Coveney attacks EU for penalising dairy farmers
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney yesterday launched a strong attack on EU policy for penalising milk producers who aim to meet worldwide demand for dairy products.
He said it made no sense to impose fines on Irish farmers who stepped up production, given Europe as a whole was producing less milk than permitted under the quota system.
One-in-five bottlefed babies worldwide is drinking Irish formula milk, yet farmers here face hefty fines if they increase production to meet demand.
Mr Coveney said that he was trying to build a "coalition of interest" with other EU countries to allow farmers gradually produce more milk in advance of the abolition of the quota system in 2015, and has already won support from the Netherlands and Denmark.
The dairy sector is the flagship of the Irish food industry which is now an area of huge growth, with total food exports up 11pc last year and 13pc in the first half of 2011, he told a National Dairy Council conference in Dublin.
Ireland already produces enough food for 36 million people, but the aim is to produce enough for 50 million people by 2020, Mr Coveney said.
Premium products, such as infant milk formula, would be instrumental in this as Ireland produces 16-17pc of world baby milk, and the target is to increase that to 20pc by 2020.
Yet Mr Coveney said there was a very real danger that Irish farmers would face superlevy fines of 27-28c per litre this year for excess milk production.
It was a fluke that they weren't fined last year, as they were only saved because bad weather hampered grass growth and milk yields, he added.