Not so hard cheese for Ireland as China approves dairy exports

Irish dairy products approved for China export but Britain falls short

Tue, May 13, 2014, 10:27

Ireland’s dairy sector had cause to celebrate after it was one of the countries to pass an audit by the Chinese authorities, which means that Irish plants have been found to meet fully the standards of China’s new food safety laws.

The Chinese authorities have conducted an inspection audit of the dairy production chain, with a focus on infant formula exporting plants, in several countries over the past few months, and Ireland was one of the few to pass. Irish dairy exports to China were worth €170 million in 2013, an increase from just €50 million in 2011.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney described it as an excellent result that Ireland has achieved 100 per cent compliance with the Chinese requirements, and that every company that applied for access has been accepted.

“This is further evidence of the value placed on both our dairy exports and our regulatory standards by key markets around the world.

“This outcome also demonstrates why three of the top four infant formula companies in the world have chosen to locate in Ireland and why we remain the best country for inward investment in the food sector,” he said.

“The abolition of dairy quotas this time next year will be an historic moment for Irish agriculture and will mean the Irish dairy sector can start to fully realise its potential in key markets such as China,” Mr Coveney added.

The positive outcome was the result of nine months of intense engagement by his department, Bord Bia, the Irish Embassy in Beijing and the Irish diary industry with the Chinese authorities and it means more than 30 Irish dairy companies are now in compliance with the new Chinese regulations. “This is a really good news story for Ireland [and] for the China-Ireland trading relationship,” said Ireland’s ambassador to China, Paul Kavanagh.

“The Irish dairy industry is a world leader, we are top in quality and safety, and this has been borne out by the Chinese inspection. They did a very thorough job and the outcome is very positive.”

“To get a clean bill of health ahead of the lifting of the quotas is terrific,” said Kavanagh.

Dairy product safety is a vital issue in China, since tainted milk powder caused the death of six infants and sickened thousands in 2008.

There is considerable anger in Britain after the Chinese suspended all UK cheese imports from May 1st.

According to British media reports, the inspectors were in Britain in March and asked to visit a cheese factory. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and industry body Dairy UK arranged the visit, assuming it was a general visit, but it turned out to be a full audit. The dairy they visited does not export its produce to China.

Chinese concerned
The Chinese said they were concerned about maintenance, air sanitation, temperatures of raw milk during transportation and chemical storage.

The Irish appear to have been better prepared. An audit team visited Ireland in April, prior to which the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine accompanied by industry representatives visited Beijing for discussions with the Chinese authorities.

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