A formal clean livestock policy (CLP) for sheep will be introduced shortly, after the Department of Agriculture warned that current arrangements for clean livestock are not functioning as effectively as required.
The sheep CLP will be broadly similar to the bovine equivalent, which has operated at slaughter premises since 1998, and which is underpinned by EU and national regulations.
“Based on recent evaluation by DAFM of sheep carcase hygiene in slaughter plants, it is clear that there is a need to significantly improve performance in relation to the cleanliness of incoming animals, to ensure the continuation and expansion of this trade,” said a department spokesperson.
An effective CLP is seen as very important in terms of basic food safety, but also as a reputational issue for Ireland’s meat industry, and to safeguard the export trade in meat and hides.
A number of recent bacterial contaminations of Irish beef products may have been linked to dirty cattle.
So far this year, in France, there have been cases of enteropathogenic escherichia coli in frozen halal minced beaf from Ireland, and shigatoxin-producing escherichia coli in frozen minced meat from Ireland.
Shigatoxin-producing Escherichia coli was found in chilled beef from Ireland in Italy, and salmonella Dublin was found in beef trimmings from Ireland in Sweden.
For cattle farmers, the next steps under consideration include stepping up the CLP awareness campaign, through dissemination of information, and issuing mailshots to repeat offenders.
Additional on-site DAFM inspections targeted at large scale offenders are also planned.
A DAFM spokespeson said the processing industry may consider measures designed to reduce intake of Category C cattle (the dirtiest animals, considered unacceptable in the clean livestock policy).
As a last resort, application of compliance action is being considered by DAFM, to avoid recurrence of ongoing breaches by penalising farmers’ direct payments.
“It is generally accepted that some operators could make a much better effort,” said a DAFM spokesperson, explaining that most cattle are classified as category A (satisfactory), but category B (acceptable but subject to additional hygienic dressing controls) account for about a quarter of total slaughter numbers. And the number in category C (unacceptable) has grown from 17,376 to 29,246 over the past three years.
“It is also the case that a small proportion of suppliers are accounting for a disproportionately high number of the dirtiest animals”.
He said, at certain times of the year, clean livestock policy charges imposed in some meat plants are excessive.
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