Farm Ireland

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Sugar beet report leads to calls for new quota

Declan O'Brien

Declan O'Brien

A former leader of the country's beet growers said he was not "overly surprised" by criticism of the EU Commission's sugar restructuring programme.

Cork tillage farmer Jim O'Regan said he believed the commission had approached reform of the sugar industry "from the wrong angle" during the initial talks in 2005.

Mr O'Regan was chairman of the IFA beet committee from 2002 to 2006 and was party to the negotiations which preceded the closure of the Irish industry.

However, he insisted that he was vehemently opposed to the EU approach to the rationalisation process.

A damning report by the EU Court of Auditors has criticised the decision to shut Greencore's processing plant in Mallow, claiming that it was based on out-of-date information on the productivity of the Irish sugar sector.

The report points out that the company had undertaken significant rationalisation of the Mallow plant in the years prior to its closure while both the sugar content and overall beet yield of Irish crops had improved significantly.

Mr O'Regan said the entire rationalisation plan was based on the flawed premise that subsidised European production was distorting sugar prices on world markets.

"We were not over-producing sugar," Mr O'Regan maintained. He pointed out that the EU was giving preferential access to the lucrative European market for African, Caribbean and Pacific states.

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"If the industry was shut down on inaccurate data then there was an onus on the Government to seek the reinstatement of the Irish sugar quota," Mr O'Regan insisted.

However, speaking in the Dail last week, Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith maintained that the European commission had the "most up-to-date information" on Ireland's sugar industry throughout the negotiation process.

He said the Government could not be blamed for the decision to shut down the industry as it was Greencore, who held the entire Irish sugar quota, who had opted to exit processing.

Mr Smith said any proposal to re-establish sugar production in Ireland would be subject to commercial considerations by interested parties.

However, Fine Gael's Cork East TD David Stanton has demanded that the Government undertakes a feasibility study on the viability of reviving the industry.

"The shutdown of our sugar industry had a devastating impact on our economy and employment here which affected thousands of jobs. It forced the closure of the Mallow sugar factory and impacted on farmers, contractors, hauliers and other workers dependent on the sugar industry," he said.

"Now it has emerged from the Auditors report that the European Commission decisions to shut down our sugar industry was based on out of date information.

"Our perfectly functioning and viable sugar industry should never have been shut down. The Government must initiate a feasibility study into re-starting our sugar industry aligned with ethanol production. Talks must also be initiated with the European Commission as to how this could come about."

Irish Independent