Dáil Éireann - Volume 622 - 27 June, 2006

Written Answers. - Food Industry.

Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of mushroom growers who are in production at the present time; the number who were in production on 1 January 2000; if she has satisfied herself that everything possible is being done to help those who remain in business and that everything possible is being done to ensure that only Irish mushrooms are being sold under the Irish label; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [24355/06]

[983]   Mary Coughlan: At the start of 2006, the number of growers producing mushrooms in Ireland was estimated at 130, compared to 500 growers in 2000. Although the number of growers has reduced considerably and continues to do so, there has been an increase in scale of individual producers and, accordingly, mushroom output has remained relatively stable over the period. In 2005 mushroom output is estimated at 62,000 tonnes.

The Mushroom Task Force was set up in 2003 to address the difficulties in the mushroom industry. In its report of 2004, the Task Force agreed that the industry needed to become more efficient to move forward in a very competitive market environment and agreed a set of recommendations to put the industry on a firm footing. These recommendations continue to be progressed.

Substantial assistance is being provided by my Department to the industry under the National Development Plan. Since 2001, over €3m in grant aid has been paid to mushroom producers throughout the country which has supported capital investments of €9m in the upgrading of their operations. This year approximately €2.7m in grants is being provided to growers to fund projects to the investment value of €7.7m. In addition, under my Department’s Capital Investment Scheme for the Marketing and Processing of Agricultural Products a total of €2m has been awarded for the mushroom sector, of which €1.5m was awarded this year.

Mushroom producers also benefit from EU aid under the Producer Organisation Scheme which is administered by my Department. Just over €5m was paid to 6 recognised Producer Organisations in the mushroom sector in 2005. There are currently 3 mushroom Producer Organisations and financial assistance of up to €4m was claimed in 2006 in respect of the 2005 operational year. The development of Producer Organisations under EU Regulations has made a very important contribution to the development of this sector as it enables producers to benefit from their combined [984] strength in the production and marketing of their product. While the Producer Organisations include growers from UK and Northern Ireland, most of the funding goes to Irish producers.

With regard to the marketing of mushrooms, there are stringent EU quality standards set down which include presentation and marking of the product. Under these provisions each package must state the country of origin. Officials from my Department inspect horticultural products including mushrooms at wholesale and retail levels throughout the country to ensure that the relevant standards are being met.

In addition, under the general labelling Directive 2000/13 which applies to mushrooms as well as other foodstuffs, there is a requirement that labelling methods must not mislead the purchaser as to the characteristics, nature, identity and origin of the food product. This Directive, which has been transposed into national law by S.I. No. 483 of 2002, is enforced by the Department of Health and Children through the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and provides for an offence in the case of non-compliance.