Commission to quiz IFA over data sharing of farmers who opt out of paying levy
The Data Commission has confirmed it will meet the IFA over aspects of its levy collection system that allows the sharing of some farmers' data.
"We will be engaging with the IFA to establish what their legal basis is" for receiving the data of farmers who opt out of paying a levy, a spokesperson for the Data Protection Commission said.
IFA confirmed it contacted the Data Protection Commission on Tuesday this week, after the legality of the levy collection, which includes a process for identifying farmers who do not pay the levy, was called into question by a leading data protection expert.
The levy, collected by meat processors, marts and co-ops on the IFA's behalf, was worth €3.2m to IFA in 2018.
The IFA says it allows all farmers to contribute fairly and proportionately based on the scale of their enterprise to support the association's work on their behalf.
According to IFA, a farmer's information is only passed to them if the farmer signs the form and gives explicit consent to do so.
However, Dr TJ McIntyre, a solicitor and law lecturer at UCD, said there must be a legal basis to provide information to third parties and this must normally be done on an "opt-in" basis.
"If the form does not allow farmers to opt out of the levy without their personal data being passed on to the IFA, then it is not valid consent for the purposes of the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)," he said.
Under GDPR, the Data Protection Commission investigates complaints from individuals, data breaches and carries out its own volition inquiries.
The majority of processors who were contacted did not respond to clarify if they have shared data with the IFA of farmers who do not pay the levy.
Kepak did not respond to queries about its levy arrangements. Nor did dairy processors Glanbia, Aurivo, Arrabawn or LacPatrick.
It's understood that Dawn Meats operates an opt-in levy arrangement, but that it does not share data and has never shared such data with IFA.
A spokesperson for Kerry Group said it deducts the levy from individual suppliers that have requested it.
"We pay it over to the IFA and have not passed on any lists to IFA and have not been asked to," they said.
Dairygold confirmed it has a levy deduction agreement with IFA and it is committed to its obligations under GDPR and does not share the personal data of Dairygold milk suppliers who do not pay the levy.
Lakeland Dairies also confirmed it collects levies and said it does not pass on information to the IFA.
A spokesman for the Irish Grain Growers said malt barley growers contracts include a stipulation that a deduction is taken from the purchase price for IFA.
"All levies should be optional," he said.
Fianna Fáil's Éamon Ó Cuív has called on the IFA to stop collecting the levies, "except from farmers who have expressedly given permission".
Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice said farm organisations should rely on membership subscriptions.
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