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NBA warns that Irish Beef inspections are not accredited
15/01/07

Severe doubts about the assurance status of tens of thousands of tonnes of beef imported from the Republic of Ireland (ROI) have been raised following confirmation that South West Services (Cork), the inspection company contracted by Bord Bia for the Irish Beef Quality Assurance Scheme (BQAS) is not EN45004 accredited.

NBA chief executive, Robert Forster
© www.jennifermackenzie.co.uk

NBA chief executive, Robert Forster

The warning comes from the National Beef Association which last week was told by the Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB) that South West Services (SWS), which employs a team of 52 BQAS inspectors, has not got the accreditation required by a third party company that has been contracted to carry out inspections for an accredited product certification body like Bord Bia.

This means that farms inspected by SWS, which took over the contract for BQAS inspections from EFSIS in September 2006, are not properly certified as farm assured in the same way as farms in the UK are – although beef from those farms has undoubtedly been imported into the UK over many months and distributed through a range of supermarkets and other retail outlets.

“This is not a happy position for importers of beef from the Irish Republic or for farmers in the UK. The major multiples, and other retailers, have for many years insisted that they will only sell beef from assured farms that have been inspected and certified by accredited bodies and while a tight supply system for British beef has been developed it is now clear that there are huge holes in the supply system constructed in the ROI,” explained NBA chief executive, Robert Forster.

“We have warned retailers about the possibility of shortfalls in assurance guarantees on beef imported from the ROI on many occasions since June 2006 when we first became aware that Bord Bia, which installed BQAS, was faced with inspection problems but the real extent of those difficulties has only now emerged.”

According to the NBA only 5,000 farms in the ROI are properly assured because they were previously inspected by EFSIS, a body that carried the necessary EN45004 accreditation, and the 7,000 farms inspected since September 2006 by SWS can only be properly assured if the individual inspectors employed by SWS are sub-contracted by Bord Bia and Bord Bia has direct control over them while they are conducting their inspections.

“The rules on this are quite clear. If Bord Bia, recruits, trains, controls and monitors the individual inspectors then the company that employs them, SWS, does not require EN45004 accreditation,” said Mr Forster

“However Bord Bia has publicly stated on many occasions that it has contracted the company, SWS, to carry out the farm inspections,”

“This means that because this work is contracted to a company, rather than contracted to individual inspectors, the company, SWS, must be EN45004 accredited and the IBNA has confirmed that it is not.”

“In these circumstances it is impossible for all beef imported from Ireland to be farm assured, a condition demanded of UK farmers by their supermarket customers, and so importers will have to adjust their import levels if they are to avoid being accused of operating double standards.”

“As we see it the farcical situation in the ROI can only be resolved if Bord Bia, which as the certification body is already accredited, takes over the inspectors and then re-inspects all 7,000 farms. Alternatively SWS has to achieve EN45004 accreditation and then re-inspect the farms as an accredited inspection body.”

“Either way the repairs will take time and UK farmers will be distinctly unhappy at the continued delivery of more beef from the ROI that lacks BQAS cover they have to achieve.”

“There is little point in establishing farm assurance schemes if inspection is not robust, or there are insufficient farms in the system to guarantee delivery, and importers cannot be confident of buying beef that meets their specification,” Mr Forster added.

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