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Don’t bring home the bacon

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Ray O’Hanlon

Don’t buy the bacon if you’re flying to the U.S. out of Dublin or Shannon airports.

The instruction, oddly enough, is coming from the company that produces it.

Passengers traveling from Ireland to the U.S. recently have come across advisory notices at the duty-free stores in both airports.

The notices tell potential buyers of duty-free bacon products that they will not be able to clear them through customs at their U.S. destination — this despite the longstanding agreement between the Irish and U.S. governments with regard to the importation of rashers, sausages and black and white pudding.

The snafu has arisen at the start of the peak transAtlantic flying season and is likely to last for a couple of weeks more at least.

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The temporary ban on bacon products made by the Dairygold company stems from renovation work currently being carried out at a Dairygold processing plant in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork.

The work follows an inspection of the plant carried out jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Irish government’s Department of Agriculture.

Following the inspection, it was agreed by both departments and the company that some changes were required in the plant’s physical structure.

The temporary closure at Mitchelstown is "specific to one plant and not the whole company," a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service told the Echo.

The spokeswoman said that USDA officials had visited the Mitchelstown plant recently and on the basis of recommendations, the plant — known to the USDA as simply "Establishment 293" — had been "voluntarily delisted" by the company in conjunction with the Irish Department of Agriculture.

"Right now, this plant can’t export their product to the U.S.," the spokeswoman said.

And that means confusion at the airports. Some U.S.-bound passengers have continued buying Dairygold’s "Galtee" and "Shannon Traditional" brands despite the notices and this has resulted in confiscation at U.S. airports.

The confusion has been heightened by the fact that the brands remain on sale in the first place. That’s because passengers bound for the U.K. or Europe can still buy them, though not at duty-free prices.

But one clear pointer to the present change in status of the duty-free bacon is that the required USDA clearance forms, which must be presented at U.S. airports such as JFK or Boston’s Logan, are no longer being given out at Dublin or Shannon.

Claire O’Donovan, regional sales manager for Dairygold U.S. Inc., stressed that the situation at Mitchelstown was temporary and that the company expected the plant to be fully operational again by August.

She pointed out that the production hiatus did not have the same implication as a product withdrawal.

"We ourselves agreed that the plant should stop production and go through some renovations," O’Donovan said.

She said that supplies of Dairygold products earlier cleared for export to the U.S. would ensure that there would be no gap in supply of the company’s products to U.S. supermarkets and restaurants.

O’Donovan said that the company hoped to sort out the duty-free problem in the next couple of weeks, possibly by supplying the duty-free stores at Dublin and Shannon from another Dairygold plant in Northern Ireland, which could "fill the gap."

She indicated that until further notice passengers should not buy Galtee or Shannon Traditional if they’re flying to the U.S.

The strict regulation of Irish bacon imports to the U.S. has been in force for a number of years. At present, only two Irish companies, Dairygold and Dawn Meats, sell Irish bacon in the U.S. market and only Dairygold sells at the Irish duty-free stores.

Bacon products purchased in Irish supermarkets are open to confiscation by U.S. Customs authorities on the grounds that they were likely not produced in a plant with the required USDA approval.

The joint meat processing inspection and approval program run by both Washington and Dublin stems from the early 1990s. In late 1992, Ireland, under pressure from the European Union, began importing meat products from other countries for further processing in Ireland.

This, in turn, prompted the U.S. to conclude that meat imports from Ireland were not necessarily entirely Irish in content.

Just before Christmas 1992, U.S. officials began large-scale confiscation of duty-free Irish bacon carried by arriving passengers at JFK and Logan.

The move caused some uproar at the time and led to a more formalized and detailed agreement by which specific Irish bacon products could be imported by U.S.-bound passengers if accompanied by the now familiar USDA white inspection form.

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