The unprecedented criticism of the European Commission by the European Ombudsman on the Commission's management of Brazilian Beef imports comes at a very crucial time as the Commission tries to push through a Mercosur trade deal. The criticism of the Commission follows a two year-long detailed examination of the Commission's systems and fully vindicates the ICMSA's decision to formally complain to the European Ombudsman.
The ICMSA President, Jackie Cahill, said the Ombudsman's findings were very significant and the criticism expressed by the Ombudsman will confirm the worst suspicions of Irish farmers that during the period in question (2008) the Commission was permitted beef to be imported to the European Union which its own veterinary people had deemed to be unsafe. The Commission has completely failed to justify this action and – in a move which will surely concern the various Member States' Ministers for Agriculture – could only cite 'trade reasons' as their motive for disregarding their own officials' advice and warnings in a manner that endangered public and animal health. On this basis alone, Mr Cahill said the ICMSA complaint and the investigation by the Ombudsman was necessary and fully justified.
The ICMSA President said there were other issues that must be addressed.
"We think it's very important that the Ombudsman has noted the distinction between the implementation of controls and the theoretical system of control – in other words, that there is some hard factual effort to back up grandiose theories and plans for animal health and disease prevention – and we particularly welcome the Ombudsman's observation that animal traceability and an animal movement system are vital for any system of control of third countries. Such implementation and functioning animal movement systems did not exist in Brazil in the period of review and do not now exist to any meaningful degree", stated Mr Cahill.
The ICMSA President said that another finding which must be taken fully on board and adopted by the Commission is that any such deficiencies in controls would justify and require imposing import restrictions on beef originating from areas of Brazil where the foot and mouth virus is not currently present. In this regard, according to Mr Cahill, the Ombudsman is clearly signalling to the Commission that any continuing or future failure to impose such import restrictions would mean that the Commission would be guilty of maladministration.
"In a complete departure from their normal practice, the Ombudsman makes a recommendation which supports the ICMSA's substantive complaint and that is that the Commission must conduct regular missions to third countries for the purpose of carrying out the systemic inspections necessary to ensure that such countries not alone propose but actually carry through the various controls that would provide an equivalent level of protection as provided for within the EU", said Mr Cahill.
"What this effectively means is that the Ombudsman's investigations showed blatant inadequacies in the Commission's services where no mechanism existed to ensure that Brazilian authorities kept in place the controls that are required."
Mr. Cahill said that this report by the Ombudsman is the first outside and objective audit of this vital part of the EU Commission's monitoring and inspections of food imports. The Commission has clearly been found wanting. What is now required is a demand from the Farm Council for a full, up-to-date report from the Commissioner on what action he intends taking to fully comply with the Ombudsman's recommendations.
Finally, Mr. Cahill said that Ireland must full utilise this report to insist that any imports of beef, or any other food items, into Europe are produced to the same standards as are demanded of EU farmers.
Ends. 20 July 2010
John Comer, 087-2057846
Deputy President, ICMSA.
Cathal MacCarthy, 087-6168758 or 061-314677
ICMSA Press office