Ceisteanna – Questions. Priority Questions. - Organic Farming.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

3 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the various ways in which the Fischler proposals impact on the development of the organic sector here and in each EU member state; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19258/03]

The agreement reached on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy affords member states the flexibility to choose from a number of decoupling options those that best suit the individual countries' production systems. I will seek the views of the social partners and the other interests before deciding on the best available options for Ireland. I cannot, at this stage, make any substantive comments on the issues involved until these discussions have taken place. Similarly, I cannot speculate how the reforms will be implemented across all member states. In general terms, however, new opportunities should exist for producers, including organic producers, to respond to the market demand for quality food. Apart from decoupling, certain other elements of the package may be beneficial to the development of organic farming in Ireland.

Will the Minister agree that the philosophy behind the Fischler proposals and their agreement at the Council of Ministers offers a huge potential for the organic sector? It is a potential that would be helped by clarity from the Minister and his Department as to what can be done and when it can be done. Will the Minister consider the example of Germany in producing set targets for the proportion of agricultural produce produced through an organic sector by a set year? I would encourage him in his discussions with the social partners to put such proposals on the table to see whether agreement is forthcoming and whether it can be worked towards collectively?

I agree with Deputy Boyle that there is an opportunity for organic produce and of that there is little doubt. More and more consumers want to have food that is naturally produced, free of residues and devoid of any deleterious material. To that end, a greater effort should be made by our farmers to fill that niche in the market. For example, there are many parts of the country that would have a famine were it not for the amount of vegetable products delivered there once a week. Not alone are they delivered once a week from city areas but they have already been imported into the country. With decoupling, or breaking the link with production, the FAPRI economic study suggested that there would be a 16% reduction in the suckler cow herd and a 5% reduction in the ewe flock. There will certainly be opportunities in terms of land use. We have a very sizeable import bill for food at €3 billion per annum. I am not suggesting that all that market can be availed of by Irish producers and farmers but there is a substantial niche in the market and that is only in the home market.

Farmhouse cheese manufacturers at cottage food level have shown that not alone have they made inroads into the Irish market but they have done very well in the British and French markets. There are opportunities. To fall back and say: " There is no market, we would prefer to make the old type products", is just not good enough any more. People will be given their single farm grant and after that they will have to go for their opportunities in the market place. Good, young Irish farmers will go for that opportunity and they will surprise themselves and everybody else in how well they will do.

Does the Minister think a targeted approach is useful, as in the German example? Is it something he would encourage the social partners to work towards? In addressing the farming pillar in social partnership, will he ensure that such consultation involves as wide a consultation as possible within the farming community with as many representatives of the organic sector as possible?

The representatives will be involved in the consultation. The German target is very ambitious at 20% but it may be no harm to be ambitious. It would be more realistic to have a target of 10%. Most success stories have set a target and aim for an objective. That can be done in Ireland. We have most of the elements in place with thankfully, a system that is almost organic. With a little more effort we could go all the way and meet the EU criteria for organic production. I will meet representatives of the organic industry and listen carefully to what they have to say. I am convinced there are opportunities there.