Rabbitte's cheese ban plan grates on Coveney's nerves


MINISTER FOR Agriculture Simon Coveney has written to Government colleague Pat Rabbitte on several occasions in recent months advising against a proposal to prohibit advertisements for certain cheeses during children’s television programmes.

As Minister for Communications, Mr Rabbitte has responsibility for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), which is reviewing diet and nutrition rules contained in its children’s commercial communications code. While it covers a wide variety of food and drinks, the proposal to include certain cheeses in the “less healthy” category has received the most criticism.

In a letter to Mr Rabbitte following a discussion in April, Mr Coveney wrote that he was “strongly of the view” that the approach to cheese should be altered from that proposed.

He noted the average intake of cheese by children was 16g a day for the 60 per cent of children who ate cheese. “This is well below the recommended 40g/day and far below the 100g that was examined in the profiling model used by the BAI.”

He also warned, “Any ban on the advertising of cheddar cheese has the potential to damage the brand image of Irish dairy products, particularly on overseas markets, at a time when the industry is gearing up to increase production in the lead-up to the abolition of milk quotas in 2015.”

In a letter written in March, he said Mr Rabbitte would be aware of “the sensitivities that inevitably surround proposals to limit the advertising of certain products, particularly in the context of an Irish food sector which is a significant and critically important engine of employment and economic recovery”.

In the September correspondence, Mr Coveney highlighted the Food Harvest 2020 plan for the agri-food sector which targets an increase of 50 per cent in milk production over the next decade.

Mr Coveney told Mr Rabbitte it was difficult to reconcile the categorisation of cheese as a less healthy food with current European Union policy, which provides for the distribution of cheese to school children and to the needy across Europe.

The BAI held two public consultations on the draft code, the last of which closed in recent weeks. It received 70 submissions.

After holding meetings on the issue, the Joint Committee on Communications, Natural Resources and Agriculture made a submission to the authority.

Committee chairman Andrew Doyle highlighted the anomaly in categorising cheese as less healthy while diet cola was seen as healthier.

He referred to a committee meeting with the National Dairy Council and said the committee was “in strong agreement” with the council’s arguments against the inclusion of cheese in the “less healthy” category.