Farm Ireland

Sunday 18 February 2018

Imports of British dairy hurts quality assurance

Lakeland Dairies is a cross-border co-operative.
Lakeland Dairies is a cross-border co-operative.
Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

At risk of sounding like the proverbial broken record, the issue of milk imports is the subject of this week's viewpoint once more.

Last week's news report showed how milk imports into the Republic have almost doubled for the first two months of the year compared to 2013.

The volumes imported are also significant, totalling 90m litres for January alone. To put this in perspective, the Republic's total superlevy fine of €15m was generated by an oversupply of around 55m litres.

The vast bulk of the milk came from Northern Ireland, but 9.28m litres was imported directly from Britain.

However, the real difficulty with the imported milk is not the volumes involved, it is with the quality assurance claims that Ireland is going to be making soon about its dairy industry and about its milk supply.

How can Ireland make claims on the sustainability of its industry and on traceability if the industry is buying in supplies from Britain?

The milk imported from Britain is undoubtedly top quality milk that is produced to equivalent standards to that produced here. But the fact remains that it is not Irish milk and the farmers producing it are not Irish farmers.

Lakeland Dairies and North Cork Co-op have accepted they have imported milk this spring. North Cork claims that it processes the imported milk separately. However, Lakelands declined to comment when asked if it processed milk imported from Britain separately from locally sourced milk.

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Aurivo also declined to comment when asked if it imported milk from Britain and if such milk was processed separately from local supplies.

In a statement to the Farming Independent, Bord Bia claimed the dairy quality assurance scheme launched earlier this year was introduced following a request from the dairy industry to develop an accredited scheme.

Bord Bia stressed that the scheme was not meant to be a watchdog for the Irish milk processors but a tool that would enhance the credibility of the dairy industry as a whole and assist the industry in gaining access to new markets while cementing our position in existing markets.

However, this will happen only if the quality assurance scheme is seen as a credible one that takes in both the primary producer and the processor.

According to Bord Bia the intention is that over an 18 month to 24 month period all milk being processed by dairies in the Republic of Ireland will come from certified dairy herds.

For that to happen imports will have to stop or an awful lot of suppliers in Northern Ireland, and maybe even Britain, will have to be certified.

It is difficult to see any of those options flying.

Indo Farming