Written Answers. - Organic Farming.

John Gormley

Question:

70 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if he will incorporate the existing organic organisations into the organic farming section of his Department to become an independent advisory, marketing and support organisation for farmers separate from Teagasc in view of the growing potential of organic markets here and abroad as outlined in a newspaper (details supplied). [5035/00]

I take it that the organic organisations referred to are the three private limited companies approved by my Department under Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2092/91 to carry out inspections of operators involved in the organic crop products area. These bodies are already supported by my Department through annual contributions they receive towards the costs of inspections. Since 1994, more than £90,000 has been paid to them on a per-inspection basis. IOFGA has received £44,143, Organic Trust has received £39,376 and Demeter has received £7,240.

It would not be feasible to incorporate the three bodies into the Department as the Deputy suggests. In any event the organic sector is already strongly supported by the State services of Teagasc, Bord Bia, Bord Glas and the organic unit of my Department.

Teagasc is the national body with responsibility for providing research, advice and training to the agriculture and food sector. In 1998 Teagasc conducted an organic farming needs study in conjunction with the three approved inspection bodies. Teagasc is in the process of assessing and responding to the needs identified in this study. The Teagasc organic unit at Johnstown Castle commenced research on organic milk production in July 1999, and research at this unit on organic cereal production has resumed in collaboration with the research centre at Oakpark. During 1999 a Teagasc staff member was assigned to provide training and advice to organic producers, and it is hoped to allocate additional advisory staff to this work as demand requires.

The services of Bord Bia and Bord Glas are available in relation to marketing of organic produce.

In 1990 an organic unit was established in my Department in response to the growing interest in and demand for organic food. Assistance to the organic sector is provided by this unit and in addition financial aid has been made available under the following programmes: the rural environment protection scheme for the conversion of land to organic farming and support for farmers continuing organic farming and EU Structural Funds under the Operational Programme for Agriculture, Rural Development and Forestry OPARDF 1994-99 for the development of the organic sector.

In addition to the above support measures, the organic sector has been eligible for funding from: the Leader programme, INTERREG, Programme for Peace and Reconciliation and FEOGA grant aid for processing of agricultural products.

Significant support for the organic sector will continue to be provided in the period to 2006 under the national development plan. While the three bodies referred to make a substantial and valuable contribution to the organic sector, there is evidence that potential organic operators are confused by the existence of three separate inspection bodies. For that reason I recommend that these three bodies consider seriously the benefits and cost reductions that could be achieved by the establishment of a single inspection body for Ireland.