Farmers urge consumers to continue buying beef

Tue, Dec 9, 2008, 00:00

Farmers' organisations have called on consumers to continue buying beef after the Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said that contaminants found in cattle did not pose a threat to people's heath.

The Department of Agriculture confirmed this afternoon that tests on cattle that ate contaminated feed show the presence of dioxin indicators in a number of cases but it said there is no risk to public health and beef produce from affected farms will not be withdrawn from sale.

Tests were carried out on 11 cattle farms following the recent pigmeat recall and three of the farms concerned showed the levels of indicators were two to three times legal levels. This compares to levels found in pork of 80 to 200 times the limit.

Ireland's largest farmer's union, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA), said the news was a major relief for the 100,000 beef producers in Ireland.

The organisation's president Padraig Walshe said both the Government Chief Medical Officer and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland have made it clear that there are no public health concerns in relation to beef.

"Irish beef is safe," he said.

Macra na Feirme president Catherine Buckley said that while the positive test results on three beef herds were a blow to the beef industry, there was no need for a disproportionate response as produce from the affected farms could easily be identified and removed from the food chain.

She added that beef has a mandatory labelling system which allows for comprehensive traceability from farm to consumer as well as a Cattle Movement and Monitoring System which allows for traceability of cattle through the food chain.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmer's Association, which has 10,000 members, reminded consumers that 99 per cent of Irish beef is not affected by the scare. President Malcolm Thompson said that today's test results only relate to three of the 45 restricted herds, out of a total of 112,000 livestock farms nationwide.

“The news this afternoon should reassure consumers that it will be a straightforward matter to remove any beef over which there is even the remotest doubt from the food chain. In addition, it is important to note that in the very rare cases where beef has tested positive, the residue levels are significantly lower than those found in pork and thus pose no risk to health.”

The president of the 18,000-member Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) Jackie Cahill said that it is absolutely critical that the Government and its agencies continue to rely on science and rational assessment of the risk.

"Over the last few days, a note of hysteria has crept into the debate through public comment by individuals who are neither qualified nor competent to make any such contribution. No useful purpose is served by such sensationalist speculation and the Irish food sector and its customers deserve much better than exaggerated and ill-founded comments by self-appointed experts," said Mr Cahill.

Meanwhile, Meat Industry Ireland, an affiliate of employers' lobby Ibec, also welcomed the statement the news that there is no risk to public health from beef.

"The industry's priority now is to communicate this positive message to customers of Irish beef at home and internationally," the organisation's director Cormac Healy said.

Beef and livestock farming is Ireland’s largest farming enterprise with a total of 6.7 million cattle. The Irish herd is made up of 2.7 million breeding animals involving 1.2m suckler beef cows and 1.1m dairy cows. Ireland exports 500,000 tons of beef annually with a farm gate value of €1.6bn and an added value of €2.5bn.