Saturday, February 10, 2007

Failures galore

As poultry producers nervously watch the sales figures through the supermarkets this weekend, after Defra's admission that the current outbreak of avian flu could have been brought from Hungary in turkey meat, the betting is here that the one thing the media will not be doing is putting the blame where it properly belongs.

That blame, as readers might guess, properly belongs to the European Union, and in particular the EU commission, which has almost dictatorial powers when it comes to regulating inter-community trade in commodity products such as poultry meat.

EU poultry meat hygiene laws were in fact one of the very first sets of law to apply to our food trades, having been promulgated as Directive 71/118/EEC, now amended and updated by Directive 92/116/EEC. These laws have been augmented by others over the passage of time. To include such as Directives 2002/99/EC and 2003/99/EC, right up to and including the new Avian Influenza Directive 2005/94/EC.

It is fair to say that every aspect of poultry production is regulated to the most minute level by EU law, from the very food and housing of poultry flocks to the labelling and final packaging of the product on final sale in a retail store. Even the details of how the product is inspected, and by whom, is specified and so advanced is the system that the EU even has its own inspection authority in Food and Veterinary Office, which monitors national inspection programmes and control arrangements.

And, of course, all this law, this torrent of regulation, the billions in expenditure and the most draconian of restraints, are all designed to prevent the very thing that seems to have happened to Bernard Matthew’s bootiful Norfolk turkeys.

Furthermore, this is not just a question of the failure of EU laws and systems. The EU is a jealous god and does not permit other laws and controls to co-exist alongside the true religion.

Thus, even if our lamentably inadequate Defra officials had been aware of and concerned about shipments from Bernard Matthew's Hungarian firm to the UK, under the current EU law, there is absolutely nothing they could have done about them. As long as EU laws are complied with, officials cannot intervene on any consignment, whatever their concerns might be.

The irony is that the EU, so full of itself in advance, telling us what a wonderful job it is doing to protect our health, is always totally silent when it comes to its own failings after the event. As these emerge, its response will be to demand still more laws and more powers.

And so will the failures multiply.

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