This post first appeared online at http://www.thatsfarming.com on the 9th August 2017
So, Lidl provided That’s Farming with a positive response to recent queries about the origins of some pork found upon its shelves. To quote; “We have investigated your query. This is due to the changeover of back bacon from EU origin to Irish Bord Bia approved product. The EU origin joint was supplied into Lidl until a couple of weeks ago… This is part of our ongoing push towards stocking more produce from local suppliers”. Grand, a success for farming’s journalistic fraternity.
One has also noted that the IFA is on the ball, instigating DNA testing of pork on Irish shelves to ensure that the country of origin labelling is accurate and that the Irish consumer is not being misled. Bord Bia has also long since been promoting its product-of-Ireland farm-assurance label.
Now this is fine but I have a small concern over the effort being put into selling Irish to the Irish.
Ireland is only a market the size of England’s south-east counties of Kent, Surrey and Sussex and Irish farming needs to export. True with pork, the domestic market is more important, but with, say, beef how much effort is being expended on promoting Irish beef in a market that accounts for only around 10% of Irish production? Cost-benefit analysis anyone?
While recognizing that the Irish consumer must be able to buy Irish origin produce with 100% confidence, is there also a slight whiff of a red herring around?
Is ‘Irish’ a characteristic that is exploitable to the extent that it can enhance the farm-gate price?
Ireland does have a positive international image and it is good news that the term Irish grass-fed beef has been accepted for use in the USA by the USDA. How is this going to deliver for the farmer? Are the processors going to develop the product so that any market-derived premium is going to be passed back to beef farmers who supply them with accredited beef; or is the beef just going to be sourced from the general pool of beef produced in Ireland to a loose definition of ‘grass-fed’?
The presence of Irish in its primary export market, the UK is also far too weak. Premium prices do not come from occupying the standard and value lines of only three UK supermarkets. It must be farm-assured and Irish is on the label but that does not reflect the quality that most Irish farmers consider to be what they load onto the wagon heading for the factory.
And one must also recognize that when it comes to country of origin labelling, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Lidl also operates a UK-only sourcing policy. Most UK supermarkets do when it comes to, especially, beef. Little Red Tractor operates successfully, not to mention Scottish, Welsh and West Country designated-origin schemes.
Personally, going forwards, I only expect the UK to develop more products that are of UK origin but which also encompass far more characteristics than geographic origin alone. France and Italy have been particularly good at it for years and others are catching on fast. A look at the list of EU registered designated-origin schemes does, however, tell a story. In numeric terms, Italy, France and then Spain are well ahead and others are catching on. In contrast Ireland, with all its food-island aspirations, sits alongside that renown EU food producer, Luxembourg. With all due respect to the latter, that is not where Ireland should be.
So, this is not so much about fake foods; the issue that should be concerning Irish farmers is how are they going to get paid a premium price if what they grow and rear is not going into premium-priced food products? The markets for such are evolving and farmers and processors elsewhere are working to develop farming systems and their derived products with the characteristics that premium-paying consumers want. Yes, geographic origin is important but it is only one single characteristic among several. It is a ball-game that Ireland, with its economy-of-scale-lacking family farms must get involved with but to do so it must produce genuine, multi-character, traceable products. When it does, we will then reach that grand day when we are worrying about how to stop others selling fake versions of market-topping Irish products on the World’s food markets.