I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:
—recognises that the decision to introduce full decoupling of direct payments with effect from 1 January 2005 will allow farmers the freedom to farm for the marketplace;
—acknowledges that agri-food exports are currently worth over €7 billion per annum and account for about one fifth of net foreign earnings from the manufacturing sector;
—recognises that the agri-food sector accounts for about one in 11 of the workforce;
—notes the progress made by the Government in the area of food labelling;
—recognises that Irish food is effectively promoted both within the country and abroad; and
—supports the Minister for Agriculture and Food in her efforts to continue the development of a sustainable, competitive, consumer-focused agri-food sector and thereby enhance its contribution to a vibrant rural economy and the environment.
The agri-food sector is a major player in our economy, accounting for 8% of GDP, 7% of exports and about one fifth of net foreign earnings from traded goods. One in every 11 people in the workforce is employed in the industry. Over 700 food companies provide direct employment to more than 40,000 people, while indirectly supporting 180,000 jobs in supply and ancillary services. Many of the 700 food companies are small or micro-sized enterprises with the micro-firms representing 44% of all food and drink enterprises. The industry also has a unique importance in terms of the national spatial strategy as significant volumes of food processing take place in every county.
Government strategy for the food industry has consistently been to encourage the development of a modern, innovative industry capable of competing on world markets. To that end, the National Development Plan 2000-2006 sets out a detailed strategy for the development of the food industry and indicative funding of €385 million for a range of development measures.
The measures in the plan include food research, marketing, human resources and investment measures. These measures are market-focused and designed to provide an integrated response to the challenges facing the food industry in an increasingly globalised and consumer driven market.
Proof of the effectiveness of the strategy is the growing strength, diversity and sophistication of the industry. A telling indicator of success is that the value of exports of Irish food, drink and horticulture in 2004 surpassed the €7 billion mark despite a difficult trading environment. This is an all-time high and a very fine performance, particularly in the context of a weakening dollar and sterling and downward pressure on retail food prices in the UK, our largest market. The main contributors to growth were prepared foods, dairy products and ingredients.
Ireland is the fourth largest food exporter in the European Union. This is an amazing achievement for a small country. Traditional reliance on commodity exports has been reduced as production of high value added food products increases. From a very small base, exports of prepared consumer foods, food ingredients, functional foods and speciality foods have grown substantially. The prepared consumer food sector is one of our biggest success stories, with annual sales reaching €3 billion, of which exports in 2004 alone were valued at €1.6 billion. The global demand for convenience food had been flagged in national strategies in recent years. Well targeted public funding has underpinned the expansion of this sector and enhanced its capability to respond to the global demand.
Investment in new product development and innovation is essential for any industry to grow and prosper and this is equally true of the food industry. In the period 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2004, public expenditure of €72 million was allocated to the food and agriculture sector under the research, technology and innovation measures of the national development plan. I am pleased that NDP funding of €10.6 million has been allocated in the Estimates for 2005 for FIRM, the Food Institutional Research Measure. FIRM encourages high quality research across a wide range of food science disciplines and funds and facilitates public good food research into food by third level institutions and Teagasc. Public good food research has been instrumental in the development of innovative and value added food products, whether next generation pizza or palatable gluten free products, as well as in advancing food safety. The results of FIRM research and expertise are available to food companies when developing in-house research and food safety plans.
Promotion is a key element of marketing products. As a food producing nation that is heavily reliant on export markets — Ireland is over 800% self-sufficient in the beef sector, 300% in sheep meat and over 900% in butter and milk powder — we have made it our key priority to develop a comprehensive strategy for food promotion on the domestic and export markets, within the framework of the EU state aid rules that govern the Single Market.
Deputies will be aware that Bord Bia has specific responsibility to promote, assist and develop the marketing of Irish food, livestock and horticulture on the home and export markets through the provision of innovative market development, promotion and information services. Bord Bia is widely acknowledged for doing a thoroughly professional job in branding and promoting Ireland — the food island — and providing effective and innovative services to its clients. The developing of all routes to market is a priority for Bord Bia, and it does this across the spectrum of the industry, internationally and on the domestic markets, for general and specialised food producers.
The Marketplace Ireland showcase event staged by Bord Bia in Croke Park last autumn attracted 225 buyers with a combined turnover of €140 billion from the largest retailers in the UK, continental Europe and the US. During a few days over 1,300 pre-arranged meetings took place between buyers and Irish food and drink suppliers who were seeking to grow their international sales in retail and food service.
On the domestic market more food is now consumed in restaurants and hotels than ever before. It is very much in the interest of the Irish food industry to supply this market with high quality food. In recent years an innovative promotional measure, the Féile Bia scheme, has been developed by Bord Bia to complement its quality assurance schemes. The participants in this scheme have committed to sourcing quality assured product in their catering outlets. The Bord Bia programme, Féile Bia — a celebration of quality food — which is operated in co-operation with the Restaurants Association of Ireland and the Irish Hotels Federation, with the support of the farming community, is aimed specifically at the catering industry. The objective of Féile Bia is to provide transparency and full traceability of food from farm to fork in the catering sector.
Local markets are growing in importance as an outlet for local and speciality production. In 2002 Bord Bia staged Ireland's largest ever outdoor food market on the farmers' market style for 110 small food producers at its international food symposium in Kinsale and this concept has been gaining momentum since then.
A strategy is also in place for developing the marketing capability of the small-scale food sector many of whose members are also producing speciality foods. The small business-speciality food sector has a combined turnover of €250 million. Within that category those businesses availing of Bord Bia's small business services have seen their average turnover increased by 36% in a few years.
The overriding principle in the production of food is the safety of the consumer. Only food produced to the required standards of food safety should be placed on the market. Responsibility for ensuring these standards rests primarily with the industry itself, with the role of the regulatory authorities being that of providing the assurances required by law. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has overall responsibility for the enforcement of food safety legislation in Ireland. It provides a single focus for all State agencies involved in food safety regulation, thereby guaranteeing the integrity of the control system governing the processing, distribution and retailing of food. A wide range of systems is in place to monitor and promote the quality of Irish food. For example, the national beef assurance scheme provides assurance as to the quality of Irish beef and beef products and ensures high standards of production and processing throughout the whole industry.
Quality assurance schemes enjoy confidence where they operate to objective criteria and are independently accredited and audited. Deputies will also be aware that Bord Bia has been operating quality assurance schemes for some years and of the progress being made in this area towards achieving EN45011 standards. Last year, my Department was successful in securing EU approval for an indication of origin by way of a national emblem on the logo of Bord Bia quality assurance schemes. Bord Bia has rolled out the new logo to give consumers that information in graphic form.
Deputy Naughten raised the issue of the labelling of speciality Scottish beef. Ireland tried to achieve equality on that issue but under the regulations, Scotland is defined as a region while Ireland is a member state. However, we are examining the possibility of an all-Ireland brand which would be successful, although we would have to deal with animal health issues. Although the proposal was initially unsuccessful, it is our intention to pursue it further.
The report of the food quality assurance schemes review group recommended the drawing up of national guidelines to facilitate accreditation of individual food quality assurance schemes to the international standard EN45011. At my Department's request the National Standards Authority of Ireland engaged in drawing up guidelines and is nearing completion of its work on a linear integrated standard covering the totality of the food chain from producer to consumer, including processors and the retail and catering sectors. Each specific sector will be free to tailor quality assurance schemes to suit its own particular requirements in conformity with the guideline.
In applying any particular national standard, due regard must be had to EU law protecting free trade within the Single Market. Care must also be taken to ensure that unnecessary constraints are not placed on producers and companies in establishing markets and partnerships in the distribution chain. In today's rapidly changing marketplace, both global and niche brands have a place and markets are there to be won for functional, speciality and organic foods.
The importance to the consumer of being in a position to make food consumption choices which best suit their circumstances and preferences is a vital element in today's market. An appropriate labelling system is a key element in this respect. The primacy of the consumer was recognised with the appointment of the consumer liaison panel, established in 2002. Acting on a recommendation from that panel, the food labelling group was also established in June 2002. That group reported in December of that year with a series of recommendations.
The two main issues that emanated from the recommendations of the labelling group were the centralising of enforcement in one agency and the definition of origin. On the question of centralisation of enforcement, the position is that the Food Safety Authority of Ireland is now responsible for the enforcement of labelling regulations. This will not only streamline the enforcement measures but will also provide a one-stop shop for any complaints on mislabelling of food. The service contracts between the Food Safety Authority of Ireland and other State bodies, including my Department, have been amended to take account of this change in enforcement policy. Food labelling policy, with the exception of fish, is now located in both the Department of Health and Children and my Department in line with another recommendation of the food labelling group.
There was full agreement within the food labelling group that consumers have a right to information on the origin of the meat they cook in their homes or eat out. I welcome this unequivocal recognition of the rights of consumers. At the beginning of 2004, two regulations relating to the labelling of poultry meat were introduced. The first of these regulations requires poultry meat originating in a country outside the EU to bear an indication of the country of origin when offered for sale in a retail premises. The second requires information regarding class, price per unit of weight, condition and slaughterhouse details in respect of non-prepackaged poultry meat to be provided to the consumer.
EU regulations provide for a detailed labelling system for beef to be applied at retail sale, which is over and above the general labelling provisions. These regulations do not apply at restaurant and catering sector level. It is my intention to proceed with a legal requirement that country of origin must be displayed in respect of beef served on such premises. The legal options allowing for this development are currently being examined and any necessary legislation will be introduced as soon as possible.