A number of different agencies have a role in food safety and environmental health services in Ireland and throughout the European Union. The purpose of this document is set out some of the main legislation in Ireland and the EU in relation to food safety and to describe the main agencies responsible for implementing the rules.
The Department of Health has an overall policy role on food hygiene and safety. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has responsibility for a number of areas, mainly primary food products and animal health. Local authorities and the Health Service Executive (HSE) also have a role in implementing food safety rules.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has the overall co-ordinating role for food monitoring and regulatory activiteis of the other agencies involved.
Health Service Executive (HSE) is involved in implementing a range of legislation in relation to food safety and hygiene - this task is carried out by Environmental Health Officers.
Safefood - the Food Safety Promotion Board is a cross-border body set up under the Good Friday Agreement to promote food safety on the island of Ireland.
There is a range of legislation on food safety. The following Acts are the main relevant pieces of legislation.
The Health Acts, 1947, 1953 and 1970 provide for making regulations on food safety. The Food Hygiene Regulations are made under these Acts. The purpose of the regulations is to prevent the sale of diseased or contaminated food and to set out detailed hygiene precautions for the manufacture, preparation, sale and serving of food. These regulations set out the powers of Environmental Health Officers for inspecting food premises and dealing with breaches of the law.
Numerous orders have also been made under EU legislation, including legislation on the control of additives, food hygiene, food standards, etc. The main EU legislation on food safety is EU Regulation 178/2002 which establishes the European Food Safety Authority and sets out procedures in matters of food safety. The Environmental Health Officers and the Department of Agriculture Inspectorate are the principal agencies involved in implementing these regulations.
The European Commission includes a Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Affairs. This Directorate General has responsibility for food inspection and control as well as all the relevant scientific committees that advise on the various scientific aspects of food.
While the European Food Safety Authority advises on possible risk related to food safety, the responsibility for risk management lies with the EU institutions (European Commission, European Parliament and the Council, ie EU Member States). It is the role of the EU institutions, taking into account European Food Safety Authority's advice as well as other considerations, to propose and adopt legislation as well as regulatory and control measures when and where required. The Authority is a fully independent European agency.
The main role of the European Food Safety Authority is to provide independent scientific advice. It also assesses risks relating to the food chain and informs the public accordingly.
The EU Food and Veterinary Office is reponsible for monitoring compliance with various EU laws including those on food hygiene. It carries out inspections and audits in member states and in countries exporting to the EU in relation to foodstuffs of animal and vegetable origin. It also carries out audits regarding the use of chemicals (pesticides, veterinary medicines, growth stimulants) animal health and welfare and plant health.
The Food Safety Authority of Ireland's principal function is to take all reasonable steps to ensure that food produced in Ireland or distributed or marketed here meets the highest possible standards of food safety and hygiene. The Authority co-ordinates the activities of all the food safety agencies.
The food safety work of the following agencies is carried out under service contract to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.
Environmental Health Officers are employed by the HSE and implement national and EU laws on food safety and hygiene. They sometimes provide services for the local authorities as well. Among their responsibilities in the food safety area are:
Environmental Health Officers have other public health and environmental functions, including pest control, monitoring of temporary dwellings, inspection of public buildings such as schools and places of entertainment and industrial hygiene.
Individuals may contact Environmental Health Officers to complain about such matters as hygiene in food premises or water quality. In certain circumstances, the Environmental Health Officer may provide a service to an individual to deal with pests.
The Department has a direct role in food safety in that it has overall responsibility for animal health and welfare and for some areas of plant health. It also has direct responsibility in a number of primary product areas. Among the areas for which the Department has responsibility are:
The Department has its own Veterinary Inspectorate. Local Authority Veterinary Services exercise a range of veterinary functions on behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland in relation to disease control, liquid milk and meat inspections.
Complaints about the quality of fruit, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, meat and other fresh food may be made to the Department.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority is the statutory body that regulates medicines, medical devices and other health products.
The Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority is responsible for seafood safety.
If you have a question relating to this topic you can contact the Citizens Information Phone Service on 0761 07 4000 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or you can visit your local Citizens Information Centre.