Written Answers. - Organic Farming.

Nora Owen

Question:

405 Mrs. Owen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development the reasoning behind the appointment of his Department as the inspectorate overseeing organic farming; if his attention has been drawn to the anger felt by organic farmers in this regard; if he will ensure that the highest standards will remain in force in organic farming; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20137/00]

My Department is the competent authority under the EU regulations governing the organic sector and is required to set up an inspection system operated by one or more designated inspection authorities and/or by approved inspection bodies. Standards for organic crop produce had been fixed since 1991 by EU Regulation 2092/91, and on 24 August 2000 this regulation was supplemented by Regulation 1804/99 which set standards for organic livestock produce. Under Regulation 2092/91 my Department had approved three private bodies to inspect and certify organic crop produce. These bodies, in a private capacity, had also been certifying organic livestock produce to standards that they themselves had set. When the livestock sector was brought within the ambit of Regulation 2092/91 in August, however, my Department as the competent authority was obliged to make arrangements for its inspection.

The Agri-Food 2010 report had included a recommendation that a credible regulatory system be put in place for the organic sector and that the existing confusion between competing inspection bodies be ended. In response, I undertook to streamline the inspection arrangements. My objective is to ensure that all organic farmers and processors have ready access to efficient, transparent and consistent arrangements for inspection and certification. My Department has recently put proposals to the three private bodies, the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association, Organic Trust and Demeter Standards Limited, for a unified inspection and certification system which will achieve this objective while allowing the three bodies to continue to operate their own private arrangements, where their own members are concerned, as heretofore. I understand that the three bodies are currently considering these proposals and I am hopeful for a positive response.

My Department has had consultations on standards for organic produce with the three private organic farming bodies, together with other interested parties, and I am confident that the standards which will be set will provide every reassurance to retailers and consumers as to the quality and integrity of Irish organic produce and will ensure the continuing growth of the sector as part of mainstream farming in Ireland.