High court halts legal action over food industry standards scheme

Judge says claim is ‘impossibly broad’

The plaintiff complained of “considerable overlap” in membership of the boards of various standards bodies.

The plaintiff complained of “considerable overlap” in membership of the boards of various standards bodies.

 

An action by a management systems trainer alleging the Irish food industry’s accreditation and standards scheme is wrongly focussed on the market and operates to the detriment of producers has been halted by the High Court.

Noel Long also complained of “considerable overlap” in membership of the boards of various standards’ bodies.

Among various claims by Mr Long, trading as QMS Solutions, was that the standards system operate by various State bodies breaches various statutory and EU obligations of those bodies.

He claimed the constitution of Bord Bia, the Irish National Accreditation Board and the National Standards Authority of Ireland is flawed primarily because, he alleged, their boards include persons who could objectively be seen to have a conflict of interest.

Mr Long brought proceedings against the three bodies and the Department of Agriculture who brought pre-trial applications to strike out his case as disclosing no reasonable cause of action and bound to fail.

In her judgment granting their applications, Ms Justice Marie Baker noted Mr Long has a background in horticulture, food science and quality food assurance, holds a BSc degree in Quality Management, diploma in Food Quality Assurance and in Horticulture and many related certificates.

He was also a qualified trainer in management systems through a body, QMS Solutions, who asked for the purpose of this case to be treated as a sole trader, she said.

QMS Solutions had submitted a response to a tender issued by Bord Bia in February 2014 for provision of information technology services for development and implementation of a web based portal, “Origin Green Platform”, to facilitate communications and engagement with a sustainability development programme for Irish food, drink and horticultural companies.

The QMS tender was unsuccessful and Mr Long subsequently raised a range of matters with Bord Bia, various Government departments, politicians, the Attorney General’s office, members of foreign embassies here, media and various statutory and public bodies, the judge said.

Mr Long claimed the defendants had wrongly failed to adopt the systems solution proposed by QMS Solutions in support of producer organisations. The QMS “solution” complied with both national and EU procurement legislation, he argued.

He had also pointed to “a considerable overlap” between the members of the boards in the various organisation and claimed the system was “corrupt and not sufficient to meet the needs of producers”, the judge noted.

Mr Long accepted some language used by him in various emails was “intemperate”, she noted. The court accepted he was “passionate” about standards and motivated by a desire for excellence in standards of food production with which he had been involved for some 20 years.

His specific complaint in these proceedings was the relevant bodies and enabling legislation had incorrectly transposed EU law or EU requirements in that the focus of the Irish accreditation and standards scheme was the market and not the needs of producers, she said.

The judge accepted arguments by the defendants Mr Long did not have the necessary legal standing to advance that claim because he is an adviser to those who avail of the accreditation system rather than a person who avails of it himself.

His claim, set out in a document running to some 300 pages, was also “impossibly broad” with “all the hallmarks” of a general allegation of corruption, political statement and attack on Government policy, she added.