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John’s crusade gives people plenty of food for thought



Date Published: {J}

Food has become increasingly a life and death issue and not just in the famine-wracked countries of Africa.

The recent E coli outbreak in Germany resulted in the deaths of 48 people and infected more than 4,000 people – that’s twice as many people as the Fukushima nuclear disaster and the Gulf Oil spill combined.

The medical cost of the disaster has been estimated at €2.5 billion. It cost fresh food farmers on the continent at least €1.2 billion.

The Germans rushed to blame Spanish organic cucumbers, before they turned their attention to lettuce and tomatoes and later bean sprouts as the source. Last week the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control blamed fenugreek seeds sourced in Egypt.

Closer to home the Irish pork crisis of 2008 gave us a taste of the devastation wreaked by a food scare.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland recalled from the market all Irish pork products after it was discovered that one Irish manufacturer had supplied contaminated animal feed to 37 beef farms and nine pig farms.

Within two days of the first announcement 1,800 jobs had been lost in the Irish pig industry.

Some 100,000 pigs were slaughtered even though veterinary authorities said they thought only 10 of Ireland’s 500 pig farms had been contaminated by dioxin-tainted feed

The Irish Government insisted that the threat to public health from Irish beef products, even though the dioxin levels were higher than in the affected pork, was insignificant.

Within 36 hours there were over 1,700 newspaper articles on the crisis with the Daily Mirror declaring: ‘Poison pork panic: Irish pigs were fed on plastic bags’.

The European Food Safety Authority said it considered that the levels of dioxin and dioxin like PCBs in Irish pork, before the contaminated pork was withdrawn, posed no risk to health. They found that if a consumer ate Irish pork each day over the 90-day period, 10% of which was contaminated, the "increase in the body burden [would be] of no concern for this single event".

In the "very extreme case" of eating large amounts of 100% contaminated Irish pork every day over the 90-day period in question, the authority considered that "this unlikely scenario would reduce protection, but not necessarily lead to adverse health effects".

The scare cost producers over €100 million and devastated an industry worth €750 million annually.

The impact of both crises would have been curtailed had there been a more robust global system. And that is what Shantalla native John Keogh has been working on for almost three years.

“We can’t continue to do total recalls. If we are using global standards it should be possible to trace the produce back to the one farm. Too often in Europe there is a total recall instead of a pointed recall of an affected batch of lot,” he explains.

“The population is going to be nine billion by 2050, it’s said we’re going to need two planets to feed everyone. Yet 50% of food produced is not consumed. That has to stop. If we implemented global standards on every product, even an apple, we could have a traceability system that we could trust.”

For the last three years, John is the senior vice-president responsible for product safety and recalls for GS1, a global non-profit industry standards group funded by companies. He works mainly out of an office in Brussels.

He believes the ability to rapidly identify unsafe products and then remove them from the supply chain across pharmaceuticals, medical devices, toys, consumer goods and food is one of the most important challenges facing the world.

He points to a 2008 study which found that it takes an average of 18 days for large food manufacturers to sense the need for a recall and issue one.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Galway have lot to ponder in poor show



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013




GALWAY’S first serious examination of the 2013 season rather disturbingly ended with a rating well below the 40% pass mark at the idyllic, if rather Siberian, seaside setting of Enniscrone on Sunday last.

The defeat cost Galway a place in the FBD League Final against Leitrim and also put a fair dent on their confidence shield for the bigger tests that lie ahead in February.

There was no fluke element in this success by an understrength Sligo side and by the time Leitrim referee, Frank Flynn, sounded the final whistle, there wasn’t a perished soul in the crowd of about 500 who could question the justice of the outcome.

It is only pre-season and last Sunday’s blast of dry polar winds did remind everyone that this is far from summer football, but make no mistake about it, the match did lay down some very worrying markers for Galway following a couple of victories over below par third level college teams.

Galway did start the game quite positively, leading by four points at the end of a first quarter when they missed as much more, but when Sligo stepped up the tempo of the game in the 10 minutes before half-time, the maroon resistance crumbled with frightening rapidity.

Some of the statistics of the match make for grim perusal. Over the course of the hour, Galway only scored two points from play and they went through a 52 minute period of the match, without raising a white flag – admittedly a late rally did bring them close to a draw but that would have been very rough justice on Sligo.

Sligo were backable at 9/4 coming into this match, the odds being stretched with the ‘missing list’ on Kevin Walsh’s team sheet – Adrian Marren, Stephen Coen, Tony Taylor, Ross Donovan, David Kelly, David Maye, Johnny Davey and Eamon O’Hara, were all marked absent for a variety of reasons.

Walsh has his Sligo side well schooled in the high intensity, close quarters type of football, and the harder Galway tried to go through the short game channels, the more the home side bottled them up.

Galway badly needed to find some variety in their attacking strategy and maybe there is a lot to be said for the traditional Meath style of giving long, quick ball to a full forward line with a big target man on the edge of the square – given Paul Conroy’s prowess close to goal last season, maybe it is time to ‘settle’ on a few basics.

Defensively, Galway were reasonably solid with Gary Sice at centre back probably their best player – he was one of the few men in maroon to deliver decent long ball deep into the attacking zone – while Finian Hanley, Conor Costello and Gary O’Donnell also kept things tight.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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