Maria Jennings, the director of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in Northern Ireland, has confirmed that inspections of local pork and redmeat processing plants will be undertaken by officials from China and the United States respectively over the coming weeks.
“The Chinese delegation will arrive later this month while the group from the United States should be with us in July. This is part of the ongoing DARD-led process put in place to help secure new exports markets for meat products from Northern Ireland,” she added.
An added dimension for local pig processors is the fact that the Chinese market presents an opportunity to sell pork products that would not normally be consumed in this part of the worldMaria Jennings
“The role of FSA is to ensure that the facilities inspected meet all of the hygiene standards specified by the various importing countries. And to this end, I can confirm that a tremendous amount of work and accompanying investment has been carried out by many food processing businesses in Northern Ireland, so as to ensure that these export opportunities are availed of.”
Maria Jennings went on to point out that hygiene standards represent a critical component of the inspection criteria laid down by importing countries, where meat products are concerned.
“An added dimension for local pig processors is the fact that the Chinese market presents an opportunity to sell pork products that would not normally be consumed in this part of the world,” she added.
“As a consequence, these businesses have had to re-configure their operations to ensure that they meet China’s hygiene and other meat processing regulations in full. And I commend them for this.”
Jennings also confirmed that FSA regards farmers as an integral part of the food production chain.
“The quality of the milk and meat produced on farms here in Northern Ireland is exceptional,” she said.
“We work closely with staff in the Department of Agriculture so as to ensure that the results of the testing work carried out in the various food processing centres are conveyed back to farmers, when relevant.
“This information will allow producers to manage their businesses more effectively.
“For example, it is crucially important for farmers to adhere to all relevant withdrawal periods where veterinary drugs and vaccines are concerned.”
Jennings went on to confirm that milk and meat products containing illegal residues will, invariably, be picked up courtesy of the FSA testing protocols.
“This has happened on a small number of occasions in recent times,” she said.
“In such instances the meat concerned has been recalled by the processor at a cost of up to £50,000. When this happens there will also be financial implications for the farmer.”
Another area of responsibility for the FSA, which has a direct bearing on farm businesses, is the issue of ensuring that milk from TB reactor cows does not get into the human food chain.
“This matter is clearly regulated for under current EU regulations,” Maria Jennings explained.
“Bulk tank testing will confirm the presence of TB antibodies in milk.
“And it is an issue that we have brought to the attention of the dairies over the past number of months.”