Dáil Éireann - Volume 674 - 11 February, 2009

Other Questions - Food Industry.

[422] Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if extra funding will be made available to Bord Bia to promote Irish produce to continental EU markets following the pork dioxin scare and in view of the 30% gain made by the euro versus sterling which has a major impact on producer profits from British sales; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4885/09]

  Deputy Trevor Sargent: The total Exchequer allocation to Bord Bia for 2009 is €31.6 million, including specific allocations for quality assurance, that is, the quality assurance scheme, and healthy eating initiatives, such as the Food Dudes programme. This grant-in-aid, together with an industry contribution of the order of €7 million, will enable Bord Bia to implement a comprehensive set of promotional programmes and services to assist Irish food and drink companies build additional business in Europe, particularly in euro zone countries. These programmes have been developed in consultation with industry, bearing in mind the impact of the sterling differential on competitiveness.

Among the extensive range of activities planned for continental Europe are: a Private Label seminar, France-Belgium, which will be followed up by participation at the MDD — Marques de Distributeurs Alimentaires — trade fair in Paris and mentoring on the requirements of supplying continental supermarket groups; Marketplace Roadshow Spain, which involves building insight into Spanish market requirements, through a seminar on the retail and food service markets and the dynamics of the market, which will be followed by participation at the Club de Gourmet trade fair in Madrid and individually tailored buyer meetings with the largest customers in the market; Portugal market familiarisation, which involves a key insight into market and visiting the Alimentaria trade fair in Lisbon; the Private Label seminar, Scandinavia, Germany and Holland, which includes company specific mentoring on market requirements and participation in the PLMA — Private Label Manufacturers Association — international trade fair in Amsterdam; and food ingredients-nutraceuticals, Europe, which involves providing industry with detailed analysis on market requirements, particularly for dairy ingredients, culminating in participation in the Vita Foods international fair in Geneva. Other trade fairs where Bord Bia will be promoting the capability of the Irish food, drink and horticulture industry include Biofac in Munich this month, Vinexpo International Wine and Spirits in Bordeaux in June, TFWA Duty Free in Cannes in October, Anuga International in Cologne in October and Food Ingredients Europe in Frankfurt in November.

Bord Bia activities will also be prioritised to assist the meat sector following the dioxin contamination incident last year and the board has in place a market recovery campaign to build on the reassurances already provided to customers since the product recall. My Department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Bord Bia are continuing to work closely on market access issues and will be guided by Irish exporters with regard to programmes and activities required on a market by market and customer by customer basis.

  Deputy Seán Sherlock: I anticipate that the Minister of State will spend some time in the air to visit some of the events. I welcome the fact that there is a significant budget for Bord Bia. It is money well spent when one thinks of the return. The €8 billion to €9 billion in food exports will be one of the saviours if this economy is to lift itself out of recession. The emphasis on food production will be vital in that sense.

Has there been a full restoration of the markets in light of the pork dioxin scare? I refer to the markets prior to 6 December. As I understand it, we have lost some market share to the [423] UK because of the sterling differential, which is a major factor. I welcome the Minister of State’s answer but we need to step up our efforts in terms of the potential of continental Europe given that we have 33% of exports there currently. There is a greater potential in continental Europe. I do not necessarily expect the Minister of State to come back with a reply on that one given the timeframe — it is just by way of a general comment.

  Deputy Trevor Sargent: I appreciate what Deputy Sherlock said. He has taken a pragmatic approach. He put his finger on it in terms of the potential of the food market when it comes to the recession.

On the pigmeat sector, consumption in Ireland has returned to relative normality quite quickly. That, in itself, has sent out a positive message demonstrating the confidence of the consumer in Irish pigmeat. That is what Bord Bia is using in its market recovery campaign.

Bord Bia is currently preparing the first in a series of promotional campaigns being launched this month and it is hoped, subject to resources, that this can be followed by two similar campaigns later in the year. It is intended that these will focus on promoting products bearing the Bord Bia quality mark, which will also communicate origin as the Irish pork and bacon approved label is phased out.

The recovery plan has four aspects. First, there is the customer reassurance programme. This demonstrates the integrity of Irish health controls, which is the first point that Bord Bia makes internationally in all of our markets. Second, Bord Bia is working specifically with the Irish embassies, hosting bilateral veterinary meetings so that the people in those countries can be absolutely assured and can speak from a position of knowing everything that must be known about our traceability and our confidence.

Third, a trade communications programme is in place. That is where Bord Bia approaches decision makers in the retail, food service and manufacturing sectors to ensure that there is no breakdown in communication and they understand the primary quality of our product. Finally, on international access for pigmeat, Bord Bia is approaching opinion formers in the market based around the exemplary health controls. This involves the media, where Bord Bia gets into magazines and newspapers.

  Deputy P. J. Sheehan: I admire the Minister of State’s list of conferences worldwide.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: A supplementary, please.

  Deputy Trevor Sargent: I do not go to them all, by the way.

  Deputy P. J. Sheehan: I was going to ask if the Minister was going to travel by Government jet.

  Deputy Michael Creed: He will cycle.

  Deputy P. J. Sheehan: The Minister of State mentioned the word “traceability”. We have failed hopelessly on the traceability of the products that are offered here as Irish products in the poultry sector. What will the Minister of State do to correct that imbalance? It is no good going around the world advertising our product if it is not genuine product.

  Deputy Seymour Crawford: On the same issue of traceability, I support all the Minister of State’s efforts to promote the product but for the future we must be absolutely sure there is traceability. We did not have it when the problem arose. We have the same problem of trace[424] ability in the poultry sector. We do not have proper labelling. I would encourage both the Minister of State and the Minister to do all they can on food labelling.

  Deputy Trevor Sargent: I agree with the Deputy that it is a key issue. We have been asking the European Commission to accept our proposals. While we are working through that and insisting on a higher standard Europe-wide, we are succeeding in getting across that our overall health checks are exemplary and the fact that we had a total recall was evidence that we were not prepared to accept anything but the very best. There was no doubt whatsoever and no caveats in that regard. Unfortunately, that was required to ensure that we would not have any doubt.

There is still work to be done. The Minister, Deputy Smith, is working hard to ensure that our European partners accept that we need improvements in traceability.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.