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Alpha-nortestosterone review completed

14 November, 2007


The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has published the review into DARD's handling of the alpha-nortestosterone issue.

In June the Minister met with those farmers who had On Farm Emergency Slaughter (OFES) male cattle condemned due to a positive alpha-nortestosterone test. Speaking after that meeting, she had said that it was evident that many farmers remain angry and frustrated about their treatment. In response she undertook to initiate a review of the department's handling of the issue and see what lessons could be learned. The review was completed by Joan Ruddock and the full report is available at:
www.dardni.gov.uk/index/fisheries-farming-and-food/food-and-feed-safety-and-quality.htm

The report made a number of recommendations into Department's handling of the case. In summary these are:

  • The report recommends that DARD examines mechanisms to facilitate an earlier and speedier response to findings arising from emerging science;
  • That DARD examines the manner in which it approaches on-farm searches with particular emphasis on communication, taking into account that not all farmers subject to surprise searches will have engaged in illegal activity;
  • DARD ensures that processes are in place to allow for speedier implementation of policy change in response to evidence and
  • DARD ensures that processors, through the Northern Ireland Meat Exporters' Association (NIMEA) are formally involved in strategic discussions in any future similar event.

Sinn Féin Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew MP MLA said:

"I am grateful to Joan for having produced such a focussed and detailed review. Her findings provide a constructive way forward and I am determined that my department will learn valuable lessons from this episode. We will begin to implement the recommendations which I am confident will improve future decision making in similar circumstances."

Ms Gildernew said that farmers had expressed concern about the manner of the on-farm searches:

"The Review states that the actions taken by DARD in respect of the surprise on-farm searches were in compliance with legislation. However, we accept that we should examine our approach to future searches as well as that of other enforcement agencies, in order to share and develop best practice.

"The Review clearly states that DARD acted upon the highest level of scientific advice available at the time and that our actions were compliant with legislation. However there are points on which we can improve such as developing a speedier response to emerging science and policy change as well as better communication in regard to on-farm searches.

"I also agree with the review's opinion that meat processors are a vital part of the supply chain and that in the event of a similar event arising in the future, that we should formally involve NIMEA."

In conclusion the Minister said:

"This whole issue caused anger and frustration among many farmers. I personally met with the farmers to understand their views around DARD's actions. In recognition of the fact that farmers had lost cattle through no fault of their own, I also arranged for a goodwill payment to be made to those affected. This was beyond our statutory obligations.

"I can assure you that my department will respond positively to this review. We now need to move forward and learn from this experience, so that we can continue to discharge our responsibility of protecting consumers and the reputation of the agri-food industry, while trying to minimise disruption to farmers - this review enables us to do that." ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Joan Ruddock is a non-executive member of the DARD Board. One of the roles of non-executive Board Members is to provide objective critical input to the DARD decision making process.

The Terms of Reference for the review were:

  • the Scientific basis for the initiation of action;
  • the follow-up action on farms;
  • the rationale for the decision to make ex-gratia payment in respect of the animals condemned; and,
  • lessons learnt

Mrs Ruddock was also asked to include recommendations on how the handling of any similar issues in future could be improved so that the Department can continue to discharge its statutory responsibility to protect the consumer and reputation of the agri-food industry whilst trying to minimise the disturbance to farmers.

The Department has developed an action plan is response to the report's recommendations.

DARD Action Plan

Review Recommendation

DARD acts with AFBI scientists and political representatives to ensure a speedy response to the question of what additional scientific evidence is required by Competent Authorities before advice on the interpretation of the legislation can be changed.

DARD response

DARD will work with the relevant Competent Authorities in Europe to ensure that sufficient scientific evidence is provided to allow the interpretation of the legislation to be changed. In the mean time, if an animal is condemned due to testing positive for alpha-nortestosterone, an analytical test is now available which can determine if illegal treatment has taken place. If no evidence of hormone abuse is found, then DARD will pay the market value of the animal.

Review Recommendation

DARD examines the mechanisms which can be built in to the management process to facilitate an earlier and speedier response to findings arising from emerging science and that the adoption of a Project Management approach be considered.

DARD response

DARD will adopt a project management approach.

Review Recommendation

DARD examines the manner in which it approaches on-farm searches with particular emphasis on communication, taking into account that it may be that not all farmers subject to surprise searches will have engaged in illegal activity.

DARD response

DARD will examine its approach to the manner in which on-farm searches are conducted to ensure that sensitivities are built in to take account of the potential eventuality that not all farmers subjected to on-farm searches will be involved in illegal activity. DARD will examine the approaches taken by other enforcement agencies in order to share and develop best practice.

Review Recommendation

DARD ensures that processes are in place to allow for speedier implementation of policy change in response to evidence and that as in recommendation (b), consideration be given to a Project Management approach to facilitate action.

DARD response

DARD will adopt a project management approach.

Review Recommendation

DARD ensures that processors, through NIMEA, are formally involved in strategic discussions in any future similar event.

DARD response

DARD will involve stakeholders, through their representative bodies, in future discussions.

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