This review is consistent with the approach adopted by the Department after the FMD outbreak in 2001 when the Department updated its contingency arrangements in the light of the experience gained. This review, which is ongoing, is taking into account the recommendations of the Oireachtas Review published on 26th May as well as submissions from interested parties.

Department of Agriculture and
Rural Development 31.07.09

Department of Agriculture logo

From: Liam McKibben
Fisheries Director

Paul Carlisle
Committee Clerk
Northern Ireland Assembly
Parliament Buildings
Stormont
BELFAST

Central Policy Group
Fisheries Division
Dundonald House
Upper Newtownards Road
Belfast BT4 3SB
Tel: 028 905 24193
Fax: 028 905 24077
Email: liam.mckibben@dardni.gov.uk

31 July 2009

Dear Paul

ARD Committee Review into the Dioxin Contamination Incident

Please find attached DARD input to the Review. I am grateful to you for allowing us to stray beyond your initial deadline for submission of this input.

  • As discussed previously this input includes:-
  • a description of the roles and responsibilities of the main Departments and Agencies involved;
  • an outline of the main relevant legislative provisions; and
  • a timeline of DARD actions which is designed to cover the detail of our actions in the initial stages of the incident and which highlights only the main decisions and events thereafter.

As you will be aware the main engagement with the processing side of the industry was by DETI and Invest NI. If you require any information on this interaction you should approach DETI directly.

I am on leave now for a few weeks but if you require any clarification or additional material please contact John Speers or Siobhan Thompson in my absence.

Yours sincerely

Liam McKibben sig

LIAM McKIBBEN

Terms of Reference into the Dioxin Contamination Incident, December 2008

(a) To establish an accurate timeline in relation to the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products;

(b) To establish and clarify the key roles, responsibilities and inter-relationships of relevant authorities and in respect of the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products;

(c) To identify the strengths and weaknesses of the key roles, responsibilities and inter-relationships of relevant authorities and in respect of the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products ; and

(d) To make recommendations arising out of the above investigation to protect the Northern Ireland agricultural industry

(a) To establish an accurate timeline in relation to the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products;

A detailed timeline confirming Officials actions for the duration of the incident is attached at Annex A. Sampling of animals, milk and slurry were commissioned by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and NI Environmental Agency (NIEA).

Specific actions in relation to the sampling, testing, confirmation and communication of the feeding stuff is detailed below.

Sampling and analysis of contaminated Feeding Stuff

Five samples of the contaminated Biscuit Meal as well as other potentially contaminated or suspect materials were taken in the W/C 8th December 2008 and analysed for PCB’s by AFBI (test details are included at Annex B) Two samples were subsequently sent to CSL for dioxin testing (details should be included in the information provided by AFBI).

QAB also sampled the feed at three sites (2 farms and a haulier) on 13/01/09 for dioxin analysis by the Public Analyst (Eurofins). This was necessary if the Department required to serve a feed disposal order, granted by a court, on the material.

Results of these analyses were obtained on 04/02/09 and e-mailed to the farmers and haulier on the same date. Subsequently disposal orders were not required as agreement was reached with the supplier of the biscuit meal to have it recalled by the supplier to the ROI, with the consent of DAFF.

Testing carried out by AFBINI

A detailed timeline of testing is attached at Annex B

AFBI pooled the resources of its Food Chemistry Branch at Newforge Lane and its Chemical Surveillance Branch at Stormont to provide a scientific response to this chemical contamination incident. As PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are frequently used as a marker for dioxin contamination and PCB analysis is faster and cheaper than dioxin testing, for which there is only limited capacity in Europe, AFBI expanded its PCB analytical capacity from a normal 10-15 samples per week to 50 samples per day. Its chemists also developed and validated new PCB analytical methods with a sensitivity down to 0.5 parts per billion.

AFBI carried out a large number of PCB analyses on feed, fat, milk and slurry samples from the affected cattle herds.

The PCB test is normally considered a good marker test for the presence of dioxins and it was assumed that this would be the situation in this case. However at a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Food Chain and Animal Health on 12th December 2009 the EU Commission considered that too little was known of the correlation between PCB’s and dioxin levels in this incident. In this case dioxins had been created by the open drying of biscuit meal and the subsequent consumption of contaminated product by cattle.The low levels of PCBs detected in tissues and the extremely low,yet non-compliant levels of dioxins that were present in the tissues of some of the affected cattle led the Commission to query the reliability of PCBs to act as a marker for dioxins in this particular case and to insist on dioxin testing. Therefore, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Executive departments and agencies involved in this emergency, AFBI co - ordinated the transport of samples to the Central Science Laboratory (CSL) in York which is the UK national reference laboratory for dioxins. (No dioxin testing capacity is available on the island of Ireland). AFBI collated and interpreted these results and provided scientific advice to the local departments and agencies involved.

As the manure produced by animals that had consumed contaminated biscuit meal also contained dioxins, analysis of slurry on the affected farms was required as part of a risk assessment. AFBI developed a test for PCB analysis of slurry that has proved to be highly reliable as a predictor of dioxin concentrations. This test was applied to multiple samples from each slurry tank on affected farms and the results allowed appropriate scientific advice to be provided to policy divisions in the relevant departments and agencies. Application of this test to risk assessment meant that only a few slurry samples had to be sent to CSL for more expensive and time-consuming confirmatory dioxin testing.

AFBI is currently assisting the Northern Ireland Environment Agency in sampling and testing soil from fields on several of the affected farms as a component of post-incident environmental monitoring.

Summary of PCB Testing carried out by AFBI

Feed Sampling :

21

Fat:

50

Milk:

3

Milk Powder:

1

Slurry:

162

Soil:

16

(b) To establish and clarify the key roles, responsibilities and inter-relationships of relevant authorities and in respect of the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products;

b(i) Roles and Responsibilities

Animal Feed

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and the Food Standards Agency (FSA) are the joint “competent authority" within the meaning of the European Union (EU) legislation for animal feed matters. FSA has policy responsibility while DARD is responsible for enforcement. The costs of enforcement fall to DARD. The only exceptions are medicated feeds and feed legislation relating to Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathies, such as BSE or Scrapie for which DARD is the competent authority. DARD is responsible for the implementation of all EU animal feed legislation and is subject to audits from the EU Food and Veterinary Office.

Meat Inspection

The Veterinary Public Health Unit (VPHU) is a service delivery unit of DARD’s Veterinary Service that carries work out on behalf of the FSA in accordance with Service Level Agreements. Its purpose is the protection of public health and animal welfare in approved meat establishments, by the use of enforcement powers. In this case (Dioxin contamination) the VPHU acted on behalf of the FSA in implementing enforcement powers relating to food safety. For example, if a contaminated animal was brought to a meat plant the VPHU officers identified the animal and prevented it entering the human food chain in accordance with the remit of the FSA.

Milk and Fat Samples

QAB is part of the DARD’s Service Delivery Group and carries out work on behalf of the FSA in accordance with a Service Level Agreement. This involves implementation of food hygiene legislation [EC Regulation 178/2002; EC Regulation 852/2004; EC Regulation 853/2004 and 854/2004] in milk production facilities (farms) and liquid milk processing establishments. During this incident DARD, (QAB) collected milk samples from dairy farms on behalf of the FSA and liaised with milk purchasers regarding the suitability of the milk to enter the food chain.

Fat samples from carcasses’ and live animals were taken by DARD Veterinary Service.

Food Standards Agency (FSA)

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) is a UK-wide non-Ministerial Government Department with its headquarters in London. It has regional offices for the devolved administrations based in Belfast, Aberdeen and Cardiff. The functions of the Agency are performed on behalf of the Crown. The FSA in NI is accountable to the NI Assembly through the Health Minister.

The Agency was set-up under the Food Standards Act 1999 and came into existence on 1 April 2000. The main objective of the Agency is to protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food (including risks caused by the way in which it is produced or supplied) and otherwise to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food. The Agency also has the function of providing advice and information to the general public in respect of matters connected with food safety.

The Agency is also the central competent authority in the United Kingdom with regard to animal feed and food safety matters. That means that it is the lead Government Department with respect to the interface with the European Commission on these matters. In this role it is the responsibility of the Agency to ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of European (“EU") food and feed law and to ensure that the United Kingdom fulfils its Community obligations.

It is the responsibility of the Agency to ensure that, when food is contaminated in such a manner as to breach EU food law; appropriate steps are taken to ensure that it does not enter the human food chain. However, the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (“DARD") and its officials act as the agents of the Agency on the ground in respect of meat controls in slaughterhouses and cutting plants and controls relating to milk production on farms and liquid milk processing. Local Authority, Environmental Health Officers are responsible for controls relating to milk product plants. DARD itself is an enforcement authority in its own right in respect of animal feed.

Northern Ireland Environmental Agency (NIEA)

NIEA’s primary role in respect of this incident is identification and management of environmental risk, for example, in respect of environmental contamination and contaminated slurry disposal.

Agri-food Biosciences Institute (AFBINI)

AFBI delivers services to DARD, other government departments and agencies and the private sector under six main themes:

  • Sustainable Food and Farming
  • Competitiveness in the Agri-Food Industry
  • Management and Protection of Natural resources
  • Climate Change and Renewable Energy
  • Scientific Preparedness for Emergencies
  • Agri-Food Economics and Rural Development

Within the context of these work themes, AFBI supports the Northern Ireland agri-food industry with a wide range of statutory testing, scientific advice and an emergency response capability. AFBI’s research and development programme includes major projects for public sector bodies, commercial companies and an increasing portfolio of international clients.

AFBI carries out a programme of assigned work for DARD. Outside this assigned work programme, DARD may commission other work from AFBI, especially in response to an emergency such as the dioxin feed contamination incident. As outlined in its management statement, AFBI is expected to maintain appropriate skills, experience and facilities to be able to respond to such emergencies. AFBI’s emergency response capability is available to DARD and other departments and agencies in Northern Ireland.

b (ii) Legislative Framework

This incident raised a number of issues regarding detention and slaughter of animals. Action under existing Animal Health, Food Safety and Residues legislation was considered but appropriate actions were somewhat limited.

Modern food and feed law emanates mainly from the European Union. The primary domestic legislation is the Food Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1991.

Statutory rules have been made under that Order and under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 implementing European Community law where required.

EC Regulation 178/2002 lays down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing an European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters in food safety. Food law, as defined, applies also to feed produced for, or fed to, food producing animals.

However, in respect of the contamination of cattle by dioxins as distinct from the contamination of food derived from those cattle, it is considered that the specific provisions of this Regulation are not engaged, as live cattle are not food.

The relevant background legal provisions are considered to be:

(a) In respect of the contamination of animal feed by dioxins-

  • EC Directive 2002/32 on undesirable substances in animal feed. -Article 3.2 and Annex 1 set out the maximum permitted level for dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in feed.

This has been implemented in Northern Ireland by the Feeding Stuffs Regulations (NI) 2005 (as amended by S.R. 2006 No.471) and the Feed (Hygiene and Enforcement) Regulations (NI) 2005. There is no requirement to detain or cull animals in the relevant EC Law and no power to do so in domestic feed law.

(b) In respect of the contamination of food by dioxins-

  • EC Regulation 1881/2006 sets maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs; Section 5, paragraph 5.1 of the Annex to which relates specifically to levels of dioxins and PCBs permitted in meat and meat products. The Regulation provides that food shall not be placed on the market if it exceeds the permitted level.

EC Regulation 1881/2006 Section 5 Paragraph 5.1- Dioxins and PCBs Permitted levels

Foodstuff
Maximum Levels
  Sum of Dioxins (WHO_PCDD/F-TEQ) Sum of Dioxins and dioxin-like PCB’s (WHO-PCDD/F-PCB-TEQ)
Meat and Meat Products (excluding edible offal) of the following animals:-    
- bovine animals and sheep
3,0pg/g fat
4,5 pg/g fat
- poultry
2,0 pg/g fat
4,0 pg/g fat
- pigs
1,0 pg/g fat
1,5 pg/g fat

This has been implemented in Northern Ireland by the Contaminants in Food Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007 (S.R. 2007 No 66), (DHSSPS ) which also provides for inspection and seizure powers for district councils in respect of food that does not comply with the Regulation and destruction of that food subsequent to a successful application to a District Judge.

Live Cattle contaminated by dioxins

The legal provisions governing live cattle contaminated by dioxins, or suspected of such contamination, are set out in EC Regulation 853/2004 laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin and EC Regulation 854/2004 laying down specific rules for the organisation of official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption.

Regulation 853/2004 imposes obligations upon food business operators handling products of animal origin. Regulation 854/2004 provides how competent authorities should carry out official controls as regards those food business operators and products. Regulations 853 and 854/2004 were implemented in NI by the Food Hygiene Regulations (NI) 2006 (DHSSPS).

It is considered that the relevant provisions of these Regulations as detailed below prevent animals from potentially affected herds from automatically entering the food chain, due to the fact that the official veterinarian was aware of the “flagged status" of these animals via the electronic Animal and Public Health Information System (APHIS) as well as via mandatory information supplied to the slaughterhouse operator on the origin of the cattle and the feed fed to them. The official veterinarian (OV) is a DARD employee carrying out official controls in the slaughterhouse as authorised by FSA which is the competent authority in this regard.

Regulations 853/2004 and 854/2004 do not provide powers to cull live cattle on farm although they do provide appropriate powers to prevent affected cattle from going into the food chain. In that regard, they provide that permission of the competent authority is required before animals are transported to the slaughterhouse and impose certain conditions which apply at slaughter which would prevent the meat from the animals going into the food chain.

EU Regulation 853/2004 provides:

(a) at point 2 of Chapter I of Section I of Annex III says that –

“Animals …. originating in herds known to be contaminated with agents of public health importance may only be transported to the slaughterhouse when the competent authority so permits."

(b) and at point 3 of Chapter IV of Section I of Annex III says that -

“The animals or, where appropriate, each batch of animals sent for slaughter must be identified so that their origin can be traced."

EU Regulation 854/2004 provides:

(a) at, point 8 of Chapter III of Section II of Annex I says that other than in exceptional cases, such as a serious breakdown in the slaughter facilities, animals must be slaughtered once they have arrived at the abattoir: where there are exceptional circumstances they can go to another abattoir, not back to the holding of origin.

(b) at, point 2(a) of Chapter III of Section I of Annex I says that the OV is to ensure that the health mark is only to be applied where there are no grounds for declaring the meat unfit for human consumption.

(c) at, point 1 of Chapter V of Section II of Annex I says that meat is to be declared unfit for human consumption if -

  • it contains contaminants in excess of the levels laid down under Community legislation
  • in the opinion of the OV and after examination of all the relevant information it may constitute a risk to animal or public health or is for any other reason not suitable for human consumption

(d) at, point 5 of Chapter III of Section II of Annex I says that the slaughter of animals suspected of having a condition that may adversely affect human or animal health is to be deferred and the OV may decide that sampling and laboratory examinations are to take place to supplement post-mortem examination.

It is considered that these provisions provided appropriate powers to prevent affected cattle from going into the food chain.

Regulation (EC) 178/2002

The purpose of Regulation (EC) 178/2002 is to ensure the free movement of safe and wholesome food and achieve a high level of protection of human life and health throughout the Community. The Regulation sets out food safety requirements in Article 14 and provides that food is deemed to be unsafe if it is considered to be:

a) injurious to health, or;

b) unfit for human consumption.

Similar requirements are set out for feed. The responsibility for ensuring that foods or feeds satisfy the requirements is placed on food business operators “at all stages of production, processing and distribution within the businesses under their control" (Article 17). It is for member states to enforce food law, and monitor and verify that the relevant requirements are fulfilled and for that purpose they must maintain a system of official controls. Article 18 requires food business operators to have in place systems and procedures to establish the traceability of food, feed, food-producing animals and any other substance intended to be incorporated into food. Article 19 places a responsibility on food business operators to withdraw and recall food where they have reason to believe that food is not in compliance with food safety requirements (i.e. those in Article 14); and to inform the competent authorities. Regulation 178/2002 also sets up a rapid alert system, which is a network enabling notification across all member states of risks to human health deriving from food or feed (Article 50). Such notifications are known as RASFFs.

DARD QAB is the joint competent authority with the Food Standards Agency for animal feeds. FSA is responsible for policy and DARD implements the legislation. DARD QAB conducts an annual programme of inspections of registered and approved feed establishments which cover legislation relating to feed safety and hygiene, feed composition, medicated feed, genetically modified feed, TSE restrictions and import controls. This covers all businesses importing storing, transporting, processing marketing and using feeds.

The controls as laid down in Regulation (EC) No. 854/2004 are a combination of inspection and audit tasks. The purpose of these inspections and audits are to verify that the FBO has complied with food law. Article 1 Scope, point 3 states: “the performance of official controls pursuant to this Regulation shall be without prejudice to food business operators’ primary legal responsibility for ensuring food safety as laid down in Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002 …….and any civil or criminal liability arising from the breach of their obligations".

Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (FEPA)

The power to make a FEPA order exists (section 1 of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985) where-

‘in the opinion of a designating authority... there exist or may exist circumstances which are likely to create a hazard to human health through human consumption of food and... in consequence food which is in a [specified area].. or which is or may be in the future derived from anything in such an area, is or may be, or may become, unsuitable for human consumption’.

A FEPA order may make a wide variety of prohibitions as regards a specified area (including ‘prohibit the movement of food or anything from which food could be derived’) The order could prohibit movements of animals but crucially could not require their slaughter.

The power to make a FEPA order is not often used, and normally voluntary restrictions are agreed if at all possible.

Section 25 applies the Food and Environment Protection Act to Northern Ireland and states that the designating authority ‘means the Department for Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland’ (text inserted by the Food Standards Act 1999 (Schedule 5)).

A FEPA order could be made if the view was taken that the consumption of meat from affected animals ‘may be likely to create a hazard to human health through human consumption of food’.

(c) To identify the strengths and weaknesses of the key roles, responsibilities and inter-relationships of relevant authorities and in respect of the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products ;.

C(i) DARD Strengths

  • DARD VS acted promptly on initially vague information forwarded by DAFF to prevent contaminated animals being exported or from entering the food chain. We used our APHIS system to rapidly identify affected farms and place immediate restrictions on the farms and on any animals on the farms in addition to those that moved out to other farms after 1st September 2008. The APHIS system was enhanced to facilitate valuation of affected animals and processing of payments for the hardship scheme.
  • DARD QAB quickly investigated feeding practices on farms to establish the numbers/types/species of livestock exposed to contaminated feed.
  • DARD management communicated frequently with affected farmers and primary producer representatives to advise them of progress and likely outcomes of investigations.
  • DARD utilised its well rehearsed contingency plan for response to epizootic disease for this ‘crisis’. Elements of the contingency plan were used throughout - procurement procedures, establishment of an Emergency Command Group (ECG) at tactical level in DARD Headquarters, use of regular Sitreps from tactical and operational centres, maintenance of the Key Issues/Decisions Log, activation of the Local Operational Control Centre (Cookstown) and use of Site Operational Coordinators (SOCs) on affected farms, in the killing facility and in the rendering establishment. This facilitated co-ordination between government agencies and farmers initially and with the slaughter/rendering/transport sectors of the industry during the cull.
  • Well trained front line staff worked competently and professionally at all stages of this episode
  • Emergency procedures for disposal of animals worked well
  • DARD initiated and convened the inter-Departmental/Agency group which met on a very frequent basis and facilitated a joined up government approach and information sharing.

Weaknesses

  • Legislation
A – Legislation to detain and slaughter animals

When a disease is suspected or the presence of a prohibited or unauthorised substance in an animal or animals DARD has the power to apply herd/flock or individual animal restrictions so that such animals cannot move off the farm. DARD also has the power to collect samples of tissues or fluids and in certain instances (i.e. epizootic disease) we have the power to require slaughter of affected animals. In this instance neither DARD nor any other Department had the legal powers to detain and slaughter these animals. This would require new legislation or amending existing legislation.

Consideration should be given to clarify if, in future scenarios, the powers to restrict and / or cull affected livestock would be required. Liability for compensation, should any be appropriate, would also need to be clarified.

B - Legislation in relation to 21 day detention of feed, which applies in NI but not in the ROI

The current legislation [The Feed (Hygiene and Enforcement) Regulations (NI) 2005 ] permits the issue of detention notices to prevent the marketing or use of animal feeds where the feed material is suspected of being unfit for feeding to animals and an investigation is in progress. The detention notice is valid for 21 days and then must be withdrawn or a request placed before a court for issue of a disposal order. The request for a disposal order can only be made if there is sufficient evidence to indicate that the feed material is unfit for use.

In the Dioxin Incident it was not possible to obtain the necessary evidence within 21 days therefore we were not able to seek a disposal order from a court. We were also initially advised by DAFF that a recall of feed would be possible to ROI, which would have removed the need for a disposal order but subsequent advice was that the recall of detained feed could not take place. Initial legal advice was that the original detention notices remained effective after the first 21 days but latter written advices stressed the need to re-issue the notices. This left us with no alternative but to re-issue all detention notices, albeit this may not have been strictly legal and there was a period of time when the contaminated feed may not have been detained under statutory notice.

All of these issues could only be fully tested in a court of law. We understand that this is the first time the 21 day issue on detained feed has arisen anywhere in the UK and indeed this may have been the first use of such feed detention notices in the UK. In the ROI, which is subject to the same EU legislation as NI, there is no time limit on detention notices. Our proposal is that there should be no time limit so that investigations can be completed prior to either releasing the feed material or seeking a disposal order".

  • Scientific Issues

A – Decision by EU to require dioxin testing not taken until 12 December.

B – Time taken to get dioxin test results.

C – Limited scientific knowledge pertaining to the mechanism for dioxin transmission within livestock and on affected farms.

  • Communication

A - Extended communication lines with the FSA.

B – Difficulties in getting timely and comprehensive information from a range of parties, including DAFF, the affected farmers, the haulier and the feed mill.

(d) To make recommendations arising out of the above investigation to protect the Northern Ireland agricultural industry

NIEA’s Environmental Crime Unit, the competent authority in NI, is currently leading an investigation into this incident and it would be inappropriate to make any recommendations at this time until this investigation has been completed.

The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed to conduct a review of communications regarding the dioxins incident. This has been commissioned by the Head of the Civil Service on behalf of the Executive.

Annex A

Contaminated Feed Incident – Timeline for Dard’s External Contacts

NB. This timeline only includes the most significant events and communication. There are many other documents which may be referred to relative to DARD’s internal decisions and actions. These include Veterinary Service’s Key Decision Log, ECG minutes, Sitrep minutes, action tables, etc.

Friday, 5 December 2008
11.00 (approx): DAFF Official, (Feeds) phoned DARD Official, Quality Assurance Branch (QAB) to report a problem, without giving any specifics, but promising e-mails later.
12.01 : As nothing was received from DAFF in the next hour, a DARD Official (QAB) e-mailed the DAFF official to tell him that as he was going out of the office he should copy the e-mail to an official in DARD Veterinary Service (VS).
13.01: e-mail from DAFF Official to DARD Officials in QAB, copied to DARD Veterinary Service (VS). It advises of a contamination problem, in feed, identifies Millstream Recycling and 9 NI premises (included one feed processor) receiving feedstuffs from them in previous 6 months and attaches a 4 December Press Release. Email advises of actions being taken by DAFF on affected farms, pending further investigation and advises that DARD should take any actions it considers appropriate.
15.33: DARD (VS) forwards e mail to FSANI, indicating its potential to be significant.
16.23: FSA responds to Dard seeking extra data.
16.35 : DARD VS replies to FSANI and directs her by telephone to FSAI.
16.40: FSANI official telephoned DARD QAB official to say that she had sent an e-mail to him but as he was out he had not seen it. She was seeking information about the incident of which, at this stage, DARD had very little details. He referred her to DAFF.
16.45: DARD decides to put status (hormones) on 7 NI herds (a total of 11 received statuses due to associations with original herds).to alert meat inspection staff if animals from those affected herds are presented for slaughter. Two of the 9 original premises notified by DAFF had no livestock on DARD traceability system (APHIS). Around this time, CVO (who was on leave received a call from DARD VS to advise of the issues and to confirm that he was content with the action being taken. Member of admin staff tasked to telephone affected Divisions to ask Divisional Veterinary Officers (DVOs) to contact the affected herdkeepers.
Saturday, 6 December 2008
21.30: FSAI announce recall of Irish pork and pigmeat products. Carried on Media outlets. At this stage ROI specific.
21.33 : DARD Minister (Michelle Gildernew) phones CVO to alert him about the ROI Press Conference announcing the removal of Irish pork product from retail outlets.
21.45: Permanent Secretary spoke to CVO in light of breaking news regarding action on pork by ROI.
22.30: CVO telephones FSA about the breaking news about ROI Press Conference re. removing pork product from retail outlets and arranges for a meeting with FSA on Sunday, 7 December at 10.00am. FSA also alert DARD (QAB) of this meeting.
Late pm: Telephone discussions between Minister, Special Adviser, DARD Permanent Secretary and CVO about implications of ROI announcement.
Sunday, 7 December 2008
9.00: FSA alert CVO and DARD QAB that its meeting is postponed until noon.
10.00/10.30: DARD Minister has telephone conversations with Special Adviser, DARD Permanent Secretary, CVO and DAFF Minister (Brendan Smith, TD).
11.00: PS/Minister DARD contacts PS/Minister DHSSPSNI and alerts her to the issue of the Dioxin contaminated feed and to put in telephone request from Minister to Minister McGimpsey.
12.00: CVO met with FSANI to be briefed following FSANI/FSAGB meeting.
13.07 : DARD QAB official phoned FSANI official to ask if needed to take any action that day. She said that was unnecessary but that his team would need to obtain samples of the potentially contaminated feed on Monday. He indicated that he would come in on Monday although he was scheduled to be on leave. He then updated his Head of Branch by phone.
13.00/13.15 : CVO contacts CMO, DCVO, Head of VPHU and SPAD to update on outcome of meeting and prepare for tracings the following day.
13.10: Minister McGimpsey discusses situation with Minister Gildernew and agrees to keep in touch throughout the day.
14:04: Press Statement from Minister Gildernew issued via EIS. Minister Gildernew completed a number of media interviews throughout the day.
16.20 (and 20.05): DARD QAB official alerts his staff by text message of the need to be ready to act quickly on Monday morning and contacted some QAB staff who were on leave and asked them to come into work.
21.15/21.18 : CVO texts staff about tracings required first thing on Monday morning.
PM: FSA issue Press Release and update website that ROI and NI pork to be removed from sale.
Monday, 8 December 2008
07.40: DARD makes arrangements to take samples of feed from 9 premises (7 farms with livestock, one feed mill and a feed haulier originally listed by DAFF) during the course of the day.
08.00 - DARD TMG meeting updated by CVO.
xx.xx: DARD VS continued with tracings and notified slaughter plants of animals that were slaughtered in that plant from each of the restricted premises since 1 September 2008.
xx.xx: VS received slap-mark details from FSA of pigs imported from the ROI for slaughter (not breeding and production).
xx.xx: APHIS status (contaminated feed) applied to traced and associated farms.
xx.xx - CVO briefed Dr W McCrea and then other members of ARD Committee at about lunch time.
13.00: DARD Representative in NI Exec Office, Brussels attends video conference in DG Sanco and speaks to Commission staff in the margins.
13:22: Update 1 on dioxins in pork and pork products from the Republic of Ireland received from FSA.
14.30: FSANI hold an industry meeting – DARD Representative attends. Following this meeting, DARD QAB updates FSANI on findings of farm inspections.
15:00-16:00: Minister Gildernew meets FM & dFM to update them on the latest position.
xx.xx: FSANI provided slap-marks of all pigs imported from the ROI since 1 September 2008. This information was later provided to Food Business Operators (FBOs) by DARD VS to enable recall.
16.24: E-mail from DARD Representative in NI Exec Office, Brussels reports on teleconference between Ireland, FSA(UK) France, EFSA, and DG SANCO where ROI gave background to their total recall of pigmeat and pigmeat products.
16.40: DARD QAB had inspected all 9 premises notified by DAFF and established that at least 7 premises (6 livestock farms and 1 haulier) had received potentially contaminated feed. The other premise (Feed Processor) had only received milk powder. This was confirmed later with DAFF (see entry on Tuesday 9th 10.41am) All animals from the farms were traced and slaughter plants informed. Meal samples were taken. A milk sample was taken from the one dairy farm (Omagh) which had been identified by QAB. One of the original listed farms had not received any of the material. The haulier was in the ROI when the DARD inspector called and could not be contacted. The inspector spoke to his wife who indicated that one farm had received feed from them. This farm was then scheduled for inspection on 9/12/08.
17.15–18.00: DHSSPS and DARD Ministers make statement to the NI Assembly.
18:00: Both Ministers do Press Conference in Great Hall.
18:30 Minister updates colleagues at Executive meeting.
20.30: DARD Official (QAB) contacted by FSA Official for update on farm inspection findings.
20.50: FSA advises NI departments that pork derived exclusively from NI pigs is not affected by FSA Press release issued on 8/12, but as premises in NI have received pork from the ROI, is advising consumers that if they have purchased since 1st September, pork or pork products labelled Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, they should dispose of them or return them to the retailer.
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
08.50: DARD seek urgent written confirmation from DAFF that milk powder supplied to the feed processor is no longer suspected of being contaminated with dioxins.
10.00: DARD Officials participated in a Defra-led teleconference with FSA, VLA and UKREP to discuss developments.
10.30 DARD Official attends UK/ROI Feeds Bilateral meeting.
10.41: DAFF confirms that milk powder received by feed processor was not contaminated with dioxins
10:45: Minister gave update to Assembly on the Animal Feed Contamination issue during TB statement.
11.20: Farm supplied by haulier inspected by QAB inspectors who confirmed that feed has been received by this farm
11.49: Feed Processor informed that milk powder supplied to them was not contaminated with dioxins and that they should not have appeared on the list supplied by DAFF
xx.xx: APHIS status (feed contamination) applied to newly identified premises.
13.20: Haulier informs DARD QAB officials of two further farms supplied with feed including 1 dairy farm (Armagh) (10 Farms now potentially received the feed)
15.00–19.00 Three further farms were inspected and identified as having received feed from the haulier, including one dairy farm (Armagh). 11 farms had now been identified.
xx.xx: DARD/INI/AFBI meeting at DARD. Agreement reached to sample 5 cattle from each of the 9 beef herds that may have received contaminated feed to screen for PCBs. Testing to be carried out by AFBI Newforge. INI agree to provide funding for testing.
xx.xx: Live animals that moved out of the 11 identified herds have been traced and statuses (feed contamination) applied to them to prevent entry to the food chain.
16.00-16.30: DHSSPS and DARD Ministers make update statements in the Assembly via Priority Notice Questions.
17:00: Joint Press Conference both Ministers.
18.00: Haulier identified another farm supplied by him (Bringing the total farms receiving the feed from the haulier to 4 and the total farms potentially receiving the feed to 11)
19.30: DAFF reported a further farm as having received the feed, bringing the total farms to 12
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Am: A milk sample was taken by QAB inspectors for testing from the second dairy farm (Armagh).
xx.xx: A 12th farm is restricted (status applied on APHIS) following information from DAFF.
xx.xx: Samples have been taken for testing from all 12 herds restricted.
xx.xx: A provisional; PCB result on the milk sample taken from original dairy herd (Omagh) was reported negative
10.00: DARD VS Officials participate in a Defra-led teleconference.
16.00 DARD initiation of meetings to improve communication and co-ordination. Joint DARD, DHSSPS and FSANI teleconference.
xx.xx: Carcase samples taken from each herd for PCB testing.
19.42 One of the original farms reported by DAFF on 5/12/09 deemed not to have received the feed after inspection by QAB and restrictions removed by FSA. (This reduced the potentially affected farms to 11)

FSA issue PR announcing that NI pork is not affected by the contaminated feed.

Thursday, 11 December 2008
09.32: DARD Official (QAB) sends e-mail to DAFF Official requesting clarification on the possibility of the recall of contaminated feed to ROI.
10.00: DARD VS Officials participate in a Defra-led teleconference.
xx.xx: CVO decides prioritisation of testing and communicates this to AFBI, Newforge.
xx.xx: One beef farm has status removed following communications between DARD VS and FSA.
xx.xx: DAFF Officials confirms to DARD VS Official that no live pigs or cattle from ROI affected farms have entered NI.
14.00: Minister updates colleagues at NI Executive meeting.
15.50: E-mail from DARD Official (Food Policy) to Defra Official asking that NI be included in PSA scheme. Defra ask that a request cleared by DARD Minister is required that can be incorporated into a letter from Hilary Benn to the EC.
xx.xx: A confirmed negative PCB result has been received for the milk sample from the first dairy farm (Omagh). FSANI now deem milk suitable for the food chain from this farm. Farmer informed
16.00: Joint DARD, DHSSPS and FSANI teleconference.
17.45: Farm notified to DARD by DAFF on 09/12/09 deemed to not have received the feed on inspection by QAB and de-restricted by the FSA (number of farms now 10)
Friday, 12 December 2008
09.44: Minister writes to Defra Minister (Rt Hon Hilary Benn, MP) about seeking to have NI included in Private Storage Aid scheme
10.00: DARD VS Officials participate in a Defra-led teleconference.
13.20: DARD Permanent Secretary contacted Director General of DAFF and updated each other as to how each jurisdiction was dealing with the incident and on the bi-lateral Ministerial meeting planned for the evening.
16.00: Joint DARD, DHSSPS and FSANI teleconference.
17.10: Teleconference between DARD, DHSSPS, InvestNI and FSANI to discuss advice from Scofcah suggesting that herds could not be cleared on the basis of PCB testing alone and that dioxin testing would be required.
17.20: Bi-lateral between Minister Gildernew MP MLA and Minister Brendan Smith TD.
20.00: Meeting at FSANI HQ between DARD [Permanent Secretary, CVO, AFBI CEx], DHSSPS, InvestNI, and FSANI to discuss further.
Saturday, 13 December 2008
14.47: CVO receives FSA request for data on number of animals in the herds restricted and this information is provided at 16.55.
15.13: CVO receives PCB results from AFBI – FSA for milk sample herd. Discusses with FSA who advise that milk from this herd can be marketed.
PM Series of telephone calls during the afternoon between DARD senior management, SPAD and also AFBI.
Sunday, 14 December 2008
12.00: AFBI report PCB test results on 10 herds. 3 over limit and 7 under limit.
13.30: AFBI reported that samples were being sent to England for dioxin testing.
13.30: DARD Top Management Group met to review progress and incident status.
18.16: Letter from John Bourne (Defra) to Russell Mildon (DG Agri) confirming that measures taken by FSA advising consumers not to eat pigmeat sourced from RoI or NI were emergency measures
Monday, 15 December 2008
9.00: Breakfast reception at Parliament Buildings hosted by DARD/DHSSPS Ministers to update stakeholders.
10.00: Defra teleconference. DARD VS Officials participate.
10.30: DARD senior officials meet with industry representatives.
14.30: CVO has meeting with FSA Officials about preparations for action on back of dioxin results.
Pm: DARD decides to continue daily meetings (teleconferences) of all public agencies and Departments involved as one was not held today due to meetings at the breakfast event and the meeting that afternoon with the FSA and industry .
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
10.30: FSANI/industry meeting at FSA HQ.
Am: Ongoing liaison DARD/INI officials on trade issues.
11.50: DARD CVO updates Defra CVO on current situation.
15.00 Teleconference between DARD, FSA, INI, DHSSPS, AFBI
Wednesday, 17 December 2009
10.00 DARD and INI officials meet with representatives of UPBF to update them on current position regarding compensation and Private Storage Aid and further INI Marketing and Trade Initiatives – informed of closing date for applications under RoI scheme.
11:53: Minister Gildernew made representations by telephone to Brenda Smith about the eligibility of processors in the North for compensation..
xx.xx: Meeting between FSA, FSAI and AFBI.
13.10: Joint DARD/DETI Ministerial letter issued to Brendan Smith TD.
14.00: FSA HQ conference. DARD officials attended.
14:00: Following subsequent discussion between Special Advisers north and south, contact between Ministers was again made and it was stressed that the north’s processors should be included in any scheme agreed with the EU Commission.
17.30: Minister Gildernew again spoke at length with Brendan Smith TD on their proposals regarding the compensation scheme and, although he did not have the detail of the proposal, it seemed unlikely that the north would be included in the scheme. Minister Gildernew again pressed her counterpart that exclusion of northern processors would severely disadvantage our pork processing sector and encouraged him to consider us in the same way that they had done when approaching the Commission for Private Storage Aid. She also requested that any detail of the proposed compensation scheme should be forwarded to DARD, as soon as possible.
Thursday, 18 December 2008
09.43: Commission approved PSA for NI and PR issued and industry advised by DARD.
10.28: E-mail from DAFF Official to DARD QAB Official relating to inspection of NI supplier of bread and confectionary by-products.
14.30: DARD Permanent Secretary phoned opposite number in DAFF re ROI test results on beef herds.
15.05: DARD Permanent Secretary has further phone call with DAFF who confirmed that FSAI is still considering the issue and are likely to make a statement tonight but it is expected this will only be in relation to food being held by trade, i.e. carcases, etc.
15.40: Before the EU Mancom vote was taken Minister Gildernew secured a further meeting with Brendan Smith TD to again outline the difficulties that our processors’ exclusion from this scheme would have.
16.40: DARD Permanent Secretary updated Dr McCrea on situation.
18.15: DAFF Secretary General contacted DARD Permanent Secretary to confirm that he had seen the FSAI Press Release and to discuss ROI test results.
Friday, 19 December 2008
xx.xx: Teleconference between DARD, FSA, INI, DHSSPS, AFBI and DETI.
14.55: Trade issues raised by Dr McCrea discussed between DARD/INI.
17.24 UFU updated on latest position.
Saturday, 20 December 2008
10.00: Teleconference between DARD, AFBI, FSA, DHSSPS, INI and DETI.
xxxx: FSANI, DAFF, FSAI and DARD officials discuss the RoI risk management strategy to depopulate herds containing contaminated animals
Sunday, 21 December 2008
14.00: Teleconference between DARD, AFBI, FSA, DHSSPS, INI and DETI
xx.xx: Teleconference between DARD, FSA, FSAI and DAFF.
16.45: Minister briefed on latest position.
19.20: UFU updated on latest position.
Monday, 22 December 2008
10.51: DARD Official (QAB) sends e-mail to DAFF Official requesting DAFF opinion on recall of feed detained in NI to RoI.
14.00: Teleconference between DARD, FSA, FSAI and DAFF.
17.10: DAFF Official contacts DARD Official (QAB) to discuss recall of detained feed.
17.30: Farmers advised by telephone of their position re dioxin testing and written confirmation was provided the following day. Further updates provided to Minister, UFU, Chair of ARd Committee, HOCS and UPBF
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
a.m.: Joint submission from Ministers Foster and Gildernew goes to NI Executive and Executive agrees to pursue compensation issue with ROI Government.
11.52: FSANI advise DARD VS Official that all animals that have been in affected herds any time during the period 1 September - 6 December 2008 are to be excluded from the food chain. Also, that FSA are therefore content for the relevant OVs to deal with those animals currently in lairages.
14.30 Teleconference between DARD, FSA, DHSSPS, INI.
16. 30 - Phone call from DAFF Official to DARD Official (QAB) indicating that DAFF considering the recall of feed from NI to ROI.
16.40: DARD advise Rural Support on position and that the farmers had been provided with their telephone number in case they wished to utilise their services.
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
16.04: DARD Permanent Secretary updated ARD Committee Chair on Departmental lines to take regarding restriction, compensation and welfare responsibilities.
Monday, 29 December 2008
12.00: Teleconference between DARD, FSA, DHSSPS, INI.
Tuesday, 30 December 2008

14.15:

All farmers were contacted by DARD to advise them of the status of their animals, and the work being undertaken by DARD to alleviate the situation. They were also recommended to seek compensation from the suppliers of the feed.

Wednesday, 31 December 2008
13.00: DARD Food Policy received a telephone call from UPBF inquiring if the CVO letter had been issued to Member States as Germany were refusing to accept pigmeat from NI. Letter issued by the Defra CVO on 29 December 2008 was forwarded to UPBF at 13.48.
16.20: DARD Permanent Secretary updated ARD Committee Deputy Chair on DARD’s powers and responsibilities and, in particular, issues raised by the 3 largest farmers.
Monday, 5 January 2009
11.02: E-mail from DARD Official (QAB) to DAFF Official requesting urgent opinion on recall of detained feed to RoI.
12.12: DARD Permanent Secretary updates ARD Committee Chair and at his request 3 farmers are phoned later in the day to advise them of current position.
16.40: DAFF advise do not intend to recall feed from NI.
Tuesday, 6 January 2009
8.30:- DARD Permanent Secretary updated UFU on dioxin results – 6 confirmed results received to date.
09.30:- UPBF advised by DARD Food Policy on conditions of NI PSA scheme.
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
13.45: Meeting with DARD, FSA, DHSSPS, INI, NIEA and AFBI
19.00 - DARD Permanent Secretary updated UFU Chief Executive on dioxin issue.
Monday, 12 January 2009
15.30: DARD/NIEA meeting on milk/slurry disposal.
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
11.05: DARD Official (QAB) telephones affected farmers with test results. Hard copy of results sent by fax and post.
12.00: Teleconference between DARD, AFBI, FSANI, INI and NIEA.
15.30: Meeting with affected farmers and NI agencies involved in the dioxin incident.
17.30: DARD Permanent Secretary speaks to ARD Committee Chair about access to compensation scheme in ROI for live pigs. Permanent Secretary agreed to advise DARD Minister / SPAD and DETI senior staff of ARD Committee Chair’s concerns.
Thursday, 15 January 2009
a.m: Joint submission from Ministers Foster and Gildernew goes to NI Executive recommending introduction of a cull and disposal scheme.
pm: Decision by Executive agreeing a Cull and Disposal scheme, and to continue to press fro access to ROI compensation Scheme.
17.00: DARD Official updated Defra Official on dioxin issue and NI Executive decision.
17.00: DARD QAB officials telephone affected farmers regarding outcome of Executive decision and test results
xxxx: Press Release – Executive Agreement to Cull and Disposal Scheme
Friday, 16 January 2009
14.00: DARD meet NI renderers to discuss implementation of Cull and Disposal Scheme.
PM: Liaison with several farmers on establishing if groups of animals could be excluded as not exposed to contaminated feed.
PM: MEPs, ARD Committee Chair and Vice-Chair updated.
Monday, 19 January 2009
10.30: Telecom: Defra, FSA London and Belfast and INI to update on developments.
15.00: AFBI convenes first meeting of scientific group established to advise on slurry disposal options. EU, FSA, DOE and DARD represented.
Tuesday, 20 January 2009

13.30 -

DARD update ARD Committee on dioxins issue.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009
a.m./p.m: DARD/DETI officials brief European Commission officials on DARD’s response to the feed contamination (dioxin) incident.
18.30: Meeting Between Ministers Gildernew (DARD) and Smith (DAFF).
Thursday, 22 January 2009
12.00: Teleconference between DARD, AFBI, FSANI, INI and NIEA
15.00: Slurry Group Meeting – DARD, NIEA, FSA and AFBI
Friday, 23 January 2009
Am: At NSMC plenary meeting Dublin Ministers confirm to NI Executive that they are unable to provide financial assistance to NI producers and processors.
xxxx: Teleconference between DARD, NIEA, Central procurement and renderers to discuss tender arrangements for disposal scheme.
15.30: Senior Officials from DARD, FSANI and NIEA meet affected farmers and their legal representatives at Loughry Campus.
Monday, 26 January 2009
12.00: FSA, DARD, INI, DETI, DHSSPS, AFBI and NIEA teleconference.
13.00: DARD seeks assistance from DAFF on preparation of NI case to EC for an Exceptional Support Measure.
15.00: Slurry Group Meeting – DARD, NIEA, FSA and AFBI
Tuesday, 27 January 2009
a.m: Valuations on the affected cattle begin. NB herdkeepers also granted leave to seek a Judicial review.
Wednesday, 28 January 2009
12.00: Slurry Group Meeting – DARD, NIEA, FSA and AFBI.
18.18: Letter received from Brendan Smith, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in RoI indicated that they are not in a position to extend their financial assistance arrangements to farmers and processors in the North.
Thursday, 29 January 2008
a.m: Joint paper from Ministers Foster and Gildernew to NI Executive.
16.15: DARD Permanent Secretary and Minister discussed the Dioxin Executive Paper at the NI Executive Meeting. Executive agreed to fund 25% hardship payment to producers and processors.
xxxx: Press Release – Executive agreed to seek EU Commission approval for an Exceptional Support Scheme
17.45 – 18.30: QAB officials phone farmers regarding Executive Decision
Friday, 30 January 2009
AM: Copy of statement read to farmers on 29 January 2009 sent hard copy to farmers by QAB admin.
10.00: DARD advise Defra about the outcome of the previous day’s Executive meeting and about how DARD proposed to take forward the approach to the EU.
13.10 & 15.30: . Discussions between DARD and DOE/NIEA about possible restrictions on slurry spreading by farmers concerned and whether DOE intend to issue restriction notices
15.00: Slurry Group Meeting – DARD, NIEA, FSA and AFBI
Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Late a.m: Further discussions with NIEA on their advice on disposal of slurry.
10.30 Slurry Group Meeting – DARD, NIEA, FSA and AFBI
Wednesday, 4 February 2009
10.30: Minister Gildernew, DARD Permanent Secretary and other senior officials from DARD, FSA, INI, NIEA and DETI met affected farmers and their legal representatives at Loughry.
16.45: DARD advised by FSANI about positive milk sample results for both dairy farms.
1740-1810: Teleconference between FSANI and DARD Officials to discuss what FSANI wanted to do re milk dioxin levels.
Late pm: Further discussions on milk issue with INI, DETI and DAFF.
Thursday, 5 February 2009
09.15: DARD and DETI Officials meet with Russell Mildon, DG Agri, EC to discuss case for Exceptional Support Measure.
14.00: DARD discuss with Defra need for support for NI case for an Exceptional Support Measure.
Xxxx: DARD Official (QAB) arranges milk samples to be collected from dairy farms
Friday, 6 February 2009
10.00: Slurry Group Meeting – DARD, NIEA, FSA and AFBI
15.35 : DARD provides update on the milk situation to UFU.
Tuesday, 10 February 2009
xxxx: Delegation of Executive Ministers meet Commissioner in Brussels to discuss the case for state support for NI farmers and processors.
Wednesday, 11 February 2009
12.00: Teleconference between DARD, FSA, INI, DHSSPS, AFBI and NIEA officials
Thursday, 12 February 2009
a.m: Joint paper from Ministers Foster and Gildernew to NI Assembly.
10.00: Slurry Group Meeting – DARD, NIEA, FSA and AFBI.
15.30: DARD and NIEA Officials have meeting about slurry.
xxxx: Executive agreement and announcement of additional funding for hardship payments. Affected farmers advised of outcome of Executive meeting.
Monday 16 February 2009
14.30: DARD, NIEA, FSANI, and AFBI officials meet with farmers and their legal representatives at Loughry college
Tuesday, 17 February 2009
09.30: Financial basis to implement dioxin related expenditure meeting with DARD, DETI and DFP officials
15.00: Slurry Group Meeting – DARD, NIEA, FSA and AFBI
Thursday 19 February 2009
16.10: Agreed statement sent to dairy farmers about disposal of milk to land and other farmers about slurry tank results
Friday, 20 February 2009
15.00: Slurry Group Meeting – DARD, NIEA, FSA and AFBI.
Wednesday, 25 February 2009
12.00: DARD, AFBI and FSA officials meeting with 3 affected farmers.
Thursday, 26 February 2009
09.30: QAB officials arrange for more milk samples to be taken from 2 herds.
Friday, 27 February 2009
12.34: DARD Official (QAB) receives email from DAFF Official indicating DAFF recall stipulations for Millstream.
Monday, 2 March 2009
14.00 Teleconference between DARD, AFBI, FSA, DHSSPS and INI
Thursday, 5 March 2009
13.00–15.20 DARD officials met farmers at Loughry and link with another by telephone to advise about the valuations and cull scheme arrangements
Monday,9 March 2009
Pm: Application forms for Cull and Disposal Scheme and Hardship Assistance Scheme for producers being distributed to affected farmers. Closing date for applications is 16 March 2009.
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
15.00: Slurry Group Meeting – DARD, NIEA, FSA and AFBI
Thursday, 12 March 2009
11.30: E-mail confirmation from Robert Hogg, Millstream to DARD QAB Official that recall can proceed next week
Thursday, 19 March 2009
09.30: DG Agri ManCom attended by DARD and Defra Officials approved ESM Scheme for NI.
Friday, 20 March 2009

Cull begins.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Cull and disposal of animals completed.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Hardship payments start to issue to farmers.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Final hardship payments paid.

Annex B

Timeline for dioxin analysis of cattle fat samples at CSL

Sample
Identification
Ear Tag No
To CSL
Date sample received by CSL
Final CSL Report Number
Date indicative results received by AFBI from CSL
Date indicative results passed
to NI “Teleconference group"
Date confirmed results received by AFBI from CSL
Date confirmed results test report passed
to NI “Teleconference Group"
PL 51704 Herd 07001, UK 9 171279 1755 5 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120
19/12/2008
19/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51705 Herd 07001, UK 9 632035 2416 2 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124-2
 
 
1/14/2009
1/14/2009
PL 51706 Herd 07001, UK 9 47274 1207 5 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124
 
 
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51707 Herd 07001, UK 9 151769 2551 6 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124
 
 
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51708 Herd 07001, UK 9 634587 3060 4 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120
19/12/2008
19/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51684 Herd 123776, UK 9 17281 1104 3 Batch 4
1/7/2009
1135
1/14/2009
1/15/2009
1/15/2009
1/15/2009
PL 51687 Herd 123776, UK 9 151868 352 2 Batch 4
1/7/2009
1135
1/14/2009
1/15/2009
1/15/2009
1/15/2009
PL 51679 Herd 180265, UK 9 18265 1239 6 Batch 2
12/15/2008
1122
23/12/2008
23/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51683 Herd 180265, 18265-1025-O Batch 2
12/15/2008
1122
23/12/2008
23/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51655 Herd 181101, UK 9 181101 4301 7 Batch 2
12/15/2008
1122
23/12/2008
23/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51658 Herd 181101, UK 9 181101 4256 4 Batch 2
12/15/2008
1122
23/12/2008
23/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51671 Herd 184954, 37536 484 U Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120-a
1/5/2009
1/5/2009
08/01/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51672 Herd 184954, UK 9 613412 0122 6 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120-a
1/5/2009
1/5/2009
08/01/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51699 Herd 241013, UK 9 493 2974 6 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124
 
 
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51700 Herd 241013, UK 9 4041 4684 2 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124
 
 
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51701 Herd 241013, UK 9 3031 4457 2 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120-a
 
 
08/01/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51702 Herd 241013, UK 9 493 2978 3 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124-2
 
 
1/14/2009
1/14/2009
PL 51703 Herd 241013, UK 9 2761 2645 5 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120
19/12/2008
19/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51676 Herd 250592, UK 9 613781 49 2 Batch 2
12/15/2008
1122
23/12/2008
23/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51678 Herd 250592, UK 9 121016 2836 3 Batch 2
12/15/2008
1122
23/12/2008
23/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51737 Herd 421933, IE 33 13635 7 0389 Batch 4
1/7/2009
1135
1/14/2009
1/14/2009
1/15/2009
1/15/2009
PL 51740 Herd 421933, IE 34 11893 6 0511 Batch 4
1/7/2009
1135
1/14/2009
1/14/2009
1/15/2009
1/15/2009
PL 51778 Herd 421933, UK 9 123433 1776 1 Batch 4
1/9/2009
1137
1/22/2009
1/22/2009
1/23/2009
1/23/2009
PL 51779 Herd 421933, UK 9 56291 946 5 Batch 4
1/9/2009
1137
1/22/2009
1/22/2009
1/23/2009
1/23/2009
PL 51697 Herd 634942, UK 634942 0162 E Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120-a
1/5/2009
1/5/2009
08/01/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51698 Herd 634942, UK 634942 0171 P Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120-a
1/5/2009
1/5/2009
08/01/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51648 Herd 636340, UK 9 150299 3926 2 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120
19/12/2008
19/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51649 Herd 636340, UK 9 63366 2187 6 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1124
 
 
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51650 Herd 636340, UK 9 123971 296 1 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124
1/5/2009
1/5/2009
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51651 Herd 636340, UK 9 061407 0291 4 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124
1/5/2009
1/5/2009
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51652 Herd 636340, UK 9 592879 211 3 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120
19/12/2008
19/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009

Timeline for dioxin analysis of cattle feed samples at CSL

Sample
Identification
To CSL
Date received CSL
Final CSL
Report Number
Date interim report received from CSL
Date interim report passed
to NI “Teleconference group"
Date Final report received
Date confirmed results passed
to NI “Teleconference group"
PL 51644 Farmer A Batch 4
07/01/2009
1135
14/01/2009
15/01/2009
15/01/2009
15/01/2009
PL 51719 Farmer B Batch 5
16/01/2009
1142
05/02/2009
05/02/2009
14/02/2009
 

Food Safety Authority of Ireland
23.07.09

Submission from FSA Ireland
Submission from FSA Ireland
Submission from FSA Ireland
Submission from FSA Ireland
Submission from FSA Ireland
Submission from FSA Ireland
Submission from FSA Ireland
Submission from FSA Ireland
Submission from FSA Ireland
Submission from FSA Ireland
Submission from FSA Ireland
Submission from FSA Ireland
Submission from FSA Ireland

Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland
31.07.09

FSA logo

From the NI Director
Gerry McCurdy

Mr Paul Carlisle
Clerk to the Committee
Agriculture and Rural Development Committee
Parliament Buildings
Stormont
Belfast
BT4 3XX

NIP0745
31 July 2009

Dear Mr Carlisle

Re: Committee inquiry into the dioxin incident of December 2008

I refer to your correspondence dated 23rd June 2009 inviting the Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland to make a written submission to the inquiry and our subsequent discussion in which you agreed to extend the deadline for responding until 31st July 2009.

I am pleased to enclose a submission addressing the Terms of Reference of the inquiry.

I have noted that oral evidence sessions will take place the week commencing 14th September 2009 and would appreciate if you would advise at the earliest opportunity should officials from Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland be required to attend.

Yours sincerely

Gerry McCurdy sig
Gerry McCurdy

FSA logo

Food Standards Agency information
for the ARD Committee Inquiry into
the Dioxin Contamination Incident

December 2008

Terms of Reference into the Dioxin Contamination Incident, December 2008

(a) To establish an accurate timeline in relation to the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products;

(b) To establish and clarify the key roles, responsibilities and inter-relationships of relevant authorities and in respect of the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products;

(c) To identify the strengths and weaknesses of the key roles, responsibilities and inter-relationships of relevant authorities and in respect of the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products ; and

(d) To make recommendations arising out of the above investigation to protect the Northern Ireland agricultural industry

(a) To establish an accurate timeline in relation to the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products;

A detailed timeline confirming action of Food Standards Agency NI Officials for the duration of the incident, relevant to the above term of reference, is attached at Annex A. It should be noted that this does not include all actions taken by the Food Standards Agency throughout the incident that fall outside the terms of reference of this Inquiry.

The timeline includes details of the sampling of milk and meat from affected animals that was requested by the Food Standards Agency (the Agency), communication of the results to the Agency by AFBI, Newforge Lane, in respect of PCB analyses and by Central Services Laboratory (CSL) in York, (the UK national reference laboratory for dioxins), in respect of dioxin testing and communication and follow-up action taken following receipt of results.

The timeline also indicates the point at which it became necessary to subject all samples of milk, meat and animals to dioxin testing, which is more expensive and time consuming than PCB marker analyses following the decision taken by the EC Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH) that dioxin testing, was necessary to obtain the robust scientific evidence required to make sound decisions on the suitability of food implicated in this incident being placed on the market. It should be noted that in arriving at this decision SCoFCAH took into consideration the process that gave rise to the particular contamination that occurred in the incident. The relationship between the level of PCBs detected and dioxins present in samples implicated in the incident did not follow that which can normally be expected through environmental contamination and thus PCB marker analyses could not be relied upon.

A detailed timeline confirming testing of bovine fat samples, which has been prepared by AFBI, is attached at Annex B.

(b) To establish and clarify the key roles, responsibilities and inter-relationships of relevant authorities and in respect of the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products;
b(i) Roles and Responsibilities
The Food Standards Agency

The Food Standards Agency (the Agency) is a UK-wide non-Ministerial Government Department with its headquarters in London. It has regional offices for the devolved administrations based in Belfast, Aberdeen and Cardiff. The functions of the Agency are performed on behalf of the Crown. The FSA in NI is accountable to the NI Assembly through the Health Minister.

The Agency was set-up under the Food Standards Act 1999 and came into existence on 1 April 2000. The main objective of the Agency is to protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food (including risks caused by the way in which it is produced or supplied) and otherwise to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food. The Agency also has the function of providing advice and information to the general public in respect of matters connected with food safety.

The Agency is the central competent authority in the United Kingdom with regard to animal feed and food safety matters. That means that it is the lead Government Department with respect to the interface with the European Commission on these matters. In this role it is the responsibility of the Agency to ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of European (“EU") food and feed law and to ensure that the United Kingdom fulfils its Community obligations.

It is the responsibility of the Agency to ensure that, where food or feed is contaminated in such a manner as to breach EU food law and therefore fails to meet feed or food safety requirements, appropriate steps are taken to ensure that it does not enter the human food chain. The Agency is responsible for notifying the European Commission of any such incidents through the Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food (RASFF).

The Agency is also an enforcement authority in its own right, however, the Department for Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and its officials act as authorised officers of the Agency on the ground in respect of hygiene controls in slaughterhouses and cutting plants, at primary production level on farm and in liquid milk processing establishments. This work is carried out by DARD in accordance with Service Level Agreements that have been agreed with the Agency (see below).

Throughout the incident the Agency liaised closely with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, which is the equivalent central competent authority for food in the Republic of Ireland (RoI) and also with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which is the central competent authority and enforcement authority for feed in RoI.

Meat Inspection

The Veterinary Public Health Unit (VPHU) is a service delivery unit of DARD’s Veterinary Service that carries work out on behalf of the Agency in accordance with a Service Level Agreement. Its purpose is the protection of public health and animal welfare in approved meat establishments through the delivery of official controls and the use of enforcement powers where necessary. In the context of the dioxin incident VPHU acted on behalf of the Agency in implementing enforcement powers relating to food safety. For example, if an animal had been brought to a slaughterhouse from a farm that had received contaminated feed the VPHU officers would have identified the animal and prevented it entering the human food chain in accordance with the instructions of the Agency. In this incident VPHU collected samples of fat from affected bovine carcases and submitted these to the Agri-food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Newforge Lane for PCB marker analyses.

Milk Production and Liquid Milk Establishments

The Quality Assurance Branch (QAB) is a service delivery unit of DARD’s Rural Payments and Inspections Division. In addition to the work that QAB delivers for DARD it provides an enforcement service on behalf of the Agency, in accordance with a Service Level Agreement, in relation to milk hygiene, egg packing establishments and related services. This includes obtaining samples of milk for analyses by AFBI, from milk production holdings and liquid milk establishments, to ensure that legislative requirements are being fulfilled by food business operators. In this incident QAB obtained samples of milk from dairy farms that had received contaminated feed and submitted these to AFBI for analyses.

Agri-food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI)

AFBI delivers a range of scientific services to DARD, the Agency, other government departments and agencies and the private sector. In the context of this incident AFBI provided testing facilities in respect of analyses for the presence of PCB markers in milk, fat from bovine carcases and animal feed.

Central Science Laboratory

The Central Science Laboratory (CSL) in York, which from 1 April 2009 became part of the Food and Environment Research Agency (fera), is the national reference laboratory for dioxin testing in the United Kingdom. There are no laboratories in Northern Ireland that are accredited for dioxin testing and samples of milk, fat from bovine carcases and feed that required such analyses were forwarded to CSL by AFBI at the request of the Agency. The results of analyses of bovine fat samples undertaken by CSL were reported to AFBI, who upon receipt shared the information with the Agency and other relevant government departments in NI. The results of analyses of milk samples undertaken by CSL were reported to The Agency, who upon receipt shared the information with DARD and other relevant government departments in NI. The Agency requested DARD VPHU and QAB to communicate results of fat and milk analyses respectively to the food business operators (i.e. farmers) whose herds had been sampled in the context of this incident.

Local Authorities

Local Authorities, i.e. District Councils, in NI were not involved in the sampling activities in this incident. District Councils are the competent authorities in NI for food safety in establishments other than those that are subject to control by DARD as described above. In the context of this incident District Councils were required to action Food Alerts issued by the Agency. This involved conducting investigations in NI into the processing and distribution of pork products containing pork meat sourced from RoI and ensuring that such food was removed from the food chain as necessary.

Animal Feed

DARD and the Agency are the joint “competent authority" within the meaning of the European Union (EU) legislation for animal feed matters. The Agency has policy responsibility while DARD’s Quality Assurance Branch (QAB) is responsible for enforcement. The costs of enforcement fall to DARD. The only exceptions are medicated feeds and feed legislation relating to Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy’s, such as BSE or Scrape for which DARD is the competent authority. DARD is responsible for the implementation of all EU animal feed legislation and is the enforcement authority in its own right in respect of animal feed in Northern Ireland.

In this incident samples of animal feed were taken by QAB officers and submitted to AFBI for analyses for the presence of PCB markers and subsequently to CSL for dioxin testing. Responsibility for communication of the results of these analyses to farmers lay with QAB as the enforcement authority for feed.

DARD QAB also had responsibility for ensuring that where contaminated feed was found at farm and distribution levels in Northern Ireland appropriate formal enforcement action was taken to detain the feed and prevent it being fed to animals intended for human consumption. In these cases formal samples of feed were obtained and submitted to Euro fins (NI) Ltd for dioxin testing by the Agricultural Analyst in order to provide the evidence necessary for the use of formal enforcement powers to seek condemnation of the feed had that been necessary.

b (ii) Legislative Framework

This incident raised a number of issues regarding detention and slaughter of animals. Action under existing Animal Health, Food Safety and Residues legislation was considered but appropriate actions were somewhat limited.

Modern food and feed law emanates mainly from the European Union. In Northern Ireland the primary domestic legislation regarding food is the Food Safety (Northern Ireland) Order 1991 (as amended).

Statutory rules have been made under that Order and under section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 implementing European Community law where required.

EC Regulation 178/2002 lays down the general principles and requirements of food law, establishing a European Food Safety Authority and laying down procedures in matters in food safety. Food law, as defined, applies also to feed produced for, or fed to, food producing animals.

However, in respect of the contamination of cattle by dioxins as distinct from the contamination of food derived from those cattle, it is considered that the specific provisions of this Regulation are not engaged, as live cattle are not food.

The relevant background legal provisions are considered to be:

(a) In respect of the contamination of animal feed by dioxins-

  • EC Directive 2002/32 on undesirable substances in animal feed. -Article 3.2 and Annex 1 set out the maximum permitted level for dioxins and dioxin-like PCBs in feed.

This has been implemented in Northern Ireland by the Feeding Stuffs Regulations (NI) 2005 (as amended by S.R. 2006 No.471) and the Feed (Hygiene and Enforcement) Regulations (NI) 2005. There is no requirement to detain or cull animals in the relevant EC Law and no power to do so in domestic feed law.

(b) In respect of the contamination of food by dioxins-

  • EC Regulation 1881/2006 sets maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs; Section 5, paragraph 5.1 of the Annex to which relates specifically to levels of dioxins and PCBs permitted in meat and meat products. The Regulation provides that food shall not be placed on the market if it exceeds the permitted level.

At the time of the incident the above EC Regulation was implemented in Northern Ireland by the Contaminants in Food Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007 (S.R. 2007 No 66), which also provided for inspection and seizure powers for district councils in respect of food that does not comply with the Regulation and destruction of that food subsequent to a successful application to a District Judge. (These regulations were revoked and re-enacted on 1 July 2009 by the Contaminants in Food Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2009 (S.R. 2009 No 220))

Live Cattle contaminated by dioxins

The legal provisions governing live cattle contaminated by dioxins, or suspected of such contamination, are set out in EC Regulation 853/2004 laying down specific hygiene rules for food of animal origin and EC Regulation 854/2004 laying down specific rules for the organisation of official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption.

Regulation 853/2004 imposes obligations upon food business operators handling products of animal origin. Regulation 854/2004 provides how competent authorities should carry out official controls as regards those food business operators and products. Regulations 853/2004 and 854/2004 were implemented in NI by the Food Hygiene Regulations (NI) 2006.

It is considered that the relevant provisions of these Regulations as detailed below prevent animals from potentially affected herds from automatically entering the food chain, due to the fact that the official veterinarian was aware of the “flagged status" of these animals via the electronic Animal and Public Health Information System (APHIS) as well as via mandatory information supplied to the slaughterhouse operator on the origin of the cattle and the feed fed to them. The official veterinarian (OV) is a DARD employee carrying out official controls in the slaughterhouse as an authorized officer of the Agency, which is the competent authority in this regard.

Regulations 853/2004 and 854/2004 do not provide powers to cull live cattle on farm although they do provide appropriate powers to prevent affected cattle from going into the food chain. In that regard, they provide that permission of the competent authority is required before animals are transported to the slaughterhouse and impose certain conditions which apply at slaughter which would prevent the meat from the animals going into the food chain.

EU Regulation 853/2004 provides:

(a) at point 2 of Chapter I of Section I of Annex III says that –

“Animals …. originating in herds known to be contaminated with agents of public health importance may only be transported to the slaughterhouse when the competent authority so permits."

(b) and at point 3 of Chapter IV of Section I of Annex III says that -

“The animals or, where appropriate, each batch of animals sent for slaughter must be identified so that their origin can be traced."

EU Regulation 854/2004 provides:

(a) at, point 8 of Chapter III of Section II of Annex I says that other than in exceptional cases, such as a serious breakdown in the slaughter facilities, animals must be slaughtered once they have arrived at the abattoir: where there are exceptional circumstances they can go to another abattoir, not back to the holding of origin.

(b) at, point 2(a) of Chapter III of Section I of Annex I says that the OV is to ensure that the health mark is only to be applied where there are no grounds for declaring the meat unfit for human consumption.

(c) at, point 1 of Chapter V of Section II of Annex I says that meat is to be declared unfit for human consumption if -

  • it contains contaminants in excess of the levels laid down under Community legislation
  • in the opinion of the OV and after examination of all the relevant information it may constitute a risk to animal or public health or is for any other reason not suitable for human consumption

(d) at, point 5 of Chapter III of Section II of Annex I says that the slaughter of animals suspected of having a condition that may adversely affect human or animal health is to be deferred and the OV may decide that sampling and laboratory examinations are to take place to supplement post-mortem examination.

It is considered that these provisions provided appropriate powers to prevent affected cattle from going into the food chain.

Regulation (EC) 178/2002

The purpose of Regulation (EC) 178/2002 is to ensure the free movement of safe and wholesome food and achieve a high level of protection of human life and health throughout the Community. The Regulation sets out food safety requirements in Article 14 and provides that food is deemed to be unsafe if it is considered to be:

a) injurious to health, or;

b) unfit for human consumption.

Similar requirements are set out for feed in Article 15. The responsibility for ensuring that food or feed satisfies the requirements is placed on food business operators “at all stages of production, processing and distribution within the businesses under their control" (Article 17). It is for member states to enforce food law, and monitor and verify that the relevant requirements are fulfilled and for that purpose they must maintain a system of official controls. Article 18 requires food business operators to have in place systems and procedures to establish the traceability of food, feed, food-producing animals and any other substance intended to be incorporated into food. Article 19 places a responsibility on food business operators to withdraw and recall food where they have reason to believe that food is not in compliance with food safety requirements (i.e. those in Article 14); and to inform the competent authorities. Regulation 178/2002 also sets up a rapid alert system, which is a network enabling notification across all member states of risks to human health deriving from food or feed (Article 50). Such notifications are known as RASFFs.

The controls as laid down in Regulation (EC) No. 854/2004 are a combination of inspection and audit tasks. The purpose of these inspections and audits are to verify that the FBO has complied with food law. Article 1 Scope, point 3 states: “the performance of official controls pursuant to this Regulation shall be without prejudice to food business operators’ primary legal responsibility for ensuring food safety as laid down in Regulation (EC) No. 178/2002 …….and any civil or criminal liability arising from the breach of their obligations".

Food and Environment Protection Act 1985 (FEPA)

The power to make a FEPA order exists (section 1 of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985) where-

‘in the opinion of a designating authority... there exist or may exist circumstances which are likely to create a hazard to human health through human consumption of food and... in consequence food which is in a [specified area].. or which is or may be in the future derived from anything in such an area, is or may be, or may become, unsuitable for human consumption’.

A FEPA order may make a wide variety of prohibitions as regards a specified area (including ‘prohibit the movement of food or anything from which food could be derived’) The order could prohibit movements of animals but crucially could not require their slaughter.

The power to make a FEPA order is not often used, and normally voluntary restrictions are agreed if at all possible.

Section 25 applies the Food and Environment Protection Act to Northern Ireland and states that the designating authority ‘means the Department for Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland’ (text inserted by the Food Standards Act 1999 (Schedule 5)).

A FEPA order could be made if the view was taken that the consumption of meat from affected animals ‘may be likely to create a hazard to human health through human consumption of food’.

Detention of Animal Feed

The incident also raised an issue with regard to the time period for which animal feed can be detained in order to establish that it complies with the requirements of specified feed law. This provision is provided at Regulation 25 of The Feed (Hygiene and Enforcement) Regulations (NI) 2005 (S.R. 2005 No. 546). An authorised officer who exercises the powers under this Regulation to detain material that appears to him to fail to comply with the requirements of specified feed law, by way of notice, must:

“as soon as is reasonably practicable and in any event within 21 days determine whether or not he is satisfied that the material complies with the requirements…"

and –

“(a) if he is so satisfied, forthwith withdraw the notice;
(b) if he is not so satisfied, proceed to have the matter dealt with by a lay magistrate…"

In the context of this complex incident, in which the carrying out and reporting of certified analyses for dioxins required a significant period of time, it proved difficult for authorised officers to adhere to the prescribed time limit of 21 days.

(c) To identify the strengths and weaknesses of the key roles, responsibilities and inter-relationships of relevant authorities and in respect of the sampling, testing, confirmation, communication and follow-up in respect of dioxin contamination of live animals, meat and other products ;
C (i) Food Standards Agency Strengths
  • The Agency acted promptly, when advised by FSAI in RoI of the contamination and withdrawal of RoI pork, to advise consumers not to consume pork and pork products produced in RoI as a precaution. Similarly when the extent of contamination of beef cattle in NI fed contaminated feed was established the Agency promptly advised consumers that there was no significant risk associated with consumption of NI beef.
  • The Agency initiated its Incident Response Protocol and established a high level Gold Command to provide strategic direction to the handling of the incident. A multi-disciplinary Silver Command, which included amongst others scientific experts on dioxins, was also established to consider and initiate appropriate actions at operational levels.
  • The Agency ensured throughout the incident that appropriate action was taken by DARD VPHU and QAB, acting on behalf of the Agency, to ensure that public health was protected and compliance with food safety requirements was achieved by preventing contaminated animals and milk from entering the food chain. The Agency also ensured that appropriate action was taken by District Councils to identify and withdraw pork and pork products manufactured from pork meat originating in RoI.
  • The Agency established an effective working relationship with representatives of the NI agri-food industry. This was achieved by convening meetings of relevant parties as and when required, meeting with industry representatives at their request and one-to-one contact where appropriate. The Agency also willingly participated in meetings with farmers that were convened by DARD.
C (ii) Weaknesses
  • The lack of legal provisions to require the slaughter and disposal of animals that are so contaminated, e.g. with dioxins at levels exceeding maximum permitted levels, to prevent then entering the food chain
  • The limited period of detention of feed (21 days) that is currently provided for under the Feed (Hygiene and Enforcement) Regulations (NI) 2005, which is pertinent in situations where sampling requiring complex and time consuming analyses are required.
(d) To make recommendations arising out of the above investigation to protect the Northern Ireland agricultural industry

NIEA’s Environmental Crime Unit, the competent authority in NI, is currently leading an investigation into this incident and it would be inappropriate to make any recommendations at this time until this investigation has been completed.

The NI Executive is also conducting a two part review of this incident.

Annex A

Food Standards Agency Northern Ireland (FSANI)
Chronology of Food Safety Incident: -
Dioxin and Dioxin-like PCBs in Beef, Pork and their Products from the Republic of Ireland (RoI) and Northern Ireland (NI)

05.12.2008
  • 15:32 – KD received copy of DAFF e-mail to DARD VS, which included details of 8 premises in NI that were reported to have received suspect contaminated feed from premises in RoI. Accompanying press statement from DAFF indicated that they were awaiting further test results that would not be available until next week.
  • 16:45 – KD contacted DARD VS, to enquire as to specific markers detected and their levels (not known). DARD VS informed that restrictions were to be placed on implicated herds
  • 16:50 – KD informed GMcC and FSA Incidents Branch, London
06.12.2008
  • 21:00 – Irish Government announce recall of all pork and pork products. FSAI issue food alert requiring industry in RoI to recall Irish pork and bacon products manufactured since 1 September 2008 and advises consumers, as a precautionary measure, not to consume such products at this time and to dispose of any purchased since 1 September 2008.
  • 21:15 – BBC NI journalist Martin Cassidy telephoned ED to ask for a comment on the emerging situation with pork in RoI
  • 21:20 – ED telephoned GMcC to alert him to the situation
  • 21:30 – ED telephoned FSA Duty Press Officer (Brad Smythe) to discuss handling
  • 21:50 – GMcC contacted Deputy Chief Executive of FSAI to establish facts of action in RoI who was unable to discuss and undertook to contact GMcC as soon as possible.
  • 22:00 – KD contacted GMcC to discuss emerging situation in RoI
  • 22:30 – KD spoke to DARD CVO to arrange meeting for 07.12.08
  • 22:35 – GMcC discussed the issue with the Deputy Chief Executive of FSAI
  • 21:45 – ED telephoned Joe McDonald, Communications Director of Ulster Farmers’ Union to discuss situation with him
07.12.2008
  • 08:30 – GMcC called key staff to meet in FSANI office to deal with incident
  • 09:30 – ED took phone call from EIS On-Call Press Officer Gillian McKeown to discuss incident. Informs her that meeting between DARD and FSANI was taking place later that morning
    12:00 – Meeting held with FSANI staff and DARD CVO to discuss incident
  • 13:30 – GMcC briefed Health Minister by telephone to inform him of the incident
  • 14:00 – Web statement published by FSA on food.gov.uk advising consumers not to eat any pork or pork products labelled as being from RoI or NI
    15:05 – FSANI sent submission to Health Minister
  • 8 premises in NI identified as having received contaminated feed from RoI supplier
  • Numerous media enquiries received and several media interviews facilitated both face-to-face and down the line with GMcC
  • Regular contact maintained with FSA Press Officer Brad Smythe and EIS Press Officer Gillian McKeown throughout the course of the day
  • 17:00 – KD contacted DAFF in RoI to request details of affected pig herds in RoI
    18:12 – KD made contact with pork processors and farming representatives to arrange a meeting at FSANI offices to be held at 14:30 on 8th December
08.12.2008
  • 08:00 – Further media enquiries received and two media interviews facilitated with BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Radio Foyle (GMcC)
  • 08:30 – Pre-meeting held via VC with senior staff from FSA HQ
    10:30 – Scoping meeting held in FSA HQ with industry representatives
  • 11:45 – FSA Gold command meeting held
  • 11:45 – GMcC and MJa meet with Health Minister to brief on incident
  • 12:43 – DAFF confirm to KD that affected beef herds in RoI have been identified, detained and are being sampled
  • 13:00 – FSANI pre-meeting held with DARD to discuss handling of industry meeting.
  • 13:45 – FSA Gold command meeting held to discuss incident. Decision taken by FSA Gold command that it would be disproportionate to recall NI pork and pork products at this time, as evidence is not yet available that NI pork is contaminated
  • 14:30 – Meeting held with meat, feed, farming and retail industry representatives at FSANI offices. DARD, AFBI and Invest NI representatives in attendance
  • DARD verified that no NI pigs had been fed the contaminated feed
  • FSA requested that all Northern Ireland retailers to hold pork and pork products until it can be established that it does not contain RoI pork
  • 1 dairy herd known to have been fed contaminated feed. DARD QAB requested to ensure that milk from the herd is not placed on the market and to obtain samples for PCB analysis by AFBI. Milk from this herd was being supplied to a processing establishment in ROI
  • 4 further beef herds identified by DARD, through forward tracing checks from haulier, as possibly having received contaminated feed
  • 12 processing premises in NI identified as having received pork from RoI. FSANI contact District Councils (DCs) concerned by telephone and request DCs to ensure that this pork is recalled
  • 15:30 – GMcC and MJa called to support Health Minister in addressing the Assembly, giving an update on the situation
  • 15:30 – DARD CVO confirms that animals that have moved off affected farms have not moved outside NI and that these animals have been restricted
  • 17:12 – Update reiterating advice on pork is published on FSA website
  • 19:16 – Further update on pork published on FSA website
09.12.2008
  • 08:00 – FSA Gold command meeting held
  • 08:30 – MJ facilitated two interviews on BBC Radio Ulster (Good Morning Ulster and Nolan Show)
  • 10:30 – FSANI and FSA officials attend meeting with DAFF in Dublin to discuss the contaminated animal feed
  • 10:30 – GMcC and MJ attend Stormont for briefing meeting with Health Minister regarding media handling
  • 10:30 – FSA Silver Command meeting held
  • 13:54 – KD requests clarification from DAFF that feed supplied from the implicated source in RoI prior to 1 September 2008 is not affected by this incident
  • 14:00 – FSA Gold command meeting held
  • 14:00 – KD attends meeting with DHSSPS
  • 14:41 – Update published on Irish beef on FSA website advising that FSAI has concluded that there is no public health concern in respect of beef herds in RoI that have been fed contaminated feed. Update also advises that 9 farms in NI have received contaminated feed and that animals in these herds have been restricted from entering the food chain.
  • 16:50 – FSANI issues FAFA 74/2008 to district councils requiring action to ensure that all pork meat/products originating from RoI are withdrawn from food chain. FAFA includes list of processors in NI confirmed as having received pork meat from RoI and confirms that pork derived exclusively from NI pigs is not affected by this alert.
  • 18:12 – List published on FSA website of the meat processors in the RoI affected by the pork incident and also meat companies in UK that have received pork products from these companies
  • A second dairy herd was identified through forward tracing from haulier as having been fed potentially contaminated feed. FSANI requested DARD QAB to obtain milk samples for PCB analysis by AFBI and ensure that milk from the herd is not placed on the market
  • Agreement reached that samples of bovine fat from 5 animals from each affected beef herd will be obtained by DARD VS and submitted to AFBI for PCB analysis
10.12.2008
  • 08:00 - FSA Gold command meeting held
  • FSANI holds meeting with meat processors. The processors are requested to hold all meat within their control from affected herds pending test results
  • 10:30 – FSA Silver command meeting held.
  • Meeting held in AVH to provide update to industry stakeholders.
  • DARD arranges collection of samples of fat from 5 carcases from each herd and submits these to AFBI for analysis for PCB markers
  • FSA Chief Executive provides an oral update to the Agency’s Board
  • EFSA publishes its statement on the likely impact of eating contaminated Irish pork for the duration of the incident (1st Sept – 6th Dec). It concludes that regular consumers of Irish pork should not worry about their health as a result of this incident. EFSA also concludes that it is not necessary to recall composite products produced during this period that only contain up to 20% Irish pork.
  • 14:00 – KD invited to represent FSANI at DARD Emergency Control Group Meetings
  • 14:35 – FSA publishes web story advising of EFSA statement and that investigations have revealed that pork and pork products entirely reared, slaughtered and processed in Northern Ireland are unaffected by this incident
  • 16:45 – FSANI participate in NI Government teleconference
  • 16:26 – Updated information regarding the EFSA advice published on FSA website
  • 18:05 – FSA Gold command meeting held
11.12.2008
  • 08:00 – FSA Gold command meeting held.
  • FSANI requests DARD to de-restrict two beef herds following DARD confirmation that they did not receive contaminated feed
  • FSANI advises DARD QAB that milk from the first Dairy herd is allowed to enter the food chain following receipt of negative PCB marker test results from milk sample analysed by AFBI. The cattle from the herd remain restricted
  • 09:55 – MJ sends e-mail to DCs advising that FSA is awaiting EFSA statement and further instructions will be issued once that has been received
  • 10:00 – MJ and MJa meet with NIMEA representatives to clarify the position with regard to holding meat from affected farms still within their control and beef processors advised to hold any hung carcase meat from affected farms until further notice
  • 10:10 – FSA participates in DEFRA Bird Table by teleconference
  • 10:30 – FSA Silver command meeting held.
  • 15:41 – Update on pork situation published on FSA website advising consumers that Irish pork and pork products are back on the shelves and clarifies that such products manufactured before 1 September 2008 and after 7 December 2008 are not subject to the recall of RoI pork
  • 16:13 – FSANI issues Update 1 to FAFA 74/2008 to DC’s in NI on action to be taken regarding pork and pork products from RoI. Update clarifies that where it can be demonstrated that pork and pork products from RoI did not come from affected herds and was not exposed to contaminated feed these can be released for sale and that composite products containing up to 20% RoI pork can be released for sale
  • 16:15 – FSANI participate in NI Government teleconference.
12.12.2008
  • 08:00 – FSA Gold command meeting held
  • 10:30 – FSA Silver command meeting held
  • 11.30 – FSA participates in DEFRA Bird Table by teleconference
  • EC SCoFCAH decides that in relation to this incident pigs and cattle that had consumed affected feed should not be cleared on the basis of PCB marker results alone but should await full dioxin testing
  • Letter issued from Chair of FSA to all MPs and MEPs in the UK updating them on the incident
  • 15:00 – MJ provides a verbal and written update to HSSPS Committee
  • 16:00 – Meeting by teleconference held between FSANI, DARD, DHSSPS, DETI, Invest NI and AFBI to discuss new testing regime for dioxins and agree required actions
  • 20:00 – FSANI convenes further meeting with DARD, DHSSPS, DETI, Invest NI and AFBI to discuss new testing regime for dioxins and agree required actions
13.12.2008
  • 13:00 – FSA Gold command meeting held
  • FSA arranges to have bovine fat samples from all of the affected herds to be sent by AFBI to CSL for full dioxin testing. First 2 samples sent to CSL.
  • FSA advises DARD that milk from the second dairy herd can be allowed to enter the food chain following consideration of epidemiological information that herd was not fed feed from within the window of contamination, as advised by RoI, and negative PCB marker results from AFBI. The dairy herd remains restricted from moving to slaughter until meat dioxin sample results are obtained
  • FSANI staff in the office until 16:00 awaiting notification from DARD on a meeting with farming representatives, however, a meeting did not take place.
14.12.2008
  • 17:56 FSANI confirms to DARD that two beef herds can be de-restricted on the basis of on farm inspections by DARD officials and negative PCB marker results. DARD has confirmed that these herds had not been fed contaminated feed. 8 herds remain restricted
    FSANI staff in the office until 18:30 awaiting notification from DARD on a meeting with farming representatives, however, a meeting did not take place
15.12.2008
  • 08:00 – FSA Gold command meeting held
  • GMcC, KD and ED attend a breakfast meeting at Stormont organised jointly by Health, Agriculture and Enterprise Ministers to endorse NI pork and pork products
  • GMcC, KD and ED accompany DARD representatives to a meeting with beef industry and farming representatives to update them on the SCoFCAH decision and requirements for further testing for dioxins
  • Beef industry representatives are requested to forward to FSANI details of the quantity of meat from affected herds that they are holding
  • MJ and KD attend meeting with CVO to discuss actions required when dioxin results become available
  • 15:00 – FSA Gold command meeting held
    A joint DARD, DHSSPS and FSANI press release is issued confirming that beef, pork and milk on sale in NI presents no concerns for public health as a result of this incident
  • Arrangements are now in place for enforcement authorities to authorise and release for human consumption, or to dispose of, pork and pork products prepared in NI using pork from RoI
  • 16:32 – Update on the pork situation is published on the FSA website, giving details of Update 2 to FAFA 74/2008 issued to enforcement authorities that provides further information on additional companies in UK that have been identified as having received pork meat from RoI
  • CSL commences dioxin analysis of first 2 samples of bovine fat. Remaining samples of bovine fat sent by AFBI to CSL
16.12.2008
  • 10:00 – FSANI convenes a further meeting with meat industry representatives to clarify volumes of affected and unaffected meat produced between 1st September and 6th December and initial PCB marker results from analysis conducted by AFBI
  • FSA Gold command meeting held
  • FSA Silver command meeting held.
  • FSANI attends NI Government teleconference
17.12.2008
  • FSA Gold command meeting held
    FSA Silver command meeting held
    NI Government group meeting took place at FSANI with video-link to FSA HQ. Risk assessment and sample results management issues were discussed
18.12.2008
  • RoI issues dioxin results for 4 RoI beef herds. FSAI releases a statement emphasising that consumers should have no concerns about eating beef and retailers are not required to take any action regarding beef
  • FSA Gold command meeting held
  • FSA Silver command meeting held.
  • FSANI officials met with Beef industry representatives to update them on the RoI results and explain the timeline for receiving NI dioxin results from CSL
  • 17:10 – Statement published on FSA website reassuring consumers about eating Irish beef
19.12.2008
  • CSL confirms that 4 bovine fat samples tested have failed laboratory quality assurance checks and will have to be repeated
20.12.2008
  • FSANI, DAFF, FSAI and DARD officials discuss the RoI risk management strategy to depopulate herds containing contaminated animals
  • 10.00 – FSA attends teleconference held with NI Government Group to consider indicative results from CSL that bovine fat results obtained from 6 NI herds are indicatively positive for dioxins and exceed maximum permitted levels. FSANI requested DARD to inform the farmers concerned.
  • CSL confirms that bovine fat samples from 3 herds are positive for dioxins and exceed maximum permitted levels
21.12.2008
  • 14:00 – FSANI attends NI Government teleconference to discuss positive dioxin results
  • 15:00 – FSANI officials meet with Beef industry representatives to discuss the confirmed positive dioxin results and the implications for meat held in abattoirs
22.12.2008
  • 10:00 – FSA Gold Command meeting held. There are now confirmed positive results from CSL of dioxin results for samples from 3 herds and indicative positive results for 3 other herds. Samples from the remaining 2 herds require to be retested by CSL due to quality assurance failures. FSANI requests DARD to inform the farmers concerned.
  • FSA Silver command meeting held.
  • 14:00 – FSANI attends NI Government teleconference. DARD confirms that it will be starting dialogue with affected farmers today
  • FSA in direct dialogue with EC Directorate General Sanco regarding a risk management strategy for positive beef herds. FSA confirms to Directorate General Sanco that the restriction of all 8 herds is continuing and that affected meat has been withdrawn from the market
  • 15:51 – FSA issues advice to consumers via website. Assurances are provided to consumers. They should not be concerned about eating NI beef as the risk to public health remains extremely low
23.12.2008
  • A statement is prepared by FSANI (cleared by DHSSPS) for tabling at a meeting of the NI Executive
  • MJ, MJa and ED meet with Richard Moore, Joint Managing Director Linden Foods and Chairman of NIFDA
  • 14:30 – FSANI participate in NI Government teleconference. Group agrees to bring NIEA into the discussions to advise on the safe disposal of affected beef carcasses and pork and pork products to minimise environmental contamination. FSANI requests DARD to inform the affected farmers and FSANI agrees to discuss results with affected processors
  • CSL issues confirmed results for bovine fat from the 3 herds that were indicatively positive on 20.12.2008. A total of 6 herds have been confirmed as positive for dioxins and test results are awaited for 2 herds that require retesting due to laboratory quality control failure.
24.12.2008 – 05.01.2009
  • No further results received from CSL over the Christmas period
29.12.2008
  • 12:00 – FSANI participate in NI Government teleconference. DARD advised that they have spoken to the affected farmers and informed them of the positive results.
05.01.2009
  • Indicative positive dioxin results in bovine fat, in excess of the maximum permitted level, are received from CSL for the remaining two herds
  • FSA Silver command meeting held.
  • FSANI participate in NI Government teleconference
06.01.2009
  • FSA Gold command meeting held.
  • 13:45 – FSANI officials discuss the latest indicative results with the DCVO at DAFF. One of the herds had only received feed on the 9th July and again on the 19th November. These deliveries were well outside the window of contamination previously advised by RoI i.e. 1st September – 25th October. The DCVO at DAFF confirms that the implicated feed mill had been using oil from the implicated source since early June 2008. This information suggests all feed produced by the mill since June as having been potentially contaminated
  • 16:00 –Based on the new information from DAFF detailed above, FSANI requests DARD to re-restrict a further 2 beef herds (that had previously been de-restricted on the basis that they had not received implicated feed during the original advised window of contamination) as they had received feed in June and July from the implicated source
  • Meat from these 2 herds is traced and held pending dioxin test results
  • FSANI requests AFBI to make arrangements to send bovine fat samples previously collected at the time of first restriction, but not submitted, to be sent to CSL for dioxin analysis
07.01.2009
  • Bovine fat samples from the 2 additional herds re-restricted yesterday sent by AFBI to CSL
  • 13:45 – Meeting held with FSANI, DARD, DHSSPS, DETI, INI, NIEA and AFBI to discuss the re-restriction of the 2 beef herds, the collection of milk samples from the 2 implicated dairy farms for dioxin testing to seek reassurance that the milk entering the food chain was compliant and the sampling of slurry from the affected farms. DARD QAB requested to obtain samples of milk from the farms concerned and submit to AFBI for forwarding to CSL. DARD requested sub-groups to be set up to consider slurry on farms that had received contaminated feed and communications. Representatives from all Departments agreed to participate as appropriate.
    FSA attended a DEFRA hosted teleconference and also attended by DARD. DEFRA advised that they had been unable to identify any powers to require affected animals to be culled and confirmed that there were powers to prevent affected animals from entering the food chain. It was agreed that these powers would be used to prevent the affected animals moving to slaughter. Legal teams from each organisation agreed to come together to further explore the legal position regarding live animals and their movement
08.01.2009
  • FSA receives a letter from a solicitor representing 3 of the affected farmers outlining their decision to seek a Judicial Review of the action taken by DARD and FSA in this incident
  • Milk samples taken from both dairy herds by DARD QAB and delivered to AFBI for forwarding to CSL for dioxin analysis
09.01.2009
  • Discussions between FSANI and Alan Reilly, FSAI Deputy Chief Executive, take place. He explains that a further visit and interview with the proprietor of the implicated feed mill revealed that clean feed produced after 25th October was placed on top of contaminated feed produced between 1st September and 25th October. This could explain low levels of dioxin contamination in fat samples from animals fed feed delivered in November from the implicated source
13.01.2009
  • FSANI participates in meeting of NI Government sub-group on communications. Terms of Reference of sub-group agreed and lines to take document produced
    FSANI officials attend a meeting of affected farmers organised by DARD to update them on the incident and actions taken to date. FSANI agrees to consider de-restricting cohorts of animals within herds that had not been fed affected feed and had been physically segregated from those animals in the herds that had been fed contaminated feed
14.01.2009
  • FSA Silver command meeting held.
15.01.2009
  • The NI Executive agrees to introduce a voluntary cull and disposal scheme to deal with the animals in the affected herds. Under the terms of the scheme the Executive undertook to part compensate farmers for the costs of slaughter and rendering of the animals.
  • Further samples of milk obtained from 2 affected dairy herds by DARD QAB and submitted to AFBI for forwarding to CSL for dioxin testing to establish if levels have fallen to below maximum permitted level.
  • FSANI participate in NI Government teleconference.
16.01.2009
  • Negative dioxin results are received from CSL for bovine fat samples from one of the re-restricted herds. FSANI requests DARD to de-restrict this herd
20.01.2009
  • FSANI participate in NI Government teleconference. Recent dioxin results and cull scheme discussed.
21.01.2009
  • Application hearing for Judicial Review takes place in High Court, Belfast. The Applicant is tasked by the Court with rewriting the grounds for the application. FSA and DARD are requested by the Court to communicate individual sample results to each of the farmers seeking Judicial Review and undertake to do so
22.01.2009
  • Negative dioxin results are received from CSL for bovine fat samples from the second re-restricted herd. FSANI requests DARD to de-restrict this herd
23.01.2009
  • FSANI officials attend a meeting with farmers organised by DARD to update them on Executive and EC discussions regarding the proposed voluntary cull
27.01.2009
  • FSANI requests DARD to de-restrict a number of animals from two affected herds that DARD officials verified had not been fed affected feed and had been physically segregated from those animals in the herds that had been fed contaminated feed
  • An application by 3 farmers, whose herds were affected by the contaminated feed, for leave to bring proceedings for JR in respect of the actions taken by DARD and FSA in this incident was granted in the Belfast High Court. The JR hearing is scheduled for 16th March 2009
04.02.2009
  • CSL reported that milk samples taken from both dairy herds on 8th January were just above the maximum permissible EC level for dioxins. The Agency instructs DARD QAB to take appropriate steps to ensure that no further milk from these herds enters the food chain and requests further samples of milk to be taken from both herds on 5th February and 19th February.
  • FSANI officials attend a meeting with farmers arranged by DARD and attended by the Minister of Agriculture
05.02.2009
  • FSA Silver Command meeting held.
  • FSANI advises NI government group that FSA intends to publish a web story regarding the restriction of the affected milk and assuring consumers regarding risk to health.
  • FSA publishes web story regarding the restriction of the affected milk and assuring consumers regarding risk to health.
06.02.09
  • Numerous media enquiries taken and interviews facilitated. GMcC acted as FSANI spokesperson
    Results from the second set of milk samples taken from both dairy herds on the 15th January were received from CSL by the Agency. These results show that dioxin levels had fallen but were not below the maximum permitted level
09.02.2009
  • The JR hearing previously scheduled for 16th March is rescheduled to 20th May 2009.
16.02.2009
  • 14:30 – FSANI attend meeting convened by DARD with affected farmers
26.02.2009
  • Results of the third set of milk samples taken from the two dairy herds on the 5th February received by FSA from CSL. These showed that dioxin levels in both herds were falling with one sample now marginally below the maximum permissible EC level and one still above. Milk from both farms remains restricted from entering the food chain.
05.03.2009
  • FSA Silver command meeting held.
11.03.2009
  • DARD puts in place the arrangements for a voluntary cull and disposal scheme for the affected farmers. All farmers must decide on whether or not they wish to avail of this scheme by 16 March 2009
12.03.2009
  • Results of the fourth set of milk samples taken from the two dairy herds on 19th February received by FSA from CSL. These showed that dioxin levels in both samples were below the maximum permissible level, however, milk from these herds does not enter the food chain as both farmers concerned have agreed to participate in the cull.
19.03.2009
  • The EC Directorate General Agriculture approves the NI Emergency Support Measure covering the voluntary cull and disposal of dioxin affected cattle, disposal of eligible meat, and a hardship scheme for affected farmers and meat processors
10.04.2009
  • The cull and disposal of all implicated animals, together with the disposal of beef and pork meat, took three weeks to complete from the 21st of March until the 10th of April.
    Approximately 4,400 animals from the 8 affected farms in NI were culled and rendered.
  • A number of animals were excluded from the cull on the following basis: -

(a) Animals that were at no time present on contaminated farms and did not come into contact with contaminated animals, and were kept at locations such as out-farms which did not receive contaminated feed.

(b) Calves born into dairy herds and for which potential exposure was limited to a short period of milk from affected cows.

(c) Cohorts of cattle present on affected farms but which did not receive contaminated feed and did not come into contact with contaminated animals. These animals were only de-restricted after full dioxin/PCB testing of pooled samples taken by live biopsy were shown to be compliant and congener profiles contained no evidence of exposure to contaminated feed.

(d) Casualty animals slaughtered during the period of restriction and which in any event would not enter the food chain.

These exclusions were agreed in advance with the European Commission. Approximately 400 tonnes of implicated beef and pork products have also been disposed of as part of the scheme.

  • All of the remaining contaminated feed, approximately 90 tonnes including mixtures containing contaminated feed, has been returned to the premises of origin in the RoI.
  • The Solicitor for three of the farmers with affected herds has withdrawn their application for leave to bring proceedings for JR in respect of the actions taken by DARD and FSA in this incident.
  • NIEA is taking the lead in relation to the resolution of issues relating to the most contaminated slurry on farms, working with DARD and the Agency.

Key

AFBI - Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute

AVH - Aviation House

CSL - Central Services Laboratory

CVO - Chief Veterinary Officer

DAFF - Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (in Republic of Ireland)

DARD - Department of Agriculture and Rural Development

DARD QAB - Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Quality Assurance Branch

DC - District Council

DCVO - Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer

DEFRA - Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

DETI - Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment

DHSSPS - Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety

ED - Elaine Donaghy

EFSA - European Food Safety Authority

EIS - Executive Information Service

FAFA - Food Alert for Action

FSAI - Food Safety Authority of Ireland

GMcC - Gerry McCurdy

HSSPS - Health, Social Services and Public Safety

INI - Invest Northern Ireland

JR - Judicial Review

KD - Kirsten Dunbar

MJ - Maria Jennings

MJa - Michael Jackson

NIEA - Northern Ireland Environment Agency

NIFDA - Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association

NIMEA - Northern Ireland Meat Exporters Association

PCBs - Polychlorinated Biphenols

VS - Veterinary Service

SCoFCAH - Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health

Annex B

Timeline for dioxin analysis of cattle fat samples at CSL

Sample
Identification
Ear Tag No
To CSL
Date sample received by CSL
Final CSL Report Number
Date indicative results received by AFBI from CSL
Date indicative results passed to NI “Teleconference group"
Date confirmed results received by AFBI from CSL
Date confirmed results test report passed to NI “Teleconference Group"
PL 51704 Herd 07001, Fulton UK 9 171279 1755 5 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120
19/12/2008
19/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51705 Herd 07001, Fulton UK 9 632035 2416 2 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124-2
 
 
1/14/2009
1/14/2009
PL 51706 Herd 07001, Fulton UK 9 47274 1207 5 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124
 
 
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51707 Herd 07001, Fulton UK 9 151769 2551 6 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124
 
 
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51708 Herd 07001, Fulton UK 9 634587 3060 4 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120
19/12/2008
19/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51684 Herd 123776, McWhirter UK 9 17281 1104 3 Batch 4
1/7/2009
1135
1/14/2009
1/15/2009
1/15/2009
1/15/2009
PL 51687 Herd 123776, McWhirter UK 9 151868 352 2 Batch 4
1/7/2009
1135
1/14/2009
1/15/2009
1/15/2009
1/15/2009
PL 51679 Herd 180265, Ferguson UK 9 18265 1239 6 Batch 2
12/15/2008
1122
23/12/2008
23/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51683 Herd 180265, Ferguson 18265-1025-O Batch 2
12/15/2008
1122
23/12/2008
23/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51655 Herd 181101, Rollston UK 9 181101 4301 7 Batch 2
12/15/2008
1122
23/12/2008
23/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51658 Herd 181101, Rollston UK 9 181101 4256 4 Batch 2
12/15/2008
1122
23/12/2008
23/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51671 Herd 184954, Cassidy 37536 484 U Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120-a
1/5/2009
1/5/2009
08/01/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51672 Herd 184954, Cassidy UK 9 613412 0122 6 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120-a
1/5/2009
1/5/2009
08/01/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51699 Herd 241013, Conlon UK 9 493 2974 6 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124
 
 
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51700 Herd 241013, Conlon UK 9 4041 4684 2 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124
 
 
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51701 Herd 241013, Conlon UK 9 3031 4457 2 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120-a
 
 
08/01/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51702 Herd 241013, Conlon UK 9 493 2978 3 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124-2
 
 
1/14/2009
1/14/2009
PL 51703 Herd 241013, Conlon UK 9 2761 2645 5 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120
19/12/2008
19/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51676 Herd 250592, Uprichard UK 9 613781 49 2 Batch 2
12/15/2008
1122
23/12/2008
23/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51678 Herd 250592, Uprichard UK 9 121016 2836 3 Batch 2
12/15/2008
1122
23/12/2008
23/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51737 Herd 421933, Thompson IE 33 13635 7 0389 Batch 4
1/7/2009
1135
1/14/2009
1/14/2009
1/15/2009
1/15/2009
PL 51740 Herd 421933, Thompson IE 34 11893 6 0511 Batch 4
1/7/2009
1135
1/14/2009
1/14/2009
1/15/2009
1/15/2009
PL 51778 Herd 421933, Thompson UK 9 123433 1776 1 Batch 4
1/9/2009
1137
1/22/2009
1/22/2009
1/23/2009
1/23/2009
PL 51779 Herd 421933, Thompson UK 9 56291 946 5 Batch 4
1/9/2009
1137
1/22/2009
1/22/2009
1/23/2009
1/23/2009
PL 51697 Herd 634942, Johnston UK 634942 0162 E Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120-a
1/5/2009
1/5/2009
08/01/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51698 Herd 634942, Johnston UK 634942 0171 P Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120-a
1/5/2009
1/5/2009
08/01/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51648 Herd 636340, AJD Farms UK 9 150299 3926 2 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120
19/12/2008
19/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009
PL 51649 Herd 636340, AJD Farms UK 9 63366 2187 6 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1124
 
 
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51650 Herd 636340, AJD Farms UK 9 123971 296 1 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124
1/5/2009
1/5/2009
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51651 Herd 636340, AJD Farms UK 9 061407 0291 4 Batch 3
12/17/2008
1124
1/5/2009
1/5/2009
1/7/2009
1/8/2009
PL 51652 Herd 636340, AJD Farms UK 9 592879 211 3 Batch 1
13-15/12/2008
1120
19/12/2008
19/12/2008
1/12/2009
1/13/2009

Timeline for dioxin analysis of cattle feed samples at CSL

Sample
Identification
To CSL
Date received CSL
Final CSL
Report Number
Date interim report received from CSL
Date interim report passed
to NI “Teleconference group"
Date Final
report received
Date confirmed results passed
to NI “Teleconference group"
PL 51644 Johnston Batch 4
07/01/2009
1135
14/01/2009
15/01/2009
15/01/2009
15/01/2009
PL 51719 Uprichard Batch 5
16/01/2009
1142
05/02/2009
05/02/2009
14/02/2009
 

Annex C

Food Standards Agency submission

Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission

Annex D


Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission

Annex E

Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission
Food Standards Agency submission

Northern Ireland Meat Exporters' Association (NIMEA)
03.07.09

NIA Image

NIMEA Ltd
Lissue House
31 Ballinderry Road
Lisburn
BT28 2SL

Tel. +44 [0]2892 622510
Email. Info@nimea.co.uk

3 July 2009
Mr Paul Carlisle
Committee Clerk
Room 284
Parliament Buildings
BELFAST
BT4 3XX

Dear Paul

Dioxins Enquiry

I have consulted with members in relation to your enquiry on the above and have received the following observations which I forward to you completely unedited. Should you wish to discuss, please give me a call.

1) When the incident broke in pork, it hit the public media first and the industry was not sufficiently briefed or prepared to handle the volume of enquiries that subsequently ensued.

2) No formal contact was made at senior level within our business to advise of the incident and ensure proper measures were taken to control the incident

3) When the beef incident broke in ROI, we heard about it through our ROI factory - again no formal communications from government to senior people in our business

4) Throughout the incident, the OV either did not have sufficient information to advise the business, or had the information but was not allowed to communicate it.

5) Information flow on the farms allegedly affected by ROI association was from DARD IT direct to our middle management technical staff. No dialogue at senior level. Info was sent by email with no brief as to what actions were required and no followup calls. Had the 2 individuals on our side been on annual leave or not reading their email, we as a business would not have known we had a problem.

6) Information on the farms affected was inaccurate. Initially we were told 383 animals were affected (which involved almost all of our fresh meat stock and sales for several weeks). Several days later this was revised to 10 animals.

7) No clear guidance received on what was to be done with the stock - we took the initiative and placed stock on hold.

8) Extended delays then arose as a result of the testing and retesting of beef. You will recall Campbell was pressing DARD and FSA for clarity at the time as all factories were sitting on stock and under pressure to confirm their position on whether customers had a recall issue to contend with.

9) By the end of December FSA confirmed the detained product was to be destroyed. It took until 19th March for authorities to approve the final destruction of the product.

We would recommend that if any industry incidents were to arise in the future:

1) An incident management team should be set up consisting of DARD, FSA and Industry representatives

2) a clear plan of action should be developed by that team and first privately communicated to relevant stakeholders in government and industry before any media statements are made

3) the incident management team should communicate with food companies at director level to ensure clear communications and proper co-ordination of activities on the ground

4) Information dissemination needs to be timely and accurate

5) Public press releases need to be carefully timed and released only when the incident team know that stakeholders are ready to handle the resulting enquiries

6) Clearer and timelier decision making is required in the event of product detention, testing and destruction

Another member contributed:

1. DARD didn’t inform farm on first weekend that they were closed resulting in cattle being presented in plants on Monday morning.

2. DARD had sample taken from some of these cattle that were killed on Monday due to lameness but didn’t bother testing them for a least 3 days therefore leaving cattle in factory liarages in limbo.

3. DARD tried to force factories to kill cattle that weren’t fit for food chain and then dump at there own cost. if we knowly killed cattle that weren’t fit for food chain we would be prosecuted or lose licence.

4. It took DARD weeks before deciding what to do with these cattle.

Further comment

1. When processing the claim the bureaucracy was terribly time consuming. Our information was that as the product was being volunteered for surrender and verified by the appropriate department official. We went through this whole exercise with the Department on site and got the appropriate signed disposal notice. We also got our documentation and process independantly verified by Price Waterhouse as requested. We thought as we had satisfied all the requirements as set out.

Months later we had to go through the same process again with a lady from a department at Dundonald house involving numerous phone calls and time spent going through the same exercise that the department had verified and done on site.

2. On the Mon morning after the weekend that the incident became public there were cattle in our liarage that when we went to slaughter had the category sample after them. No one in the dept on site knew why and when they tried to ring Dundonald house as to why the gentleman who had put the flag on the system was not at work so no one could answer their or their queries. We decided not to slaughter the animals because of all the uncertainty, however that evening we had to slaughter two of the animals for welfare reasons they were dully sample by the on site Dard staff , the same happened on the Tuesday where from memory one of the animals was slaughtered for welfare reasons and duly sampled by the department. Later in the week we received a call from the department requesting that five cattle be slaughtered and sampled due to the dioxin scare. I informed them that they had been sampling these cattle from earlier in the week, there then seemed to some confusion as to the location of these samples but was eventually cleared up.

It would have been helpful that if over the weekend some sort of meeting or communication had been made available to the factory and the dard site staff to be better prepared for what happened as for a big part of the day all concerned were to a certain extent working in the dark.

Yours sincerely

Phelim O’Neill

Queen’s University Belfast 30.06.09

QUB submission
QUB submission

Ulster Farmers’ Union 07.08.09

UFU submission
UFU submission

Appendix 4

Summary Timeline

INQUIRY INTO THE DIOXIN INCIDENT, DECEMBER 2008 – SUMMARY TIMELINE

Date / Organisation
DAFF
FSAI
DARD
FSANI
Comments
Tuesday, 19 November 2008 An officer of the Department took routine samples, under the National Residue Monitoring Programme, of pork fat from pigs slaughtered at a plant in Drumlish Co. Longford and submitted them for analysis at the Department’s Pesticides Control Laboratory (PCL) in Backweston.        
Friday, 28 November 2008 Analyses results indicated the presence of “marker" polychlorinated byphenols, more commonly referred to as PCBs. In accordance with standing procedures under the DAFF/FSAI service contract arrangements, FSAI was advised of these findings at this time. The source of the pork was immediately identified back to a farm in Co. Cork On the evening of Friday 28th November, the FSAI was informed by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that a sample of pork fat from anIrish slaughter plant, taken as part of the routine National Residues MonitoringProgramme, was found to be “tentatively" positive for marker PCBs      
Saturday, 29 November 2008 Samples were taken of all the different types of animal feed used on that farm – ten in all, including the dry bread, and these were sent to the PCL for priority analysis. In addition three samples of pork fat were submitted for priority analysis        
Monday, 1 December 2008 Laboratory confirmed that the initial sample of pork fat (taken on 19th November) as positive non-dioxin like ‘marker’ PCBs. It also indicated that the three further pork fat samples from the same farm were ‘indicatively’ positive for contamination The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foodconfirmed that the pork fat sample was positive for marker PCBs and that samples of “bread crumb" produced by a food recycling plant for use as animal feed were also likely to be positive for marker PCBs. The FSAI was also informedthat a number of pig farms were under restriction and that pigs would only move from these farms on a positive release basis in line with European Commission guidelines on the management of a dioxin incident. A positive release basis means that representative samples of the pigs would be tested after slaughter and pigs would only released onto the market if the herds tested negative.The FSAI recommended that samples be tested for the presence of dioxins and this was arranged by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with theCentral Science Laboratory in the UK.      
Tuesday, 2 December 2008 PCL confirmed that one of the feed ingredient samples (the dry bread) presented positive contamination (non-dioxin like ‘marker’ PCBs). The source of the dry bread was immediately identified back to a registered surplus food recycling plant in Co Carlow. Because of the link between PCBs and dioxins the samples were immediately taken by a Department official to the Central Science Laboratory in York, UK for analysis

Department personnel visited the food recycling premises in Co Carlow on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th 5th and 6th December to collect all the relevant samples and gather all the necessary information. A list of farms which received feed material from the premises was compiled and samples, both current and library going back to late July 2008, were submitted to the PCL for analysis for presence of PCBs
Additional samples of fat from pigs were confirmed for marker PCBs and samples sent to the UK for dioxin analysis. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food confirmed the presence of marker PCBs in the “bread crumb" produced by the food recycling plant and in additional pig fat samples.The FSAI informed the Department of Health and Children of the investigation and the evolving nature of the incident.

The FSAI remained inclose contact with the Food Unit of the Department of Health and Children during the incident.
     
Wednesday, 3 December 2008 The Department apprised the FSAI of developments at a high level meeting        
Thursday, 4 December 2008 Department officials commenced visiting all of the identified pig and cattle farms. All bread product remaining on the farms was impounded and restrictions were placed on the movement of animals from these herds.

A Department Press Release also issued on that day indicating that a number of herds had been restricted following the identification of marker PCBs. On the same day, the FSAI informed the Food Standards Agency (UK) in London of the emerging incident.

The list of customers who received feed from the recycling plant in the previous six months both in Northern Ireland and Ireland was completed by the Department on the evening of 4th December following receipt of detailed sales transactions information
Following discussions with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food a press statement was issued describing the investigation that was underway. The FSA UK was informed that an investigation was underway.      
Friday, 5 December 2008 The authorities in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland (DARDNI) were contacted by this Department and a list of farms was forwarded to them indicating that bread product from the premises may have been delivered to those farms. On that same day the Dutch authorities, following sight of the Department’s Press Release, contacted the Department and the FSAI in relation to an independent investigation into the presence of PCBs in pork fat samples originating in a number of Member States, including Ireland The FSAI informed the European Commission that an investigation was underway and of the results to date. The FSAI also informed the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) of the European Commission about the investigation.

The FSAI also communicated this information to FSA UK.The FSAI was contacted on by the Dutch Food and Product Safety Authority (VWA). The contact was triggered b y the fact that the VWA had readthe press statement that was issued by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 4th December. The press statement led them to believe that they may have been investigating a similar incident connected to the Irish investigation.
DAFF Official, (Feeds) phoned DARD Official, Quality Assurance Branch (QAB) to report a problem, without giving any specifics, but promising e-mails later.

E-mail from DAFF Official to DARD Officials in QAB, copied to DARD Veterinary Service (VS). It advises of a contamination problem, in feed, identifies Millstream Recycling and 9 NI premises (included one feed processor) receiving feedstuffs from them in previous 6 months and attaches a 4 December Press Release. Email advises of actions being taken by DAFF on affected farms, pending further investigation and advises that DARD should take any actions it considers appropriate

DARD decides to put status (hormones) on 7 NI herds (a total of 11 received statuses due to associations with original herds).to alert meat inspection staff if animals from those affected herds are presented for slaughter. Two of the 9 original premises notified by DAFF had no livestock on DARD traceability system (APHIS). Around this time, CVO (who was on leave received a call from DARD VS to advise of the issues and to confirm that he was content with the action being taken. Member of admin staff tasked to telephone affected Divisions to ask Divisional Veterinary Officers (DVOs) to contact the affected herdkeepers.
FSANI received copy of DAFF e-mail to DARD VS, which included details of 8 premises in NI that were reported to have received suspect contaminated feed from premises in RoI. Accompanying press statement from DAFF indicated that they were awaiting further test results that would not be available until next week  
Saturday, 6 December 2008 an Inter Departmental/Agency meeting was convened to assess the emerging situation. This meeting was attended by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Minister for Health and Children, the Chief Medical Officer, the FSAI and officials from the Departments of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, and Health and Children. In light of the assessment of the position and possible implications the Taoiseach subsequently joined this meeting.

At 3.40pm, the Central Science Laboratory in York, confirmed to the FSAI, the presence of dioxins in the pork fat samples. Following on from the meeting, the FSAI decided that it was necessary for the food industry to recall all Irish pork and bacon products from pigs slaughtered in Ireland since 1st September.
The FSAI held a teleconference with the European Commission and the VWA to discuss the incident. The VWA was expecting results of its dioxin analysis over the weekend. Risk management options were discussed with the Commission. The FSAI explained that it was awaiting the results of dioxin analysis of pork fat and animal feed and that appropriate action would be taken as soon as these results were available.

These Irish results were reported by the UK laboratory at 15.40 on 6th Decemberand showed dioxins in pig fat at levels of 80 -200 pg/g and in “bread crumb" at levels greater than 2,500 pg/g. The legal limit for dioxin in pig fat is 1 pg/g (European Regulation 2006/1881/EC8) and for animal feed is 0.75 pg/g(European Directive 2002/32/EC9). The FSAI was aware that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had identified the source of contamination to a food recycling plant due to the traceability systems in place in the farming and animal feed sectors.
At approx. 21:30 DARD Minister (Michelle Gildernew) phones CVO to alert him about the ROI Press Conference announcing the removal of Irish pork product from retail outlets. Permanent Secretary spoke to CVO in light of breaking news regarding action on pork by ROI.

CVO telephones FSA about the breaking news about ROI Press Conference re removing pork product from retail outlets and arranges for a meeting with FSA on Sunday, 7 December at 10.00am. FSA also alert DARD (QAB) of this meeting.

Telephone discussions between Minister, Special Adviser, DARD Permanent Secretary and CVO about implications of ROI announcement
Irish Government announces recall of all pork and pork products. FSAI issue food alert requiring industry in RoI to recall Irish pork and bacon products manufactured since 1 September 2008 and advises consumers, as a precautionary measure, not to consume such products at this time and to dispose of any purchased since 1 September 2008  
Saturday, 6 December 2008 The 1st September date was chosen on the basis of the evidence available to the FSAI. In making the decision for a total product recall, account was taken of the fact that the 10 pig producers affected and associated farms involving 17 separate production units nationally accounted for some 8% of the national kill or approximately 50,000 pigs slaughtered between 1st September and the 1st December 2008. Taken together, they supplied eight of the ten main abattoirs in the country, which account for about 98% of the national throughput of pork.

A press conference was held at 19.00 to announce the product recall. Later that evening a Trader notice issued to all pig slaughtering and pig processing establishments setting out the requirements to be followed under the terms of the recall.

An alert notification was issued to the Rapid Alert System for Feed and Food (RASFF) by the FSAI to advise the EU Commission and all EU Member States.
The evidence available to the FSAI indicated that the dioxin contamination started around the middle of September. The indications for this date were that the first known contaminated pork product from Ireland came from a sample taken in France in mid -October. The congener profile suggested that contaminated feed was consumed in the period shortly before slaughter. In addition, monitoring in the pork process plant in Belgium showed an increase in dioxin levels from mid-September. Therefore, as a practical approach the date of 1st September was chosen. Subsequent testing of pork and feed samples has since supported this decision.

At the inter Departmental/Agency meeting which was convened on 6 December by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food consultations took place with An Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Ministers of State and senior Government officials to assess the emerging crisis. The FSAI recommended that all pork products from pigs slaughtered since 1September should be removed from sale. This decision was made to stop ongoing consumer exposure, thereby removing the risk to public health. The FSAI activated its crisis management plan.
     
Sunday, 7 December 2008 The Department’s Crisis Management Group convened throughout the day.

An Ad hoc expert group on human health was convened by the FSAI at the request of the Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health & Children to carry out a risk assessment. The Group met for the first time on Sunday morning at the FSAI Headquarters.

A meeting was held in Agriculture House involving DAFF, the EPA and the National Bureau for Criminal Investigation of An Garda Síochána to initiate investigations into eth cause of the contamination.

The FSAI advice-line received over 2,000 calls from consumers and industry seeking information on the recall.

Running in parallel to all of this was ongoing activity to (i) identify the cause of the contamination; and (ii) put in place arrangements for the recall of all of the feed material impounded on the farms.

In addition, meetings were held on the weekend of the 6th and 7th December with representatives of the pig processors, producers as well as retailers. The meetings with the pig processors continued over the following days
The inter Departmental/Agency group met throughout the day.

In addition an ad hoc expert group on human health was convened by the FSAI at the request of the Chief Medical Officer of the Department of Health and Children consider and advise on health implications of dioxins in pork in the context of this incident. This was a channel for advice from Ireland’s top scientists in public health to the risk assessment process.

The FSAI coordinated the recall of pork products and managed communication with the industry and consumers. The FSAI Rapid Alert Team was in contact with counterparts in the Commission and the FSA UK. The Deputy Chief Executive of the FSAI was in regular contact with the Chief Scientist of the FSA UK.
FSA alert CVO and DARD QAB that its meeting is postponed until noon.

DARD Minister has telephone conversations with Special Adviser, DARD Permanent Secretary, CVO and DAFF Minister (Brendan Smith, TD)

PS/Minister DARD contacts PS/Minister DHSSPSNI and alerts her to the issue of the Dioxin contaminated feed and to put in telephone request from Minister to Minister McGimpsey

CVO met with FSANI to be briefed following FSANI/FSAGB meeting

DARD QAB official phoned FSANI official to ask if needed to take any action that day. She said that was unnecessary but that his team would need to obtain samples of the potentially contaminated feed on Monday. He then updated his Head of Branch by phone

Minister McGimpsey discusses situation with Minister Gildernew and agrees to keep in touch throughout the day

FSA issue Press Release and update website that ROI and NI pork to be removed from sale
Meeting held with FSANI staff and DARD CVO to discuss incident

FSANI briefed Health Minister by telephone to inform him of the incident and sent submission to Health Minister later that morning

FSANI contacted DAFF in RoI to request details of affected pig herds in RoI
 
Monday, 8 December 2008 Results of samples for non-dioxin “marker" PCBs taken from eleven of the forty-five cattle herds initially restricted were received and on the basis of those results the FSAI concluded on Tuesday 9th December that there were no public health issues arising.

A teleconference took place between the Irish Authorities, the European Commission, EFSA and a number of Member States including the U.K. and Northern Ireland. The outcome was a request by the Commission to EFSA for advice on the risks to public health.

Results for “marker" PCBs for samples taken in the remaining cattle herds became available the following weekend. Results for dioxins in the beef samples were subsequently received on 17th December. On Thursday, 18th December, the FSAI on concluding it’s assessment of the these results, published a statement which indicated, based on food consumption data, that the exposure from beef was 300 times lower than that posed by the contamination found in pork.
A teleconference took place on between the Irish Authorities, the European Commission, some other Member States and EFSA. The outcome was a request by the Commission to EFSA for advice on the risks to public health. A number of European-wide alerts were issued through the RASFF system. DARD makes arrangements to take samples of feed from 9 premises (7 farms with livestock, one feed mill and a feed haulier originally listed by DAFF) during the course of the day

CVO briefed Dr W McCrea and then other members of ARD Committee at about lunch time

DARD Representative in NI Exec Office, Brussels attends video conference in DG Sanco and speaks to Commission staff in the margins

Minister Gildernew meets FM & dFM to update them on the latest position
Scoping meeting held in FSA HQ with industry representatives

FSA Gold command meeting held FSANI meet with Health Minister to brief on incident

FSANI pre-meeting held with DARD to discuss handling of industry meeting

FSA Gold command meeting held to discuss incident. Decision taken by FSA Gold command that it would be disproportionate to recall NI pork and pork products at this time, as evidence is not yet available that NI pork is contaminated

Meeting held with meat, feed, farming and retail industry representatives at FSANI offices. DARD, AFBI and Invest NI representatives in attendance

FSA requested that all Northern Ireland retailers to hold pork and pork products until it can be established that it does not contain RoI pork
 
Monday, 8 December 2008 Additionally it was confirmed that of the 120,000 cattle farms in Ireland, only 21 had been identified as having received the implicated animal feed. As a precautionary measure, on the recommendation of the FSAI, a decision was taken to slaughter and remove from the food chain all animals in these 21 herds   DARD QAB had inspected all 9 premises notified by DAFF and established that at least 7 premises (6 livestock farms and 1 haulier) had received potentially contaminated feed. The other premise (Feed Processor) had only received milk powder. All animals from the farms were traced and slaughter plants informed. Meal samples were taken. A milk sample was taken from the one dairy farm (Omagh) which had been identified by QAB. One of the original listed farms had not received any of the material. The haulier was in the ROI when the DARD inspector called and could not be contacted. The inspector spoke to his wife who indicated that one farm had received feed from them. This farm was then scheduled for inspection on 9/12/08

FSA advises NI departments that pork derived exclusively from NI pigs is not affected by FSA Press release issued on 8/12, but as premises in NI have received pork from the ROI, is advising consumers that if they have purchased since 1st September, pork or pork products labelled Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland, they should dispose of them or return them to the retailer
   
Tuesday, 9 December 2008     DARD seek urgent written confirmation from DAFF that milk powder supplied to the feed processor is no longer suspected of being contaminated with dioxins. DAFF confirms that milk powder received by feed processor was not contaminated with dioxins

Haulier informs DARD QAB officials of two further farms supplied with feed including 1 dairy farm (Armagh) (10 Farms now potentially received the feed)

Three further farms were inspected and identified as having received feed from the haulier, including one dairy farm (Armagh). 11 farms had now been identified

DARD/INI/AFBI meeting at DARD. Agreement reached to sample 5 cattle from each of the 9 beef herds that may have received contaminated feed to screen for PCBs. Testing to be carried out by AFBI NewforgeDAFF reported a further farm as having received the feed, bringing the total farms to 12
FSA Gold command meeting held FSANI and FSA officials attend meeting with DAFF in Dublin to discuss the contaminated animal feed

FSA Silver Command meeting heldFSA Gold command meeting held

Update published on Irish beef on FSA website advising that FSAI has concluded that there is no public health concern in respect of beef herds in RoI that have been fed contaminated feed. Update also advises that 9 farms in NI have received contaminated feed and that animals in these herds have been restricted from entering the food chain

FSANI issues FAFA 74/2008 to district councils requiring action to ensure that all pork meat/products originating from RoI are withdrawn from food chain. FAFA includes list of processors in NI confirmed as having received pork meat from RoI and confirms that pork derived exclusively from NI pigs is not affected by this alert

List published on FSA website of the meat processors in the RoI affected by the pork incident and also meat companies in UK that have received pork products from these companies
 
Wednesday, 10 December 2008   The European Food Safety Authority issued an opinion stating that following its risk assessment there was no serious risk to health for anyone who had consumed potentially contaminated pork products in the three months prior to the recall of all Irish pork products. This reaffirmed the action taken by the FSAI which limited further exposure to pork products contaminated with dioxins. The European Commission and Member States agreed conditions that must be met for product to be placed on the market. This included rules for composite products like pizza and ready meals that have pork ingredients. Slaughter and processing resumed at pig processing plants. DARD initiation of meetings to improve communication and co-ordination. Joint DARD, DHSSPS and FSANI teleconference

FSA issue PR announcing that NI pork is not affected by the contaminated feed
FSA Gold command meeting heldFSANI holds meeting with meat processors. The processors are requested to hold all meat within their control from affected herds pending test results

FSA Silver command meeting held

EFSA publishes its statement on the likely impact of eating contaminated Irish pork for the duration of the incident (1st Sept – 6th Dec). It concludes that regular consumers of Irish pork should not worry about their health as a result of this incident. EFSA also concludes that it is not necessary to recall composite products produced during this period that only contain up to 20% Irish pork

FSA publishes web story advising of EFSA statement and that investigations have revealed that pork and pork products entirely reared, slaughtered and processed in Northern Ireland are unaffected by this incident

FSANI participate in NI Government teleconference

FSA Gold command meeting held
 
Thursday, 11 December 2008     DARD Official (QAB) sends e-mail to DAFF Official requesting clarification on the possibility of the recall of contaminated feed to ROI

E-mail from DARD Official (Food Policy) to Defra Official asking that NI be included in PSA scheme. Defra ask that a request cleared by DARD Minister is required that can be incorporated into a letter from Hilary Benn to the EC
FSA Gold command meeting held

FSANI advises DARD QAB that milk from the first Dairy herd is allowed to enter the food chain following receipt of negative PCB marker test results from milk sample analysed by AFBI. The cattle from the herd remain restricted

FSANI meet with NIMEA representatives to clarify the position with regard to holding meat from affected farms still within their control and beef processors advised to hold any hung carcase meat from affected farms until further notice

FSA participates in DEFRA Bird Table by teleconference

FSA Silver command meeting held

Update on pork situation published on FSA website advising consumers that Irish pork and pork products are back on the shelves and clarifies that such products manufactured before 1 September 2008 and after 7 December 2008 are not subject to the recall of RoI pork
 
Thursday, 11 December 2008       FSANI issues Update 1 to FAFA 74/2008 to DC’s in NI on action to be taken regarding pork and pork products from RoI. Update clarifies that where it can be demonstrated that pork and pork products from RoI did not come from affected herds and was not exposed to contaminated feed these can be released for sale and that composite products containing up to 20% RoI pork can be released for sale  
Friday, 12 December 2008     Minister writes to Defra Minister (Rt Hon Hilary Benn, MP) about seeking to have NI included in Private Storage Aid scheme

DARD Permanent Secretary contacted Director General of DAFF and updated each other as to how each jurisdiction was dealing with the incident and on the bi-lateral Ministerial meeting planned for the evening

Teleconference between DARD, DHSSPS, InvestNI and FSANI to discuss advice from Scofcah suggesting that herds could not be cleared on the basis of PCB testing alone and that dioxin testing would be required

Bi-lateral between Minister Gildernew MP MLA and Minister Brendan Smith TD

Meeting at FSANI HQ between DARD [Permanent Secretary, CVO, AFBI CE], DHSSPS, InvestNI, and FSANI to discuss further
FSA Gold command meeting held

FSA Silver command meeting held

EC SCoFCAH decides that in relation to this incident pigs and cattle that had consumed affected feed should not be cleared on the basis of PCB marker results alone but should await full dioxin testing

Meeting by teleconference held between FSANI, DARD, DHSSPS, DETI, Invest NI and AFBI to discuss new testing regime for dioxins and agree required actions

FSANI convenes further meeting with DARD, DHSSPS, DETI, Invest NI and AFBI to discuss new testing regime for dioxins and agree required actions
 
Saturday, 13 December 2008     CVO receives FSA request for data on number of animals in the herds restrictedCVO receives PCB results from AFBI – FSA for milk sample herd. Discusses with FSA who advise that milk from this herd can be marketed FSA Gold command meeting heldFSA arranges to have bovine fat samples from all of the affected herds to be sent by AFBI to CSL for full dioxin testing. First 2 samples sent to CSL  
Sunday, 14 December 2008     AFBI report PCB test results on 10 herds. 3 over limit and 7 under limit. AFBI reported that samples were being sent to England for dioxin testing

Letter from John Bourne (Defra) to Russell Mildon (DG Agri) confirming that measures taken by FSA advising consumers not to eat pigmeat sourced from RoI or NI were emergency measures
FSANI confirms to DARD that two beef herds can be de-restricted on the basis of on farm inspections by DARD officials and negative PCB marker results. DARD has confirmed that these herds had not been fed contaminated feed. 8 herds remain restricted  
Monday, 15 December 2008     DARD senior officials meet with industry representatives FSA Gold command meeting held

FSANI accompany DARD representatives to a meeting with beef industry and farming representatives to update them on the SCoFCAH decision and requirements for further testing for dioxins

Beef industry representatives are requested to forward to FSANI details of the quantity of meat from affected herds that they are holding

FSA Gold command meeting held

A joint DARD, DHSSPS and FSANI press release is issued confirming that beef, pork and milk on sale in NI presents no concerns for public health as a result of this incident

Arrangements are now in place for enforcement authorities to authorise and release for human consumption, or to dispose of, pork and pork products prepared in NI using pork from RoI
 
Monday, 15 December 2008   Update on the pork situation is published on the FSA website, giving details of Update 2 to FAFA 74/2008 issued to enforcement authorities that provides further information on additional companies in UK that have been identified as having received pork meat from RoI

CSL commences dioxin analysis of first 2 samples of bovine fat. Remaining samples of bovine fat sent by AFBI to CSL

FSANI convenes a further meeting with meat industry representatives to clarify volumes of affected and unaffected meat produced between 1st September and 6th December and initial PCB marker results from analysis conducted by AFBIFSA Gold command meeting held

FSA Silver command meeting held.FSANI attends NI Government teleconference
  Update on the pork situation is published on the FSA website, giving details of Update 2 to FAFA 74/2008 issued to enforcement authorities that provides further information on additional companies in UK that have been identified as having received pork meat from RoI

CSL commences dioxin analysis of first 2 samples of bovine fat. Remaining samples of bovine fat sent by AFBI to CSL

FSANI convenes a further meeting with meat industry representatives to clarify volumes of affected and unaffected meat produced between 1st September and 6th December and initial PCB marker results from analysis conducted by AFBIFSA Gold command meeting held

FSA Silver command meeting held.

FSANI attends NI Government teleconference
 
Tuesday, 16 December 2008     FSANI/industry meeting at FSA HQ FSA Gold command meeting held

FSA Silver command meeting held

NI Government group meeting took place at FSANI with video-link to FSA HQ. Risk assessment and sample results management issues were discussed
 
Wednesday, 17 December 2008   Results for dioxins in the beef samples were received. DARD and INI officials meet with representatives of UPBF to update them on current position regarding compensation and Private Storage Aid and further INI Marketing and Trade Initiatives – informed of closing date for applications under RoI scheme

Minister Gildernew made representations by telephone to Brendan Smith about the eligibility of processors in the North for compensation

Following subsequent discussion between Special Advisers north and south, contact between Ministers was again made and it was stressed that the north’s processors should be included in any scheme agreed with the EU Commission

Minister Gildernew again spoke at length with Brendan Smith TD on their proposals regarding the compensation scheme and, although he did not have the detail of the proposal, it seemed unlikely that the north would be included in the scheme. Minister Gildernew again pressed her counterpart that exclusion of northern processors would severely disadvantage our pork processing sector and encouraged him to consider us in the same way that they had done when approaching the Commission for Private Storage Aid. She also requested that any detail of the proposed compensation scheme should be forwarded to DARD, as soon as possible
RoI issues dioxin results for 4 RoI beef herds. FSAI releases a statement emphasising that consumers should have no concerns about eating beef and retailers are not required to take any action regarding beef

FSA Gold command meeting held

FSA Silver command meeting held.

FSANI officials met with Beef industry representatives to update them on the RoI results and explain the timeline for receiving NI dioxin results from CSL

Statement published on FSA website reassuring consumers about eating Irish beef
 
Thursday, 18 December 2008   The FSAI on concluding it’s assessment of the these results, published a statement which indicated, based on food consumption data, that the exposure from beef was 300 times lower than that posed by the contamination found in pork.

Additionally it was confirmed that of the 120,000 cattle farms in Ireland, only 21had been identified as having received the implicated animal feed. As a precautionary measure, on the recommendation of the FSAI, a decision was taken to slaughter and remove from the food chain all animals in these 21 herds.
Commission approved PSA for NI and PR issued and industry advised by DARD

Before the EU Mancom vote was taken Minister Gildernew secured a further meeting with Brendan Smith TD to again outline the difficulties that our processors’ exclusion from this scheme would have
   
Saturday, 20 December 2008       FSANI, DAFF, FSAI and DARD officials discuss the RoI risk management strategy to depopulate herds containing contaminated animals

FSA attends teleconference held with NI Government Group to consider indicative results from CSL that bovine fat results obtained from 6 NI herds are indicatively positive for dioxins and exceed maximum permitted levels. FSANI requested DARD to inform the farmers concerned.

CSL confirms that bovine fat samples from 3 herds are positive for dioxins and exceed maximum permitted levels
 
Sunday, 21 December 2008       FSANI attends NI Government teleconference to discuss positive dioxin results

FSANI officials meet with Beef industry representatives to discuss the confirmed positive dioxin results and the implications for meat held in abattoirs
 
Monday, 22 December 2008       FSA Gold Command meeting held. There are now confirmed positive results from CSL of dioxin results for samples from 3 herds and indicative positive results for 3 other herds. Samples from the remaining 2 herds require to be retested by CSL due to quality assurance failures. FSANI requests DARD to inform the farmers concerned.

FSA Silver command meeting held.

FSANI attends NI Government teleconference. DARD confirms that it will be starting dialogue with affected farmers today

FSA in direct dialogue with EC Directorate General Sanco regarding a risk management strategy for positive beef herds. FSA confirms to Directorate General Sanco that the restriction of all 8 herds is continuing and that affected meat has been withdrawn from the market

FSA issues advice to consumers via website. Assurances are provided to consumers. They should not be concerned about eating NI beef as the risk to public health remains extremely low
 
Tuesday, 23 December 2008     Joint submission from Ministers Foster and Gildernew goes to NI Executive and Executive agrees to pursue compensation issue with ROI Government FSANI participate in NI Government teleconference. Group agrees to bring NIEA into the discussions to advise on the safe disposal of affected beef carcasses and pork and pork products to minimise environmental contamination. FSANI requests DARD to inform the affected farmers and FSANI agrees to discuss results with affected processors  
Tuesday, 6 January 2009       FSA Gold command meeting held.

FSANI officials discuss the latest indicative results with the DCVO at DAFF. One of the herds had only received feed on the 9th July and again on the 19th November. These deliveries were well outside the window of contamination previously advised by RoI i.e. 1st September – 25th October. The DCVO at DAFF confirms that the implicated feed mill had been using oil from the implicated source since early June 2008. This information suggests all feed produced by the mill since June as having been potentially contaminated

Based on the new information from DAFF detailed above, FSANI requests DARD to re-restrict a further 2 beef herds (that had previously been de-restricted on the basis that they had not received implicated feed during the original advised window of contamination) as they had received feed in June and July from the implicated source
 
Thursday, 15 January 2009     Joint submission from Ministers Foster and Gildernew goes to NI Executive recommending introduction of a cull and disposal scheme

Decision by Executive agreeing a Cull and Disposal scheme, and to continue to press fro access to ROI compensation Scheme
The NI Executive agrees to introduce a voluntary cull and disposal scheme to deal with the animals in the affected herds. Under the terms of the scheme the Executive undertook to part compensate farmers for the costs of slaughter and rendering of the animals  
Friday, 23 January 2009     At NSMC plenary meeting Dublin Ministers confirm to NI Executive that they are unable to provide financial assistance to NI producers and processors    
Wednesday, 28 January 2009     Letter received from Brendan Smith, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in RoI indicated that they are not in a position to extend their financial assistance arrangements to farmers and processors in the North    
Thursday, 29 January 2009     Joint paper from Ministers Foster and Gildernew to NI Executive

DARD Permanent Secretary and Minister discussed the Dioxin Executive Paper at the NI Executive Meeting. Executive agreed to fund 25% hardship payment to producers and processors
   
Thursday, 5 February 2009     DARD and DETI Officials meet with Russell Mildon, DG Agri, EC to discuss case for Exceptional Support Measure    
Tuesday, 10 February 2009     Delegation of Executive Ministers meet Commissioner in Brussels to discuss the case for state support for NI farmers and processors    
Thursday, 19 March 2009     DG Agri ManCom attended by DARD and Defra Officials approved ESM Scheme for NI    

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