Irish Examiner View: Food regulation put in jeopardy

Irish Examiner View: Food regulation put in jeopardy
Ireland has almost 7m cattle. Photo: Denis Minihane

We have not, it seems, learned the hard lessons on light-touch regulation, that heady mix of latitude and human nature.

It has been reported that the Department of Agriculture has denied downgrading one of its investigation divisions despite the number of investigators being cut to low single figures.

In a country with almost 7m cattle — pigs, sheep, and poultry too — that seems at best optimistic and at worst an unnecessary concession to a culture of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil.

That impression is strengthened by the fact that today’s regulators replaced, in 2014, the Specialist Investigations Unit (SIU) an agency that once had 15 investigators and was set up to eliminate Angel Dust use in the beef sector.

The latest staff reduction came after a Department of Agriculture review. However, it is believed that curtailing the number of investigators conflicts with review recommendations. That review argued for “a core group of highly-skilled and trained investigators to carry out any type of investigation to the standard required for court and it proposed a team of 14 investigators.”

The farm lobby opposed the SIU so it is hard not to suspect that this latest reduction might be another concession to appease producers.

The Department of Agriculture ensures standards are observed in many ways — as it did when 2,000 bulls left Cork for Libya last week — but without an effective and respected culture of regulation, the sector risks its most precious attribute — its credibility with consumers. A sector already struggling to meet its climate obligations can hardly afford that.

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