The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has the statutory function of the enforcement of food legislation under the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act, 1998. The enforcement is generally done by a variety of State agencies under service contracts with the FSAI. The service contracts are agreed with each agency to specify the particular set of food legislation that agency enforces, the official controls to be carried out and the monitoring and auditing arrangements. The contracts are published on the FSAI’s website and are subject to audit by the FSAI, which publishes its audit reports. This system has been in place since 1999 and there are indicators that it is working well. Achievements include:
- The World Health Organization (WHO) awarded the FSAI the WHO Food Safety Award in 2008, in recognition of its international contribution in promoting food safety globally
- The Conference Board of Canada compared food safety systems among 17 OECD countries in 2014 and ranked Ireland’s system in joint first place, with Canada
- Over 5,000 non-compliant food businesses have been served with the new enforcement notices introduced by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland Act, 1998
- Ireland’s system of official controls has been studied by food control authorities in many other EU and Third Countries as an example of an effective control model to copy
- The system was tested by crises in food safety and integrity such as the detection of dioxins in pigmeat and the detection of horsemeat in beef products, and has performed well in addressing them
- The official controls done by the FSAI and the official agencies have received mostly positive assessments from the European Commission’s DG-Santé Directorate F (Health and Food Audits and Analysis, formerly the Food and Veterinary Office), which has conducted over 70 audits of Ireland’s official controls in the period 1999 to date
- The strength of the official food control system has been described as ‘fundamental to the continued growth of international markets’ for Ireland’s food exports (Food Wise 2025, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine)
However, no system is beyond improvement and the Act explicitly requires the FSAI to provide advice on the food inspection systems (Section 15 of the Act) and to keep the efficacy of the food inspection services under review (Section 17). To this end, in 2012, the FSAI asked its Scientific Committee to examine the system for official controls (inspection) and to make recommendations for improvement. The Scientific Committee has a mandate which includes the provision of advice to the Board of the FSAI on the ‘implementation and administration of food inspection services’ (Section 34).
The Scientific Committee set up a sub-committee which included external experts chaired by Professor Brian McKenna. The sub-committee commissioned a study by an independent consultant as a major input into their deliberations. This study which included an online survey of agencies’ staff and interviews with agencies’ management, was undertaken by ICF International and finalised in December, 2014. The sub-committee considered the consultant’s report and provided its views to the Scientific Committee which produced its final report. This report was adopted by the Board of the FSAI in December 2015, and is published herewith.
The report found much good practice in the official controls system and makes 13 recommendations across the FSAI and the official agencies to improve it further. Some recommendations are challenging and would require operational, structural and strategic issues to be addressed with key stakeholders. Indeed, one feature of the review is the extent to which it recommends actions by the FSAI itself.
In early 2016, the FSAI met with the official agencies and discussed the consultant’s study and the Scientific Committee’s report. The agencies were invited to make a formal response to the report and its recommendations. These responses were received and are now published with the report. The responses are detailed, reflecting the importance of the official controls work to the agencies and their dedication to it. All agencies noted constraints arising from operating within existing public service structures, legal frameworks, and limited resources (particularly during the time of the consultant’s study – 2012-2014). Reservations over individual aspects of the consultant’s study, the review process, and/or the review’s findings were raised by each agency. It would not be appropriate to summarise the comprehensive submissions; I am however, encouraged by the positive tone of the agencies’ responses and their engagement with the process. All agencies committed to participating in a joint process with the FSAI to assess and implement to the extent feasible, the recommendations of the report. The next steps are considered further in the document ‘Review of Official Controls: Response of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and Proposed Approach’.
The consultant’s study and the Scientific Committee review both concluded that Ireland has an excellent food control system. One feature of excellent systems is that they continually challenge themselves to make further improvements. I would like to express my gratitude to the Scientific Committee and its Sub-committee on Official Controls for undertaking the review and for providing a clear set of recommendations that will chart a way forward for the official controls on food. The FSAI commits itself in its new Strategy 2016 - 2018 to working collaboratively with the official agencies to continuously develop the world-class official control system.
Dr Pamela Byrne
Report of the Scientific Committee of Ireland
Consultant’s Report on Official Controls
Responses of the Official Agencies
- Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
- Health Service Executive
- Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority
- Local Authorities