Irish meat products intended for the domestic market are of poorer quality than those that are exported, according to a new report by the European Food and Veterinary Office (FVO).

The report was highly critical of the Irish meat industry and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), highlighting problems of poor hygiene and maintenance and pointing out that production plants are not properly inspected by the FSAI. The FSAI has had the responsibility of regulating the industry in line with EU law since 1999, before which less stringent inspections were down to environmental health officers.

From a representative sample of the 270 plants in Ireland that produce pig products for the domestic market, FVO inspectors did not find a single one that was compliant with EU hygiene regulations.

Pat O'Mahoney, chief veterinary officer in charge of public health at the FSAI, has welcomed the report, which he admits gave valid criticism. "We welcome the FVO report and its laying down of benchmark regulations which must be complied with across Europe," he commented.

O'Mahoney stressed that there have always been strong links and close liaison between the FSAI and the FVO, and that the criticism must be seen in context. The FSAI was only established 15 months ago and there has not been the staff to fulfil requirements.

Things are beginning to look more positive, however. O'Mahoney revealed: "We have just been given approval for 22 new permanent vets by the Department of Health," and a training programme has been introduced to ensure all the vets are working to EU standards.

He stressed that the priority for the FSAI is to ensure that all Irish meat plants, whether producing products for the domestic or export markets, fully implement the FVO regulations.