Spot milk use is not positive for our farmers
Reports that spot milk from Britain is being processed in the South is not good news for Irish dairy farmers on several levels.
In a market that is already weakening, with prices expected to come back by around 10pc this year, the presence of large volumes of milk without a home – or distressed milk as it is being called – is bound to exacerbate the situation.
As we reported in the news section, the spot price for this British milk was running at around 21-23c/l yesterday.
This is 20c/l under the price that farmers here are receiving.
If the talk in the industry is to be believed, then a number of milk processors have imported milk from Britain this spring.
What is the point of Ireland launching a quality assurance initiative for the dairy industry and getting farmers here to jump through all sorts of hoops if processors are going to purchase imported milk on the spot market?
The cornerstone of any quality assurance scheme is surely traceability. Where is the traceability if the milk is purchased on the spot market?
Maybe it is the case that the milk is being processed separately from locally-produced supplies and, if this can be proven to be the case, then the scheme will stand up to scrutiny.
But what if it is not?
It is worth taking a look at the stated objectives of the Sustainable Dairy Assurance Scheme (SDAS):
* To demonstrate to customers of dairy products that milk is produced sustainably under an accredited scheme;
* To set out the criteria for best practice in Irish dairy farming;
* To provide an ongoing means of demonstrating best practice at producer level.
Can we stand over any of these objectives if the industry is processing spot milk as well as Irish?
We are repeatedly told that one of the key components of the SDAS is sustainability. Can Ireland really stand over the sustainability of our produce if spot milk is also being used?
An official from Bord Bia pointed out that the SDAS is a scheme for producers. He said the industry wanted to be able to show that it is selling a product that is quality assured and produced in a sustainable manner.
Essentially, the industry is looking for a marketing tool that Irish farmers are expected to deliver.
But marketing tools dressed up as quality assurance schemes usually end up being defrocked, as the horsemeat scandal showed.
If the dairy sector is to be quality assured, let us have a real one that encompasses both the dairy farmer and the processor.
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