Crisis in poultry sector
BY MÍCHEÁL MacDONNCHA
The crisis in the Irish poultry industry was raised in the Dáil last week by Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin. He called for government action on concerns over the safety of imported poultry products and on the threat to the home industry, including both poultry producers and processors, posed by the growing volume of imports.
The Cavan/Monaghan TD pointed to the unequal commercial relationships in the sector and urged ``a true partnership'' to ensure the future of the industry. He called for immediate negotiations to settle the current dispute at Monaghan Poultry Products. Ó Caoláin secured the special adjournment debate on 12 October. He told the Dáil:
Consumption has increased markedly but so also have imports of chicken meat. We now have the alarming situation where imports account for 37% of domestic consumption
``The word `crisis' is over-used, not least in the area of agriculture, but I have to put it to the Minister that it applies today in the poultry industry. It is, in the words of the Irish Farmers Journal on 2 September 2000, ``a sector in crisis''.
``The root of this crisis was identified as long ago as December 1998 when the Report of the Food Industry Development Group stated that `good growth in consumption and production is being matched by increased competition from imports' and that `domestic processors are slipping in their bid to compete for the high value-added segment of the market'. Since the publication of that report, the situation has deteriorated. Consumption has increased markedly but so also have imports of chicken meat. We now have the alarming situation where imports account for 37% of domestic consumption.
``More alarming still is the lack of proper monitoring and quality control of these imports. The consumer is in the dark. Consumers must be assured of both a clear choice between Irish and imported products and a cast-iron guarantee of the safety of all food. I urge the Minister and his Department, in conjunction with the Food Safety Authority, to introduce quality controls and regulations, including country of origin labelling, on all poultry products, given the growing concern at the ever-increasing levels of unrestricted chicken-meat imports not subject to the high standards and controls that apply to the home `grown' product.
``The crisis in the poultry industry now threatens the livelihoods of nearly 400 growers and breeders and their families, many of them in my own constituency. I believe that unless there is concerted action at the highest level the consumers, the producers and, ultimately, the processors also, will all lose out.''
Ó Caoláin said he found the response of the Fianna Fáil Minister for Agriculture and Food, Joe Walsh, ``totally deficient in a number of respects''. He said that while the Minister had outlined the safety checks that apply within the EU, there were still concerns regarding the absence of real and effective traceability and the wholly unacceptable practice of misrepresenting imported chicken meat as Irish in origin. ``I believe that imports are being sold as Irish produce. If this kind of labelling abuse can happen, then other safety regulations can be by-passed. We need greater vigilance, more effective enforcement of existing regulations, and further regulations where appropriate,'' said Ó Caoláin.
He said the Minister had answered ``not as an Irish Minister but as an EU Minister'' with regard to imports. ``Saying as the Minister does that the balance of exports over imports benefits the EU as a whole simply disguises the fact that the Irish industry is facing an imminent threat from imports. The primary producers of poultry in Ireland are being squeezed out. That is the experience of people here in Counties Cavan and Monaghan. We face economic disaster if the current trend continues.
``The Minister has not addressed the critical need to develop the industry on a basis of partnership so that it can compete efficiently on the home and international markets.''