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Other Questions - Pigmeat Sector

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 755 No. 1

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 11.  Deputy Kevin Humphreys Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys  asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney  the value of the Irish pork industry in 2011; the percentage of that product that was free range or organic; his views regarding the marketing of pig meat as free range or organic that has not been raised in such a manner; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7062/12]

[96]

 16.  Deputy Pearse Doherty Information on Pearse Doherty Zoom on Pearse Doherty  asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney  if he plans to enforce proper regulation on free-range Irish pig farming; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7074/12]

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I propose to take Questions Nos. 11 and 16 together.

Ireland is more than 150% self-sufficient in pigmeat with the result that export values reached almost €400 million last year, an increase of 18% compared to 2010. The industry supports more than 7,000 jobs in farming, milling, processing and ancillary services. It is the third largest component of Irish agriculture after dairy and beef. The sector reaches into rural communities the length and breadth of the country, especially in Cavan and Cork.

The UK remains the largest single export market while the value of exports to international markets grew significantly during 2011. Pigmeat remains the most consumed meat worldwide and the substantial trade surplus in pigmeat in Ireland and the EU leaves us well placed to avail of developing opportunities in international markets, with China being particularly attractive in this respect.

For the information of the House, I met a representative of a very large pig and pork company from China recently and he told me that China slaughters 650 million pigs a year. That will give Members an idea of the scale of the markets we are trying to get into.

The importance of the domestic market to Irish pig producers must also be acknowledged. More than half our output is consumed domestically, which is unusual for agricultural products, and consumption increased by 7% during 2011.

Food Harvest 2020 targets a 50% growth in the value of output over the next nine years and factors such as improvements in sow productivity and growing the size of the national herd will help to meet this target. While organic production has become more popular in recent years, it remains very much a niche market for the production of pigmeat. The vast majority of Irish pigmeat is produced through traditional methods with approximately 380 commercial herds supplying the bulk of the output. There are approximately 70 organic pig producers and these are relatively small scale operators.

Organic production and labelling of organic products is controlled by European and national regulations. The EU legislation allows member states to use private inspection bodies to carry out the inspection and licensing system of organic operators. There are currently five approved organic control bodies — Organic Trust Ltd, the Irish Organic Farmers’ and Growers’ Association, IOFGA, the Institute of Marketology, IMO, Global Trust Certification Ltd, GTC, and the Biodynamic Agricultural Association of the UK, BDAA.

The labelling of free range pigmeat is not covered by any legislation unlike organic produce. There are a very small number of pig producers currently styling themselves as free range. As we are running out of time I would like to take some questions.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I thank the Minister. I am neither from Cavan nor Cork but there is a real interest in free range farming. A number of farming communities have gone into that niche with little or no regulation, and there are no rules laid down on labelling. It is a huge industry. Free range farming of pigs is an important element, and it could be a growing element in a niche market. Agriculture is important whether one is an urban or rural dweller but it is sometimes stated in this House that only a rural viewpoint is given on it. Given its importance to the economy, urban Deputies have a keen interest in that developing market.

[97]We need to lay down regulations to safeguard the livelihoods of farmers who have become involved in free range production. It would help them to expand and grow that niche market. We have a world reputation for grass-fed cattle and beef. The high quality of our cheeses is recognised worldwide. If an opportunity is provided for this farming sector to grow, the value of products generated will be increased and the sector will generate many needed jobs in rural areas.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney That is a fair point. With the development of the artisan food sector in Ireland, we are finding new ways of adding value to product that can target different types of premium markets. In the past we were very much a commodity food producer. We produced milk to produce cheese or milk powder but now we produce milk to produce both products and, on top of that, we produce sports nutrition drinks ingredients and infant formula, products at the high end of the value added sector, and we are doing the same with beef. We are the only country in the world that can measure the carbon footprint of our beef herds. Some 5,000 farms a week are currently being measured and their carbon footprint being taken by Bord Bia. We have 26,000 beef farms in Ireland and they now have the capacity to label their beef with a carbon footprint label. We are learning how to add value to what is a very special product coming out of Ireland and to measure that and provide the science and data that can convince consumers that they should spend more on it. This is a sector that perhaps we should be considering as well. We have no definition in legislation for free range pork products or pigs, unlike in the poultry sector in terms of eggs. I will talk to the Department about this area. It is an one that Bord Bia is examining in terms of its quality assurance scheme as it applies to pig production. It is examining ways in which it can incorporate not only organic pork but free range pork products as part of that label. I can send the Deputy more on it when I get it from Bord Bia.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I will call Deputy Humphreys again but I call Deputy Colreavy as another question is being taken with Question No. 11.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy I understand Question No. 16 is being taken with Question No. 11.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt Yes.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney Yes.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy I thank the Minister for that clarification. He is probably too young to remember a television series called “Glenroe”. There was a chap in it, Dinny Byrne, played by the late great Joe Lynch, Lord rest him.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Information on Simon Coveney Zoom on Simon Coveney I am not that young.

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys The Minister should take the compliment when he gets it.

Deputy Michael Colreavy: Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy Dinny had a nice little scam going on. He used to buy eggs in a shop and then put dirt on them and sell them as free range eggs. It is a long time since Dinny Byrne and his like were selling the alleged free range eggs. It is unfair to free range pig producers and organic producers that sausages and other pork products are being sold as free range when, as the Minister said, there is no legal definition for such free range produce. It is unfair to the consumer and to the genuine producers. I am glad the Minister will examine this area.

[98]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I take it the Deputy is not asking a question and that he is happy enough to make that point. Does Deputy Humphreys have another question?

Deputy Kevin Humphreys: Information on Kevin Humphreys Zoom on Kevin Humphreys I thank the Minister for his answer but I do not believe that the quality assurance scheme will work out that well. We need to lay down standards to let that market grow. In the case of pork products pitched at the high end of the market, there is an opportunity to create jobs in rural communities and grow the economy. I take on board what the Minister has said but I would deeply appreciate if he would push this matter a little further. If people want to get into that top end market, they need clear standards and to be able to label their produce similar to the way producers can label their produce as free range. That would help that small number of producers who are mainly based in the Cork area. It would assist in allowing them to grow their income and to grow that end of the industry. I thank the Minister again for his response.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt Zoom on Michael Kitt I take it the Deputy has no further question and he is happy with the response he got. That concludes Question Time.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.45 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 14 February 2012.


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