Food scares and pricing among challenges for dairy regime

Of those surveyed, 90% say reputation of the Irish dairy sector is robust

NDC chief Zoe Kavanagh: “How do you make sure that we have mechanisms in place to ensure that we are operating to the highest standards rather than depending on the weakest link?”

NDC chief Zoe Kavanagh: “How do you make sure that we have mechanisms in place to ensure that we are operating to the highest standards rather than depending on the weakest link?”

 

Food scares, price volatility and the power of supermarket chains are among the key challenges facing the dairy industry after the milk quota regime is abolished this week, a report has found.

The research by Reputation Inc, commissioned by the National Dairy Council (NDC), involved more than 75 hours of interviews with farming and other dairy industry organisations, State agencies, Government departments, multinational companies and other interested parties.

Almost 90 per cent of people interviewed said the dairy industry’s reputation for product quality was either strong or very strong. “No one wakes up worrying about the milk going on their corn flakes,” one interviewee said.

Everyone surveyed saw export growth as offering the biggest opportunity when milk quotas are abolished. Most people interviewed saw little or no opportunity to increase growth in the Irish dairy market. Most cited volatile prices as the biggest challenge, but issues such as competitors, product contamination and environmental standards were also cited.

On the danger of product contamination, one interviewee said: “Anyone who doesn’t abide by the strictest standards should be removed and subject to a public flogging .”

NDC chief executive Zoe Kavanagh said reputation was “everything” to the dairy sector and must be safeguarded at all costs. “How do you make sure that we have mechanisms in place to ensure that we are operating to the highest standards rather than depending on the weakest link?” she said.

The research also showed concerns about antidairy messaging and “unqualified individuals propagating misinformation and untruths about dairy”. One interviewee criticised what were described as nutrition quacks, “unqualified people pushing the antidairy message. And they’re a big threat, because they can perpetuate misinformation and untruths.”

Model Rosanna Davison has been criticised by the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association for encouraging people to drop dairy products from their diets.

Interviewees did not believe Irish people valued their dairy produce as much as they should. “We’re happy to pay more for water,” one said. Another added: “Our appreciation for Irish dairy is not equal to, say, the French [people’s] respect for their cheese.”

Life cycle

Tomorrow is the last day of the milk quota regime, which was introduced by the EU 31 years ago. Now that they are free to produce as much milk as they wish, farmers are expected to increase milk production by 50 per cent by 2020.

Meanwhile, European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan has warned that the pollution problems created by fuel smuggling have the potential to cause international damage to Ireland’s food industry.

The PSNI and Northern Ireland’s Customs and Revenue officials recently discovered a fuel-laundering plant close to a public water supply for Armagh and Monaghan. The discovery included toxic sludge, which is created during the fuel-laundering process.

“The European Commission and the Irish authorities north and south should be working closely together in order to ensure that we actually deal with this problem once and for all,” Mr Hogan told RTÉ News.

“It’s too serious a matter for the reputuation of the island of Ireland but also too serious from the point of the view of the environment.”