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Thursday, 15 Jan 2009

EU Green Paper on Agricultural Product Quality: Discussion (Resumed).

I extend new year's greetings to all members of the committee, those who helped us during the year, staff and our participating guests.

Item No. 1 on the agenda is the European Commission Green Paper on Agricultural Product Quality: Product Standards, Farming Requirements and Quality Schemes. This is a continuation of a previous discussion held before the recent debate on the pork and bacon issue. It was considered by members that the Green Paper was important in view of the fact that this country has a serious interest in standards and the quality and all other aspects of food production and competitiveness in the marketplace. It was on that basis that the committee decided to take a particular interest in this sector. This happened prior to the glitch in December which alerted everyone to the matter. It is to be hoped that as a result of the Green Paper, procedures will be put in place to ensure the continuity and application of quality standards in the food production sector across the European Union allowing it to achieve self-sufficiency and ensure security of supply and thus compete with all competitors.

We are joined by delegations from the IFA, ICSA and FDII.

Mr. Derek Deane

I thank the Chairman for inviting the IFA and providing it with an opportunity to address the committee on this important subject. As I am conscious of the fact that there is a limitation on time, I do not intend to cover all the issues arising from the EU Green Paper or the debate held on 11 December. I intend to deal with a number of important points and will be glad to deal with other issues that may arise in course of the debate.

Regarding globalisation and standards, the very first sentence of the EU Green Paper reads: "As globalisation spreads products from emerging countries with low production costs are putting greater pressure on EU farmers". What is not stated is that many emerging countries have low production costs and standards in quality, product hygiene, food safety, traceability and environmental and animal welfare issues, standards significantly below the high standards which apply to production within the European Union. This is a key policy issue for the Union and must be addressed in this paper. European consumers demand top quality, safe food produced to the highest standards in the world. They are entitled to have this at affordable prices. Irish and other European farmers are in a position to deliver top quality, safe food produced to the highest standards to European consumers.

The policy environment in which we European farmers work, however, cannot be undermined by the globalisation threat such that standards and quality are disregarded in a race to the bottom on price. In the IFA we have first-hand experience of this in Brazilian beef, chicken from Thailand, pigmeat from South America. The last EU Food and Veterinary Office report on Brazil identified illegal practices by the Brazilian accredited certified body for animal identification in respect of the farmers audited and cleared for export by the EU. The office told the Commission that none of the Brazilian certifiers met during the mission had counted the animals or read the ear tags during their visit to approve and inspect holdings for the EU list. Brazil does not meet the EU standards on key issues of food safety, disease control animal identification and traceability, and environmental controls such as the burning of rain-forests. Nevertheless, the Commission and the trade sector in Europe are tripping over themselves to allow more Brazilian beef into Europe and the WTO. This is a double standard, a high standard for European producers and a low one for imports, that cannot be allowed to continue.

Another example of double standards concerns the EU proposals for pesticides which impose strict limits on European producers and none on imports. Imports into the Union must meet the same high standards as apply to production in Europe. The Green Paper must deal with this fundamental issue.

Consumers want safe food at affordable prices. To win market share and to increase their margins, retailers are constantly engaged in a price war, and discounts or 'buy one get one free' offers, 33% off are the order of the day almost every day. Nothing is spared in applying maximum pressure on processors and primary producers to produce more for less all the time. Standards and quality will suffer when retailers face production into a below cost, non-viable economic position. A Minister recently stated that farmers are being shafted in the battle for supermarket share. The EU Green Paper and legislators in these Houses must address this issue. It is not possible or sustainable to offer quality, safe food for less than the cost of production.

At farm level Ireland has high quality traceability systems for cattle, sheep and pigs. Our computerised movement and monitoring system and database for cattle is one of the best in the world. We also have effective systems at farm level for sheep and pigs. One of the expensive lessons we must learn from the recent dioxin scare is that the traceability system for pigmeat beyond the farm gate at primary and secondary processing level is less than adequate. This must be examined and addressed. Never again can we have a situation whereby pigmeat on an identified farm or farms which has been withdrawn for whatever reason would require a total recall. This is not acceptable. As a minimum we must have an effective batch traceability system at processor and retail level for pigmeat. The system at farm level for cattle, sheep and pigs is effective.

Proper labelling of food products is an essential requirement to meet the interests of the consumer and the producers. Country of origin labelling for beef at retail level is a requirement under EU legislation. In practice this works well and the consumer who purchases beef in the supermarket knows where it comes from. In 2007 the Government introduced legislation on the country of origin for beef at restaurant, hotel and catering level, requiring outlets selling beef to the public to state or display the country of origin. Responsibility for enforcing this legislation was given to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI. Unfortunately, in many restaurants, pubs, hotels and catering outlets the requirement has been ignored and the FSAI has done little to enforce the law. This issue must be addressed.

For other meats such as lamb, pork and chicken the IFA has proposed full country of origin labelling. The Government supported this proposal but claims that the Commission will not allow it because of unfair competition. The issue must be addressed in the Green Paper because preventing Ireland from providing consumers and producers with full country of origin labelling on meat is misleading and a denial of fair competition. The issue of substantial transformation must also be addressed. It is not acceptable for processors to import a product such as chicken from outside the EU, cover it with breadcrumbs and call it an Irish product.

I am aware that another committee in this House is undertaking a full investigation and hearing of all the issues associated with the dioxin scare. What happened is unacceptable and must never be allowed to happen again. We cannot afford to place Ireland's reputation as a quality food producer in jeopardy. Farmers or processors involved in the pigmeat and beef sector are totally innocent. As far as we know the dioxin problem involves a breakdown in, and inadequate monitoring of, the licence process for recycling of human food into the animal feed chain. It appears that aspects of the recycling process are not properly covered in either national or EU regulation. This regulatory gap must be closed.

Members of this committee are aware there is a high level of regulation covering farming and primary production. All farmers are subject to cross-compliance and good agricultural and environmental conditions. These cover areas such as public and animal health and plant welfare and the environment. Farmers feel that there is an over-zealous interpretation of the application of regulations here on issues such as calendar farming under the nitrates directive. The cost associated with over-regulation poses a major problem for our competitiveness. We must have a level playing field with our competitors on regulation. We cannot lose our competitive edge due to the cost of over-regulation.

Bord Bia operates a comprehensive quality assurance system covering all major farm enterprises. These schemes cover in excess of 70% of our production. We have a quality assurance scheme for beef, sheepmeat, pigmeat, chicken, eggs, horticulture and potatoes.

We will hear the ICSA now and the FDII last because we have had technical difficulties. I apologise for any inconvenience that causes. We will follow the presentations with questions and answers. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. Malcolm Thompson

I thank the committee members for the opportunity to present the views of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association, ICSA, on the questions posed by the EU Green Paper on agriculture. It is not possible in the time allocated to me to go through our document in full but it has been circulated to the committee members.

I will deal briefly with the substantive issues. I am indebted to my colleague Gillian Westbrook for the technical research. If the committee members have any technical questions I will pass them to her.

Consumers have highlighted concern about modern farming practices and methods of food production but they are often unaware of the efforts and changes made by farmers to elevate the quality of their produce. The introduction of the single farm payment, for instance, brought in onerous cross-compliance rules.

However, the consumer is often unaware of the efforts and changes made by farmers in order to elevate the quality of their produce. The introduction of the single farm payment, for instance, brought with it onerous cross-compliance rules and strengthened traceability controls. In addition, many farmers have volunteered to go that extra mile by deciding to produce food and to farm in ways which impose further restrictions, such as organic farming, GM-free farming, participation in environmental programmes, etc. Schemes such as REPS have responded to societal demands regarding the environmental impact of farming. This means farmers are now producing food that has a lot of value added at farm gate level and offers consumers a choice of quality standards that are unsurpassed anywhere else in the world.

EU agriculture is now multi-functional, providing top quality food which addressing many concerns such as environmental protection and biodiversity. The challenge now is to communicate this to the discerning consumer and to ensure that farmers get recognition which translates into better prices for their efforts. At present the consumer is unable to clearly identify these additional attributes. The Green Paper correctly outlines the need to ensure that additional quality aspects of EU food production are communicated effectively to the consumer. Moreover, it reflects the fact that telling the consumer about quality can be done in a way that the consumer can understand, can depend on and can trust. Consumers must be given information that allows them to make a fair comparison between various food choices and the farming practices involved. For this reason the ICSA recommends the development of a policy and legislative framework that builds on what has already been done. It would provide consumers with information on baseline farming standards while at the same time allowing for extension into additional standards, such as those found in REPS in organic farming, in GM-free methods of production.

We are proposing that the country of origin of all primary produce is clearly displayed on the label and consider this is especially important for products of animal origin. The current beef labelling legislation is flawed in that exemptions within the labelling requirements make it ineffective for both the consumer and the producer. Within our own national legislation, which requires country of origin labelling in catering establishments, beef burgers that contain less than 99% meat do not have to display the country of origin. An integral part of any new strategy must include country of origin labelling as a basic requirement for any primary product.

With regard to definitions of optional and general reserve terms, we suggest that it is necessary for the EU to define "reserve terms" describing farming methods, in particular those that are becoming more popular in current consumer trends, for example, grass fed beef or low carbon food, but with a degree of flexibility to take into consideration regional and climatic variations that would very much impact on Irish production. Some member states are already considering sponsoring a low carbon award scheme for the farming industry. This should be extended EU-wide if EU products are to remain competitive in their own marketplace.

With regard to the use of international standards, there are many contentious issues when comparing international with EU standards. For example, the US will not accept cheese made from unpasteurised milk and the Europeans will not accept hormones in beef. The EU should take into consideration the international standard but place the requirements of the European consumer first. That is, after all, under the umbrella of consumer protection.

Current EU schemes, coupled with an amended labelling legislation, could well form the basis for the way forward. However, it is clear that the implementation of the regulations must be intelligently focused and steered more towards the source rather than the user in the case of feed products. An example is the recent PCB dioxin scare where the feed recycler had not been inspected for the previous 12 months. Irish producers need to be encouraged to make more use of geographic indications. Currently, only four Irish producers are registered to do so. The low uptake on this may be due to the lengthy bureaucratic process that it takes to become registered. The scheme does, however, add value to produce.

In recent years, there has been a notable increase in farm certification schemes, mainly from privately owned certifiers. The ICSA recognises the benefit of certification schemes in assisting with the marketing of produce. The question of whether certification schemes actually enhance product quality will greatly depend on the scheme and the specific commodity. If the EU were to make a guideline, it should require certification schemes to demonstrate progressive developments that are beneficial to food safety and respond to consumer interests, for example, animal welfare. EU guidelines should discourage unquantifiable aspects that cause meaningless paperwork with no relation to scientific risk. Certifiers should be required to undertake analytical testing and not just an audit of documentation. Ultimately, our concern is that certification should result in better product reputation and, in turn, result in better farm gate prices.

In summary, the ICSA would like to see a retain environment where consumers are always able to choose European product where the quality and origin is clearly defined and easily understood. We see this as a system of regulated logos and labels whereby farmers are recognised for their efforts. Each product would indicate country of origin and demonstrate that it was produced to the EU baseline standard. For those producers who go to the next level, those producers who go that extra mile and participate in REPS or who are farming organically, or who can certify that their product is GM free or grass fed, should have their niche also clearly identified on the label.

While the eventual design of the label and the logo will, I have no doubt, come down to those marketing experts who are good at that job, key elements for a logo should be a readily recognisable national symbol such as the Irish map or the Irish flag, as well as the EU logo, and incorporating symbols which would indicate the specific attributes of the product. For example, an "O" in the middle of the logo would mean it was an organic product. It would be clear, therefore, that the logo would not be available to countries outside the EU.

In the long term, clear labelling will facilitate the marketing and sale of our product. It is high time that the consumer's right to simple unambiguous information is vindicated and EU farmers received a price that reflects the quality of their produce. A wise man once said that quality is like buying oats; if one wants nice clean oats, one must play a fair price but that if one is satisfied with oats that have already been through the horse, such oats can be had a little cheaper.

Mr. Michael Barry

I thank the committee for its invitation to us to speak today about what we consider to be a very important policy paper and something that is of key relevance to our industry. In our initial thoughts in regard to addressing the committee on this paper we have chosen to stick very tightly within the definition and terms of the Green Paper. This is a very important policy document. There will be 27 other opinions on it. Other committees are conducting similar hearings to this one. We need to consider the likely reaction in terms of our ability to continue as an export oriented industry, an industry that I stress has a very strong future. Let me give an example of what I mean by that. Recently, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food supported increases in dairy quotas on the basis that there was a clear opportunity for Irish agriculture to expand its production and to gain a greater percentage of both the European and global markets.

This Green Paper is about product differentiation. It is not about food quality or labelling in terms of the standard food labelling legislation. These issues are already covered within comprehensive legislative tools and for that reason I will focus specifically on the areas in the Green Paper and deal with those because I suggest there are key issues we need to consider in this paper.

I gather a copy of our presentation has been circulated and for time purposes it is important that I try to stay within the time allotted to us. There is no need to reiterate the economic value of this sector.

We will proceed on the basis of the printed version.

Dr. Michael Barry

I will proceed on the basis that members have this information. I have also circulated a policy paper.

The value of this sector in total is approximately €16 billion and it has the potential to grow. We are export oriented. In general, 80% of what we produce is exported and we must focus on facilitating that. We are the largest external supplier of food and drink to the United Kingdom market. We produce approximately 13% of the world's powdered infant formula. We are the largest net exporter of beef in Europe. I could go on but the message is that we are export oriented and we need to facilitate that export orientation.

There is a good deal of information on a standard label, and we have provided an example of a beef label in the pack. Much of that information is governed and required by legislation but we must think about what the consumer is presented with. One aspect of which we must be acutely aware is whether we are confusing the consumer by providing him with too much information. It is all very well to say we want this and that on a logo but in terms of the food we want to see labelled we must consider the practicality of a weekly shop. In the case of buying beef that is packed, it is welcome to see details on the cut of meat under that label. There is a practicality in that respect.

The Green Paper asks whether we need an EU quality logo but that quality logo is already on products. It is the EU health mark, which means that product has been produced in compliance with an onerous level of legislative requirements. That is important. Rather than the provision of an additional EU quality logo, the EU has a role to promote and communicate to consumers the value of that logo. It has been presented to us on many occasions in export markets that we are the people who have had the dioxin problem and foot and mouth disease.

In one sense the transparency we provide in informing consumers and the public of what has happened in our industry has had a negative effect because there are those in foreign countries who focus only on the bad news. Every time bad news is presented we must come out and promote that EU standard and quality to which we ascribe. Rather than the development of an EU logo, IBEC's position is that we should promote the EU quality logo in an aggressive manner.

Country of origin labelling is an emotive issue but it must be dealt with on a factual basis. There are existing labelling regulations and they are sufficient. The existing labelling regulations rightly allow for a sectoral approach to labelling. We are in full agreement that the primary meat products should require country of origin labelling but a blanket approach should not be taken to all composite and dairy products. It is highly inappropriate to demand country of origin labelling for mixed products. That will stifle the investments we have made in food innovation in terms of products indigenous to this country and others. That has resulted in the creation of a high value, high demand product which we have managed to market worldwide. For example, we make a Hawaiian pizza in Ireland but we import the Parma ham or the pineapple. We should not tie up this area in legislation. We must consider other products such as that where we need imports.

The other aspect of that is the growth in the development of the dairy sector. The huge potential, as identified by the Commission, is in the development of fresh milk products but we are a seasonal producer and there are times in the year we will need to have products to retain the markets. It is not good enough to invest in the creation of a market for fresh dairy products, walk away from it for four months of the year and expect to have that market still in situ. There are times we will need to have the flexibility to retain these markets in which we have invested strongly. That is the export orientation aspect. The only other point I wish to add is that origin alone is not a differentiator. The differentiator in terms of origin comes through certification schemes.

Marketing standards are defined in this Green Paper and they are important in terms of those that are set at community, national and regional level. Community level marketing schemes would be, say, the definition of milk. That must be a definition with which every country in Europe agrees. Milk should not be a term that can be used for soy products or drinks. That is a standard that must be adhered to, addressed and set at a European level.

An idea of a standard that must be set at a regional level but communicated in the EU is if we consider the European debate on mountainous regions. A man living in the foothills of the Galtees will have a different view of mountainous regions from the man living in the foothills of the Alps. There is a real need in this case for regional differentiation and definition of certain terms but that must be communicated and set within the community register of standards. In that way we will get consistency and avoid potential devaluation that may arise from inconsistent use of these definitions. We do that through guidelines created as a result of the input of all relevant stakeholders — producers, industry, consumers. Guidelines can be binding and they are a key element of self-regulation, which is a principle that Food and Drink Industry Ireland strongly supports.

It is important that we consider certification schemes for what they are. A product or process is certified to differentiate it from the ordinary everyday products or processes in the marketplace. In terms of the value of the cost and administration of it, if there is a value to the people participating in certification schemes, the cost is merited. If it costs too much and producers or processors do not get a benefit from it, they will walk away from that certification scheme because it no longer has a value. We cannot make it mandatory, however, and it would be wrong to make it mandatory because once that is done the ability to differentiate would be lost immediately. If something is mandatory it is put in legislation because it is a requirement to which everybody should adhere. For that reason, certification schemes must be left to the market to decide their value and application. The one point we would make strongly, which we stated earlier, is that the EU must have a clear understanding of the definition of marketing standards and terms. The EU has a role through its national bodies to ensure adherence and enforcement of those standards.

Given the time allotted we did not deal with issues such as GI, other such factors and organic standards that are in the Green Paper. We have referred to that in the position paper which I gather has been circulated. Our position is that we must consider the real use of the label. We must be balanced and not overload the label because that will defeat the purpose of educating consumers.

In that regard, we must consider educating people at school level about what is stated on labels and the nutritional benefit. A label will never take the place of an adequate education scheme. Country of origin should always be provided when it is appropriate to do so. It is not appropriate to apply country of origin labelling to composite products and products such as dairy but it is appropriate for primary meat products.

Certification schemes must always comply with the marketing terms and definitions as set out by the Commission but they are market driven. They are market differentiators and their value will be those that can be recovered from the marketplace.

I thank Mr. Barry. We have had three interesting and important submissions. I advise our guests that while members of the committee have absolute privilege, the same privilege does not apply to witnesses.

Before calling on members to pose questions, the integrity of the food industry is hugely important to the economy. I harbour a number of fundamental concerns with regard to labelling. This is a major issue. The integrity of the labelling system is greatly impacted upon by the degree of traceability attaching to it. Food labels provide a huge amount of information. If, however, any aspect of that information is either flawed or faulty, the label means nothing. Other members and I have tabled literally thousands of parliamentary questions on the subject.

As an exporter of food and food products, it is important that Ireland is able to identify, even in dairying, from where the constituent ingredients of such products come. This is particularly important if a country is either importing or exporting mixed products or both. If one is competing against exporters from other jurisdictions in which there is no requirement for products to comply with certain regulations, one is placed at a serious disadvantage in the marketplace. The degree to which the country of origin of a product can be determined can provide a great deal of information on issues relating to husbandry, production and monitoring methods. That is an extremely important point.

Emergencies occasionally arise in Departments and the business sector. Where the business of a well run organisation can be influenced by market fluctuations or quirks, however, the emergency must be anticipated before it arises. Everyone present is aware of this fact. The degree to which emergencies can be anticipated will determine the success or failure of an organisation and is important in the context of European and world food production.

I thank Mr. Deane, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Barry for their presentations. They referred to the importance to Ireland of the food and drinks industry, which is valued at €16 billion. During the past decade it has been overshadowed by other industries but there has been a recognition of the fact that it is Ireland's one really stable industry. It is extremely important to our balance of payments because virtually all of the profits from it return to the country. In real or practical terms, the actual value of the industry is greater than that of others.

There is general agreement among members of the committee regarding food and agricultural issues. I wish, however, to raise a number of points, the first of which relates to the production requirements relating to the IFA and the ICSA. Can action be taken within the sector to improve the level of quality? In the past the dairy herd had an impact on beef production and issues arose with regard to quality. What can be done to improve the quality of beef?

Regulation is a major issue for our guests. In the light of the benefits that accrue, is the sector over-regulated? After all, it costs money to implement every regulation. If we were to reduce the number of regulations, which would be most likely to go? I am familiar with the long inspection form one is required to complete. One would become ill just looking at it. In the context of the possible reduction in the number of regulations, recent events show that if strict controls are not in place, even a tiny blip can bring an entire industry to a standstill. Is the pain worth the gain?

People have different views on country of origin labelling. The most important aspect of the matter is that labels should not be misleading. I am not an expert on food content but when I see a label proclaiming that a product has a salt content of only 10%, I am inclined to be of the opinion that such a product would not be bad for me. However, I do not know whether the claim is true. A standard template is required in respect of labelling in order that people might know the truth. I appreciate that it is necessary to have certain imported ingredients in particular products. I cannot provide an answer to the quandary that arises in this regard.

I understand farmers wanted full traceability in respect of pork. Why was such traceability not introduced?

What is the position on research and development in the food and drinks industry? While I may be wrong, I believe the late Bernie Cahill came up with the concept for promoting Baileys Irish Cream. Where stands the sector in respect of research and development? Is it developing products to meet new needs? How much money is invested in research and development? When a new product has been developed, the most important matter thereafter is how it is marketed. Many companies spend a great deal of money on marketing. I raised this matter at our previous meeting and some were of the view that I was misleading the committee when I outlined my understanding that Bord Bia had one representative in the USA to service a market of 450 million people. I accept that embassies, etc., have a role to play in this regard, but it is extraordinary that Bord Bia has only one representative in that territory.

Are our guests of the view that the Government could play a greater role in promoting Irish food and drinks products? Are there other channels — for example, the Department of Foreign Affairs — which could be utilised to a greater extent than is the case or would it be possible to encourage greater co-ordination in the marketing of products?

I welcome Mr. Deane, Mr. Thompson and Mr. Barry and thank them for their positive and focused contributions. Mr. Barry made a particularly enlightened and detailed contribution.

It is important that we all understand the key value of the finished product to the country. The agrifood and drinks sectors have made a major contribution to our economic development. Mr. Deane and Mr. Thompson, who represent the primary producers, are key players within these sectors. When I served as Minister of State at the then Department of Agriculture and Food, we established a national body to examine what could be done, by means of the labelling process, in placing a special focus on the enhanced value and market penetration ability of the food sector. Regrettably, we could not obtain the agreement of the various bodies involved. When the final report on labelling was produced, a serious division emerged regarding the labels that could, in marketing Irish products within and outside Europe, be used to save and secure the future of the food industry.

There is a need to simplify matters in this regard. However, I am not sure how agreement might be reached in respect of labelling. Ireland operates within the European Union, the population of which is 500 million and growing, and in the global market which is coming under ever-increasing pressure. In that context, it is important that the country of origin of products, regardless of whether they emanate from within or outside the European Union, is clearly identified. It will eventually be necessary to include EU and country of origin stamps on products. That is the only way forward and it will improve Ireland's capacity to develop markets.

Ireland has a natural advantage because there is so much grass on which animals can graze. In addition, there is the regulation regime we have in place. The latter is evidenced by the rapid response — albeit at great cost to the Exchequer and at lower cost to the European Union — to the dioxin crisis in December. The Taoiseach is leading an extremely important trade mission to Japan. The Japanese market is huge and has not yet been either fully explored or exploited by Ireland. There is a great deal of goodwill in Japan towards Ireland and our countries have enjoyed almost two centuries of relations. The Japanese authorities have acknowledged that the handling of the dioxin crisis by the Government and its organisations and agencies was of the highest standard and provided them with a high level of reassurance. It shows how we protected our beef industry by having absolute traceability with a risk of only 0.2% as a result of the dioxins. Following the actions taken in the pig sector, the Japanese Government and consumer have been assured. I hope, therefore, following the trade mission, pork exports to Japan will increase. The cost of beef in Japan is 500 times higher than in Ireland, although I am not sure what is the cost currently. There is significant capacity for Ireland to increase its beef and pork exports. The consumption of Irish drink products has also grown significantly and, I hope, that will continue.

Taking all that into account, the global pressures, the regulatory regime in place, the need to address the lack of trust in the world in recent years which has led to the serious crisis we face, financially and otherwise, and the need for mobility in the movement of component products to create a finished product for the consumer, can the representatives assure us there is further capacity in primary production in the dairy, beef and sheep sectors and in processing to create more jobs for the global marketplace? Is the regulatory regime impeding or assisting this? What can the representative bodies and their counterparts across the European Union, in particular, do to ensure our market position is protected within the Union vis-á-vis imports to it? How can all Europeans work together to ensure the market is expanded and protected while still playing our noble role in meeting global requirements resulting from the crisis affecting us?

I welcome the delegations and thank them for their presentations. The responses to the issues raised in the European Union Green Paper were interesting. There was a slight contradiction in the issues raised by the representatives of the farming organisations and those raised by Food and Drink Industry Ireland. I would like Mr. Barry to clarify FDII's presentation. He has made the point well that the food and drink industry accounts for a significant quantity of exports. It is very much an export-led industry. I did not realise it was responsible for two thirds of indigenous exports worth €8.6 billion in 2007, which is impressive. In an export-led industry WTO and EU standards, legislative requirements and national standards and systems all come into play. Mr. Barry argued for lighter regulation and suggested issues such as certification and quality standards were possible trade barriers.

The other presentations referred to a number of players in the food sector, some of whom are primary producers such as those involved in the farming sector. While many businesses in the sector add value, the consumer must also be considered. When examining issues such as regulation and certification, the interests of all players, including primary producers and consumers, must be taken into consideration, not only those who add value and are more involved in trade. I consider questions raised in the Green Paper with consumers and primary producers in mind as well as the interests of business. Will Mr. Barry elaborate on the suggestion in FDII's submission that certification schemes have the potential to create trade barriers? What concerns has the organisation in this regard? Will he outline examples of ways in which certification schemes have acted as barriers to date?

FDII does not accept the need for the introduction of an EU quality logo but the farming representatives raised the issue of higher standards with which their members must comply in various member states compared to the ones applying to agricultural products imported into the European Union. There is a significant discrepancy and consumers are often not aware of the high quality standards required of EU farmers. Would a quality logo not get around this problem? FDII suggests the existing hygiene and safety standards are sufficient and that such a logo is not needed. However, the quality logo would reflect the superior standards with which EU farmers must comply — not only in regard to hygiene and safety — which are not applied to non-EU agricultural products. Consumers are often not aware of this. I acknowledge Mr. Barry's comment that additional logos could be counterproductive and lead to issues regarding space, illegibility and confusion among consumers. However, the advantage of a logo is that it is shorthand and the consumer could safely assume it represented an acceptable standard across a number of criteria and that they would not necessarily have to examine the fine print to seek significant information. The logo could be shorthand for asserting the product had been produced according to quality standards across a range of criteria.

FDII is also not very supportive of the introduction of a system of country of origin labelling. Mr. Barry referred to the issue of composite products, the rigidity of country of origin labelling and the problem that would arise if a number of ingredients in a composite product were imported. Could a flexible approach be taken to composite products? For example, if a percentage of a product's ingredients were imported from another member state or region, that could be reflected on the country of origin label as opposed to adopting a requirement that all the constituent ingredients have to be sourced in the producer country. Could a more flexible approach be taken to such labelling which would still allow consumers to identify where the majority of a product's ingredients were sourced?

I refer to the issue of marketing terms such as low carbon food, grass-fed meat and so on. The application of reserved terms and enhanced definitions and guidelines in this regard is important. FDII largely favours self-regulation and the European Union's role as a producer rather than an enforcer of guidelines. Traditionally, marketing terms such as GMO free, low carbon, free range and so on have been abused. It is important guidelines are introduced and that there is a role for the EU in terms of enforcing those. We are all aware of the dangers of leaving it entirely to industry to ensure guidelines are adhered to. Perhaps Mr. Barry will state whether the FDII has any suggestions in this regard or if it agrees the EU should have a role in respect of the enforcement of such guidelines.

I am disappointed the FDII is not in agreement with the requirement for the addition to the geographical indicators designation of a criteria in respect of sustainability. I believe sustainability and consumer interest is growing in the degree to which a product is sustainable. It would be unfortunate if the FDII were to resist the EU's consideration of introducing a more flexible approach to allowing consumers to become aware of the degree to which a product conforms with sustainability practices. I would appreciate Mr. Barry's response on this matter.

I call Deputy Costello. There are four speakers remaining. It is hoped we can take a short break before commencing the second phase of our meeting.

I will be brief. I thank the delegation for meeting us and for outlining their position on these important issues. We are in recession. However, we must all still eat and drink. While various industries, businesses and activities are downsizing, it is difficult to downsize people's need for two or three square meals and liquids every day. This must be an area wherein there exists potential to maintain market size and to expand. It is an area in respect of which I would expect the FDII, in terms of the recession, to come up with creative ideas. I imagine it is an area on which the Government is focusing, namely, the greater return that possibly can be made from our food and drink industry in terms of production, exports and contribution to the Exchequer. From that point of view, safety and quality are paramount. The track record of product from farm to the fork has not been great to date.

During the past two decades all our major food industries have been in danger of going under. Our beef industry was almost ruined following the outbreak of mad cow disease and other incidents which I will not go into now though we were required to set up a tribunal on the matter. It is not that long since that happened. Our sheep industry was almost ruined by an outbreak of foot and mouth disease, also not that long ago. Last year, our pork industry was almost ruined as a result of the detection of dioxins in pork products. We as human beings are very much what we eat. It is important the animals we eat are fed proper ingredients to ensure they are not toxic in terms of the products which enter the chain for human consumption.

Regulation and inspection is paramount. I am opposed to light regulation. There should be no such thing as light regulation. In respect of the banks and financial industry, we were told for years to take a hands-off approach and to allow the sector to self-regulate. We were told the big boys and girls would ensure the guidelines and code of conduct would be carefully observed. We now know none of that was happening. I firmly believe self-regulation does not work. Where has been the inspection and regulation in the food industry? I am sure the response I will receive is that we have a fine product. That is universally acknowledged. However, I believe that in every country in the world there is concern about this little Garden of Eden, this island which is separate from everyone else and which has the opportunity of producing top-class products. It is no longer the case that we can claim that all products coming out of Ireland pose no danger in terms of quality. We must ensure this situation does not deteriorate. Light regulation must be a thing of the past. We must ensure stringent inspection and regulation of the farm product and the ingredients used in the production of that product.

My second point relates to consumers. What is it that we are looking for when examining an item on the supermarket shelf? I must confess I consider only three issues, namely, that the product is what it pertains to be, the shelf life of the product and the country of origin, first in terms of whether it an Irish product and, if not, whether it is a European product. Customers seldom read the ingredients of a product. Often the print is so small one has to squint to read it. People are genuinely happy to purchase a product when he or she has identified it as Irish. People often will also examine the branding on products in terms of whether they are Denny, Galtee, Clonakilty and so on. I heard recently that the some of the product of Galtee rashers is produced elsewhere. Branding provides customers with reassurance. I believe reassurance will come from the labelling of products with the Irish and European logos. They will be the determinants of quality. I favour the use of those two forms of labelling, despite the questions that have arisen in this regard and in terms of the right of people to import ingredients. We must ensure high standards are put in place and adhered to. Obviously, standards in Ireland are based on Irish law and European Union standards are based on European law, in which we have a say.

My final comment relates to marketing and whether we should expand in this area. To expand the market requires branding. Bailey's Irish Cream is a great market brand and is a product that is sold worldwide. It is an Irish brand. I believe there is scope for branding in terms of quality. One associates a particular brand with quality. Products that come to mind are Clonakilty pudding, Galtee cheese and Kerrygold butter.

Tullamore sausages.

Tullamore Dew.

How could I forget Tullamore sausages and Tullamore Dew? We have been successful at branding in some areas and hopeless in other areas. Our greatest product is beef. Approximately 56% of our food exports is Irish beef, which is not branded in any way. If we can brand Irish butter, why can we not brand Irish beef? Why are we exporting such a large quantity of Irish beef without proper branding?

One of the presentations referred to milk, milk powder, butter and soya products. I have heard representatives of the IFA and farmers say many times that we are totally dominated by the milk quota. The milk quota relates only to milk that feeds into the milk chain. All the by-products of milk, such as milk powder and butter, could be part of the industry. The industry has a variety of by-products that could be marketed and used outside the EU milk quota. The milk used in these by-products should not be related to the EU quota as long as it is used as an ingredient in other products. Is there a connection between the milk quota and these products? Farmers say they have only got such a quota and that is the maximum they can produce. Can they not produce milk for other purposes? Could they not produce more for Bailey's Irish Cream or for local cheese products such as craft cheeses? Is there a total limit to production of milk? If that is the case, can something be done about it?

I welcome the delegations. I agree with Deputy Costello that we need a logo that is close to home and that we should have country of origin labelling. We should have a logo for produce from outside the European Union and rather than saying something is an EU product, labels should describe products from outside of the Union as being non-EU products.

I understand that beef imported here from Argentina and Brazil comes from accredited herds. However, some farms that feed into the accredited herds are not controlled at all. We do not know what kind of feed those animals get or whether they get hormones, but their meat is channelled through the accredited herds into the European Union. This is the reason we should use labelling to highlight non-EU products. Will the delegates elaborate on this area? The logo on beef coming from Brazil or Argentina should highlight this by identifying the product as a non-EU one.

I welcome the delegates. No other matter has given rise to so much worry and concern as the issue of what animals are fed and what ultimately comes through to us as food. From time to time a scare is raised about this and, no doubt about it, the seemingly rapid increase in particular forms of cancer has led people to believe that this must be a result of something animals are fed. We have all heard this and whether it is folklore, what animals are fed is a cause of concern for people and they wonder what can be done about it. The issues being discussed by this committee today are important for consumers and people concerned about not just their own health, but that of children. What will the outcome be if such scare stories continue to arise? We hear people say that long ago they did not hear such stories or people did not get these diseases. Perhaps this was because animals did not feed on such a variety of foodstuffs as they do now. The situation is a serious concern.

I agree with Deputy Joe Costello that light regulation is no longer adequate or fashionable. Thank the Lord for that. I have sat around many a Cabinet table where light regulation was the mantra of the day. Light regulation has been given its goodbye and a kick in the backside. That is what it should have got from all. We can see how light regulation has messed up the American financial scene and, consequently, that of all other countries following sub-prime lending. Sub-prime lending arose as a result of light regulation. I know this is going off the point. People who proposed heavier regulation some years ago were deemed interventionists or socialists, etc., and were certainly not considered modern. However, now it is the modern thing to call for heavy regulation. This is amazing. I am for heavy regulation.

I would like to pick up on the concerns raised by Mr. Barry about country of origin. He also pointed out the clear need for consumer education. Consumers have become more aware. I would remind Deputy Costello that as well as looking for the sell-by date — the first thing I look at — they also look at the price. Deputy Costello does not seem to give a damn what something costs; he must be a great shopper. I would love to have him to send out to do the shopping.

I was talking about quality.

Sell-by date, price and country of origin should be on labels. On the issue of consumer education, there is no doubt consumers want to know more, as witnessed on the Monday after the dioxin scare when consumers collectively opened their freezers and dumped whatever pork products were found in them. People did this because they were scared of what might happen them. To some extent consumers have been educated, but not enough. They were not educated in the detail.

Consumer education should be part of the CSPE programme at junior certificate level. At one time it was supposed to become part of the curriculum and pupils were supposed to learn how to get a mortgage — although there is little point in learning that now because they will not get one — how to approach the bank manager, how to approach the county council and about consumer matters. Nowadays, the consumer matters, which is a significant advance. Ten years ago consumers were hardly mentioned by farmers. I never heard farmers use the word consumer. The consumer was someone who paid up and never asked questions, but was supposed to be delighted to get the product. I have been a consumer all my life and know well that was the way consumers were treated. I am happy there is now a growing awareness and emphasis on the rights of consumers and on the need for consumers to get more in-depth education than currently.

We are meant to be reassured when we see the tricolour, the sell-by date and the price. We say "Oh good, this is Irish", but is it? Is that labelling enough to tell us a product is Irish? I do not know what seal of final approval should be on produce so that consumers can be convinced. We have a wealth and luxuriance of consumer products to sell. Thankfully, the days are gone when a "Made in France" label was enough to convince people the product must be terrific. Why should that be the case? I am quite sure France has all sorts of stains with regard to things that went wrong as well, but we do not hear much about them.

On his radio show this morning, Ryan Tubridy was getting feedback from people in radio and television around the world about what they thought of Ireland. One guy from Austin, Texas, was very good. He said the impression used to be that Ireland was green fields, waving trees and happy cows, but that has been stained by the numerous food scares that have come out of Ireland. I was amazed by what this person, who seemed a responsible type of person, had to say. We are at the brink of consolidating our fine products and getting a seal of approval that is understandable, clearly marked and something in which the consumer will have trust. We have a long way to go on that.

This has been a helpful debate and I am fascinated by the different views of people. I hope that things develop further following this debate.

I welcome all the people present. I agree with the speakers who spoke specifically on labelling and regulation. I would like to see the Irish quality mark on the label and I would welcome a European standard. If I was going to buy a watch and was told that it was made in Europe I would be glad, but if I was told it was made in Switzerland, I would be twice as glad. I feel the same way about Irish food products, and this is where regulation comes in.

We know that chicken comes in from Thailand, is basted or breaded here, and then "Irish" appears on the label.

Yes, we see a flag. That is misleading in such a context. If an Irish branded product is used for this, such as a household name like Cappoquin, which people associate strongly with Ireland, there should be a strong label indicating that the place of origin is Thailand. The concept of "outside the EU" is very important, especially at the moment with the difficulties associated with the transit of gas through Ukraine. Relying on an outside source creates a huge problem. We do not have to go back further than this week, and certainly not back to the Greek city states, who had problems getting their grain from Pontus, which was the Ukraine of the time.

I would like to see the EU with a sufficient supply in the bloc itself. As part of that, Ireland should be at the forefront of quality, clean food. Within that again, there should be quite clear subsections. If somebody wishes to have non-GM food, then he or she should be able to access it. If somebody wants to have organic food, they should be able to access that. The wealthy customer in Europe who is prepared to pay more for quality Irish products should be able to see that they are getting them. In Ireland, the fuchsia brand for west Cork has raised awareness. If we are to have an EU label at an international level, we must also have Irish quality beside it in the same way a Swiss watch means so much more than just a European watch.

I will be very brief, because most of the points have been raised and have been well aired at this stage. I welcome the three delegations and I thank them for their presentations. As representatives of both sides of the industry, namely, farming and food production, have they ever got together to work out what is in the best interests of both groups? It seems that if they sat down and worked out what was best from an Irish perspective, it might be helpful for us.

The one group we are missing today is Bord Bia, which has a role in marketing the produce of these groups before us. That body would have a better understanding of the market requirement. We like to believe food is produced at home. We have the greatest trust in our own farmers and our own producers, and we like the idea of the flag on the label. I am not too sure if the Irish flag on beef sold in France is particularly important. From visiting other countries, Irish meat products are not on the top shelf. They are largely on the bottom shelf. This is as result of an effort made by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to rationalise the animal slaughter sector, to bring about less of the competition that is leading to a race to the bottom. A more focused approach needs to be taken to the product to bring it up to the top shelf on the international markets.

There are two elements to this. On the home market, the association with the Irish flag is vitally important. We must look at how we generate the image of Ireland, which is where Bord Bia would be helpful.

We will now hear a short response from our contributors. The points made by members of the committee are points in which they believe sincerely, from their own working knowledge as members of the Oireachtas, and from dealing with the consumer sector, the processing sector and so on.

A number of main points have emerged. When manufacturing pizza here, either for the Irish market or for export, the ingredients must come into account. Whether the product is mixed or not, the origins of those ingredients will in some way determine the world-wide image of the product on the market. Deputy O'Rourke stated that "made in France" is supposed to stand for something. It stands for something because there is a belief that such a label has integrity. Senator John Hanafin mentioned a Swiss watch. Why do people prefer a Swiss watch as opposed to a general European watch or any other watch? They do so because a Swiss watch implies quality of origin and quality of production.

In a previous incarnation, I had responsibility in Opposition for the food sector. About 25 years ago, we tried to introduce a gold label for food production. Members of the IFA were anxious to do it, although not everybody was anxious to do it. When costs increase, including the cost of ingredients, there is a tendency to draw on areas that have lower costs and possibly lower standards. In a food producing country, that is a dangerous route to follow. It is very damaging to the product, to the country and to the international image of the country, and it cannot be repaired. We cannot afford to allow emergencies arise in this area.

Ingredients were all produced at home 40 years ago, so nobody imported any cheap ingredients from any quarter. It was easy to trace such ingredients. However, I have not been happy for some time with the manner in which country of origin labelling occurs, and with the degree to which products can be sold here with an integrity that they do not deserve. Unless we recognise that, we are wasting our time in trying to compete on an international market. French, Spanish and Italian wines are deemed to be quality products, whether we like it or not. They have established their place on the market. If somebody wants a quality product, they look for these types of produce.

Organic and general production can go hand in hand. If the whole sector was organic, we would lose much production. However, that does not mean that we should go in the opposite direction and dilute the quality of our products by introducing additives and growth promoters as others have done.

The consumer must be catered for. While I apologise for discussing this issue at length, I consider it important and it is one on which the joint committee will make a report to the European Commission, in which the views of members will be expressed clearly.

On a point of information, does the Chairman intend to deal with the second item on the agenda before the break?

No, we will deal with it after the break. After finishing with this item, we will have a short break of 20 to 30 minutes. Thereafter, we will deal with the second item, which pertains to Gaza. I call on Mr. Deane to respond on behalf of the IFA.

Mr. Derek Deane

I certainly welcome the Chairman's comments, which reflected well on the situation. The real issue is one of equivalence of standards, which is the only thing on which we can compete. We have no difficulty in improving the quality of both our product and our breeding. While such improvements undoubtedly can be made, equivalence of standards constitutes the major issue in this regard. I must disagree with my friends from the food and drink industry on the issue of labelling and transparency. It must be transparent and unquestionably must be what it says on the tin. Moreover, we must worked towards this aim. On the issue of processing and the Irish market, we should seek to promote Irish production and the Irish product, rather than the cheapest possible source of raw material available globally. For reasons I pointed out earlier, the cheapest possible products come from areas in which a much lower standard of production obtains, which is extremely important. The issues of transparency and labelling must be addressed.

As for Deputy Costello's comments, we undoubtedly can increase our production. Ireland needs to increase its food production and to get a quality product with a quality price into the European market to a greater extent. We must build on the strength of Ireland's quality label. We also must be extremely careful to avoid being taken apart by side issues, such as greenhouse gases, in respect of which some people have suggested that Ireland should undertake a major cut in its production herds. This simply would lead to an increase in production in other countries, as well as Ireland being taken out in respect of competition.

I agree with the statement made by the Chairman and I look forward to the joint committee's deliberations on this issue. Transparency of label is of critical importance to both the consumer and the producer and we must try to deal with it through the joint committee and in this White Paper. The issues must be dealt with on that basis because transparency is the real issue in the future.

Mr. Malcolm Thompson

I will try to deal with the questions briefly. First, Deputy Timmins asked whether quality can be improved and yes, it certainly can. The beef forum, of which we are members at present, is considering how to reward quality production and different qualities of meat. Historically, it all has been lumped into a single basket and a flat price has been paid for cattle. This probably is a way in which to go forward. Deputy Timmins also asked whether we are over-regulated and I believe we probably are not. It is highly important that regulations are in place but when they become redundant, such as in the BSE situation, they should be got rid of as rapidly as they were introduced. This was delayed for many years at huge cost to farmers.

Deputy Treacy mentioned the grass-based system and asked whether there is room for expansion. Of course there is room for expansion in Ireland. While regulations such as the nitrates directive are limiting our expansion somewhat, I believe there is a global shortage of beef and we should be encouraged to farm in an environmentally-friendly way, while simultaneously expanding our production in order that we are able to meet the food demands of the world as the green island of Ireland. Thankfully, Senator de Búrca was easy on me so I have nothing to say about her. Deputy Costello referred to the importance of regulations. Basically, all the other speakers tend to agree wholeheartedly with our point about labelling, that is, the consumer now is extremely important. Deputy O'Rourke mentioned the consumer and noted she had not heard farmers talking about consumers ten years ago. Of course we were but the Deputy simply was not listening to farmers. We always were talking about the consumer because we always were trying to see where we could make a pound.

Yes, that is for sure.

Mr. Malcolm Thompson

We always were aware of the consumer and it is important to analyse consumer trends. For example, while I may consider that standard production of cattle is perfectly adequate for me, some consumers want organic product. While I may consider that standard production of cattle is fine, some consumers want product that is free of GMOs. We must cater for the tastes of those people who will pay an extra few pounds and shillings for such add-on. Moreover, this must be labelled clearly, together of course with the Irish label. Perhaps we should get away from the flag and move to a map of Ireland, because the latter is better known. As the Irish flag is practically identical to the Italian flag, the map of Ireland would be better.

That is a good point.

Mr. Michael Barry

I recognise there are time constraints and will be brief. One point must be made clear from the outset. I believe everyone is on the same page in respect of the desired destination. However, there have been differing emphases in the various presentations. We have stuck entirely to the context of the Green Paper. As we have stated from the outset and noted in our position paper, issues of food safety, labelling, traceability and import certification are outside the scope of the Green Paper. They are huge mission-critical issues and I have heard sufficient concern expressed at this meeting to merit further discussion on these issues, in which we would be happy to participate. However, while they are key issues, they are outside the scope of the Green Paper and in not dealing with them, we were not lessening their importance. For example, reference was made to light regulation. The food and drink industry, which extends back to the producers, is the most heavily regulated industry in existence. Even if one speaks about labelling——

I will interrupt for a second. To better explain members' perspectives, we know about the Green Paper and are familiar with the purpose of the exercise. The members' points reflect their wishes as to what the Green Paper should encompass, as opposed to what was applicable heretofore. This is the important factor. The food industry must take on board that the views expressed by members reflect the views held by consumers and producers and perhaps even those of processors, albeit not to the same extent. The processors operate between the consumers and the producers, which is the reason it is important that the standards which are applied to the producer and are expected by the consumer also are applicable to the wedge that is in between. I can make the point no more simply. The views expressed by members of the committee do not constitute an attempt to make life difficult for anyone. They simply are trying to explain the extent to which they believe the regulations now should be focused and how they should be applied in the future without risk to any of the groups concerned. I apologise for the interruption.

Mr. Michael Barry

The entire food and drink industry would not have achieved its present scale and would not have been so successful in export markets had it not understood the wishes and requirements of consumers globally, domestically and on a European basis. This is a major factor in this regard and is the reason those present are not a million miles apart in respect of the endgame.

Some other issues arise. Due to the manner in which we have differentiated on country of origin labelling, there is a perception that we have opposed it. This is not the case and our point was clear. Country of origin labelling is appropriate for primary meat production. We support it and it is something that our members do. There are some areas of confusion in this regard, which have been referred to at this meeting, and at present we are working to ensure they are addressed at both national and European level. We are acutely aware of this issue because of the relationship it has to other issues. This is a priority for the meat sector. Within other areas of the food sector, such as the dairy sector or consumer foods, different concerns and considerations arise. Country of origin labelling would not suit or enable the expansion and development of that sector. It would not allow our producers to grow. Different things are required at sectoral level, as country of origin labelling would be appropriate in some sectors, but not in others. In this way, the sector in question will expand.

On that precise point, issues referred to in our brief included quality, place of origin, Parma ham and farming methods, namely, organic farming. If a product contains Parma ham, it is supposed to come from one place. That is simple. It could be pepperoni. I am not an expert on pizzas, but I have consumed a few.

The Chairman is considering calories these days.

Yes, which I read carefully. Everyone claims to know about them now. If I do not have confidence in the procedures and practices in the country of origin of a product containing Parma ham, I will have no confidence in the product.

Mr. Michael Barry

We have been clear in stating that the origin, as stated in labelling regulations, must always be provided where it would be misleading not to do so. This has always been and will continue to be our position, for which reason we are putting significant resources into working with national and European authorities to remove the elements of ambiguity being brought to the fore continually. This must be done if the markets and Ireland as a quality brand are to be developed at a European and global level. There is no disagreement in this regard.

It would be wrong to make country of origin labels mandatory on products such as dairy. We are considering a European document. The same debate is ongoing in 26 other states. We export 80% of our cheese, for example, and compete against countries that use their own flags for the reason referred to by Deputy Dooley, namely, renationalisation. This is the reason Irish beef is at a different shelf level than French beef. When the French have an equivalent discussion and say that they want to renationalise and to have country of origin labelling, we must bear in mind that a blanket approach devalues the Irish product in its export market. Of every ten bullocks, eight are exported from the island. Of every ten dairy cows, the milk of approximately 8.5 of these is exported. In the absence of quotas, the latter figure will increase as we increase production. If we want a sustainable and expanding agricultural sector, which we have thanks to our natural advantages, we must ensure our ability to market our products in European and global markets.

Regarding imports of standards lower than ours, the distrust of some products is correct. We need imports to enable exports of a more diverse nature. However, if an Irish entity uses products that are below the standards applied to its own, only it will fall. For that reason, import standards must be more strongly enforced within the context of the WTO. While people opposed the WTO and wanted to do away with it, its role is to enforce standards. We need a strong and effective WTO so as to ensure that standards are not enforced willy-nilly or in such a way as to act as a trade barrier, which everyone agrees would be unacceptable.

I will address the other points briefly. Some suggested that it would be appropriate to go beyond the EU health mark, but an EU quality logo would be a duplication of that mark. If food is not produced, processed, transported and exported to a certain standard, it will not get the mark. Europe must promote this fact. What tests would be applied to food to warrant a quality logo? Would they not be the same tests as those applied under the EU health mark system? We have spent much time discussing the administrative burdens associated with regulation and heavy regulation. Bureaucracy works against our competitiveness in the global market and needless bureaucracy will not benefit anyone at any level of the industry. Therefore, I question the merit of creating a duplicate system. The EU health mark is the quality logo and must be promoted and explained. If one does not have it, one does not have a quality product.

We did not suggest that sustainability was unimportant. It is quite important and we have a strong position on carbon measuring and the sustainability of food production, processing and transportation. It is not a geographical indicator, GI. Rather than being limited to a single area, it must be applied across the whole of the food chain. It is being addressed under the EU climate change package in which we are involved. It is a considerable challenge for everyone. The principle is right, as the situation must be managed to avoid a cost that cannot be absorbed by the sector, but keeping it under a GI would not be appropriate. This would suggest that sustainability should only apply in minute regions whereas a sustainability criteria must apply to the 27 member states in an equal and harmonised manner to avoid competitive imbalances. We must be aware of this fact.

Deputy Costello is in favour of heavier regulation, but not industry guidelines or self-regulation. He also referred to the success of Baileys Irish Cream as a brand. The success of the Irish cream liqueur has been based on the industry's agreed guideline, the Irish cream liqueur standard. This is a practical example of an EU standard that has worked, but what we have stated as regards standards——

What is the contradiction between strong regulation and the success of Baileys Irish Cream as a brand? Surely the two could go side by side.

Mr. Michael Barry

The Deputy stated that he was opposed to light regulation or self-regulation because he believes that it does not work. I have provided him with an example of a globally successful product developed on the basis of an industry standard.

Is Mr. Barry telling the committee that strong regulation would have prevented the development of Baileys Irish Cream?

Mr. Michael Barry

No. I am saying that there are times when——

Then Mr. Barry should not link the two when there is no link.

Mr. Michael Barry

The Deputy stated that self-regulation does not work, but I am merely giving an example of those times when it is appropriate. The adherence to the national salt reduction targets——

Who determines the appropriate times?

That is the point.

Mr. Michael Barry

Dialogue with stakeholders, such as in this discussion, identifies when self-regulation is appropriate. The matters of health and safety should only be approached through regulation and the regulated environment in which we live, but there are times when one can get further faster and be more flexible through self-regulation. If one considers the national salt reduction——

We have heard all of this before — further, faster, more flexible.

Mr. Michael Barry

Baileys Irish Cream or the national salt reduction targets, which has reduced salt in consumer foods across Europe on the basis of self-regulation and industry guides, have been significant successes. There are times when heavy regulation should be used and other times when light regulation and self-regulation are appropriate.

Both can work provided there is trust.

Mr. Michael Barry

Correct, through dialogue such as this. The equivalence of standards must be addressed at EU level and through strong regulation. There is no uniformity of standards. Even entities such as the US and the EU differ on equivalence in certain areas. This matter must be developed further, particularly in a globalised world. In this way, we will protect our export sector for everyone's betterment.

I thank the delegates for attending. It was an informative debate. I do not agree with some of the views expressed by Mr. Barry. Indeed, I profoundly disagree with them, as do some committee members. I do not refer to the bias in the presentation. There are three segments, the producer, the consumer and those in between. If all are not singing from the one hymn sheet we do not make any difference. It is like the Swiss watch and French products. The integrity of the products is important, the label means nothing. Years ago, when I examined the question of a gold standard label, I realised the label is only as good as the standard. If the standard is not applicable, the label means nothing.

We mentioned the Irish flag, the Swiss watch and French wine and other products. The points the witnesses made were valid but I am concerned, having listened to the views expressed by the members of the committee as consumers as well as public representatives of producers and processors. There are representatives of processors on this committee. The issues raised must be borne in mind in the review taking place in the context of the Green Paper. If that does not happen we will revisit situations where there are emergencies or matters we did not foresee. Members are trying to foresee these issues.

Ms Westbrook did not have the opportunity to contribute.

She was mentioned in dispatches.

Ms Westbrook was mentioned but her colleague was so good that he covered everything. This was an interesting discussion. We will adjourn until 2 p.m. when we will have the second part of our debate.

I am chairing another meeting at 2 p.m. so I cannot be here.

That is alright, we note the Deputy's apology. There are also apologies from Senators Leyden, Prendergast and Doherty, as well as from Deputy McGrath.

Sitting suspended at 1.20 p.m. The joint committee resumed in private session at 2.10 p.m. and went into public session at 2.15 p.m.