Beef at risk as penalties for feeding steroids to cattle may be cut – An Taisce.

10th March 2013
Press Release

Restoring key safeguards for consumers hinges on proposals from Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness (FG). A pledge from Mairead McGuinness MEP to work to restore cross compliance for animal steroids has been welcomed by An Taisce and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB). The same organisations have also asked for her help to protect water supplies.

A recent vote by the influential Agricultural Committee of the European Parliament means that farmers found feeding illegal growth-promoting steroids to cattle will not see cuts in EU farm payments. The vote scraps this illegal use from ‘cross compliance’, the agricultural programme under which unlawful activity can result in reductions in EU farm payments. Voting by the European People’s Party, with Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness (FG) its sole Irish member, was central to the passing of the vote.

Welcome change of position by McGuinness

However, since the vote, McGuinness has promised to help change the position of the European People’s Party. She will table an amendment during March to restore the position so that a farmer breaking the law by using illegal steroids will have single farm payments suspended.

Welcoming this revised stance, James Nix, Director of An Taisce - The National Trust for Ireland, said: “We welcome Mairead McGuinness’ pledge to restore cross compliance for feeding animal steroids that are illegal. It is important that she succeeds as a failure would see a rise in steroid residues in beef and significant damage to what is a key export for Ireland. Failure to restore cross compliance would compromise law-abiding farmers”.

“When steroids are fed to cattle the resulting residues are present in beef”, said Nix, adding that “a situation in which law-breakers that feed their cattle illegal steroids could no longer be penalised through a cut in EU farm payments would pose a clear danger to consumers”.

“If the deterrent of reduced farm payments is scrapped, more steroids and other illegal substances will be fed to cattle across Europe”, he said.

Water protection suffered a similar fate to steroid use in the Agri Committee vote

At the same time as it scrapped illegal steroid use from cross compliance, the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament also dropped water quality from the same system of checks and balances.

An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland, and the European Environment Bureau, a federation of over 140 environmental citizens' organisations across all Member States are asking Mairead McGuinness MEP for her help to restore cross compliance for water pollution.

“Just as with illegal animal steroids, I think there is a growing realisation that it would be a huge mistake to drop key defences against water pollution from cross compliance in the next CAP”, said Faustine Defossez of the European Environmental Bureau.

“We need to improve the quality of drinking water quality in Ireland – rather than subject it to greater risk”, according to James Nix, Director of An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland. “Ireland already has one of Europe’s highest rates of cryptosporidiosis. We’ve a duty to protect our water supplies – and the Galway crisis in 2007, which came at the height of the tourism season, showed what can happen when risks are run”, according to Nix.

Why cross compliance is a key defence for consumers

“While it is true that it would remain illegal to feed steroids to cattle and pollute water, the only backstop would become prosecution and, as we all know, resources for prosecutions are low, and the wheels of justice move slowly”, noted An Taisce Director, James Nix.

Cross compliance protects jobs. If steroid residues are found in EU beef, consumers will see no distinction between European and US beef. The US has ill-advisedly let steroid residues enter its food chain with significant adverse health consequences.

Hormone-tainted beef is associated with reduced sexual capacity in males in the form of lower sperm count as well as the development of male breasts. Among girls, hormone use in cattle is associated with early puberty. The feeding of steroids and other artificial growth-promoters to cattle remains legal in the US, and this is implicated in the decline in the age at which girls enter puberty, which has fallen to an average of 10 years of age today, down from 13 years of age in 1950.

A lax approach at European level would soon cost jobs on Irish farms and processing facilities and have consequences for human health.

Lessons from horsemeat contamination

As recent events have shown, the last thing Europe needs is to tear down its fabric of checks and balances to let soft-touch regulation jeopardise the integrity of what we eat and drink.

Irish and European beef producers and consumers cannot afford more mistakes - and An Taisce urges Mairead McGuinness MEP to make good the mistakes that were made in the initial round of voting. The East MEP will have an opportunity to restore cross compliance for illegal steroid use and water quality protection at the next meeting of the European Parliament's agriculture committee later this month.

ENDS

For further information, please call:

Charles Stanley-Smith, An Taisce Communications – Tel: 087 2411995

James Nix, Director, An Taisce – Tel: 086 8394129

Email: publicaffairs@antaisce.org

An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland

www.antaisce.ie

Notes:

Under the Common Agricultural Policy, farm payments make up 40 per cent of the EU’s €1,005 billion 7-year budget and are a critical source of farm income. Since 1988 it has been illegal in the EU to feed certain steroids to cattle, legislation which was strengthened in 1996, and again in 2003 and 2008 (see European Directive 96/22, as amended). The link between good agricultural practices and safe drinking water is underlined in a series of reports, including the EPA’s recent survey of drinking water published in late November 2012.