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National Beef Assurance Scheme

Background

Following the BSE crisis in 1996, measures were adopted to tighten up the conditions of production and processing of cattle and beef in Ireland and to provide assurances to consumers and buyers as to the safety of Irish cattle and beef. Notwithstanding this, it was considered that further measures were necessary to allay consumer concerns and to safeguard markets at home and abroad for Irish beef and beef products. Accordingly, the National Beef Assurance Scheme Act, 2000 providing for the implementation of a National Beef Assurance Scheme was enacted into national law.

National Beef Assurance Scheme

The purpose of the Scheme is to provide additional guarantees about the safety of Irish cattle and beef by:

  • the development of common high standards of production and processing,
  • the enforcement of these standards through a process of registration, inspection and approval, and
  • the enhancement of the animal identification and tracing system.

Scope of the Scheme

The Scheme applies to all persons engaged in the primary production and processing of cattle and beef (farmers, marts or assembly centres, dealers, live exporters, slaughterhouses, meat processors and bovine animal feed manufacturers). The Scheme also introduces special measures for food businesses regarding the supply of primary product to these premises. The combination of the measures introduced under the National Beef Assurance Scheme and the legislative requirements already in force in relation to food hygiene will provide assurances in relation to cattle and beef across the entire food chain.

Standards of Production and Processing

Under the Act, only persons meeting the prescribed standards will be approved to participate in the cattle, beef and feedingstuffs industry. These standards, which are set out in the Second Schedule of the Act, are already contained in existing legislation for the most part. However, there is also provision under the Act for the making of regulations to address gaps in this legislation e.g. tampering with or falsification of ear-tags and animal identity cards/passports.

Registration and Approval Process

The Act provides for the mandatory inspection, approval and registration of all participants. As it was envisaged that it would take some time to complete this process, the Act provided for are transitional measures under which all participants are deemed to be provisionally approved until they have been either granted or refused approval by the Minister. Following detailed discussions over a long period of time, arrangements were put in place to commence implementation of this aspect of the Scheme with the inspection and approval farms with the annual disease test of herds. However, only a small number of inspections actually took place mainly because the Union representing veterinarians refused to co-operate unless they were paid centrally for the cost of the inspections. Discussions are continuing to resolve this impasse.

Animal Identification and Tracing

A comprehensive system of animal identification is already in place for Irish cattle. All cattle are tagged at birth and when they are moved to a new location they must be accompanied by a cattle identity card or passport. In addition, a computerised database (the Cattle Movement Monitoring System (CMMS)) has been developed that records details of millions of animal movements each year between herds, through marts, small abattoirs, large slaughtering plants and live export points. The National Beef Assurance Scheme provided for the enhancement of the animals identification and tracing system, including the use of the system to validate the origin, and identity of animals before they enter the human food chain. This aspect of the Scheme is already being implemented.

National Beef Assurance Division
Department of Agriculture and Food
March 2003

For more information click here Bord Bia - Beef Quality Information