Seanad debates

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

2:00 pm

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I move:

That Seanad Éireann, noting that:

- research on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency shows that Irish consumers throw away 1 million tonnes of food a year which is approximately 30% of food bought;

- the average person throws out almost 300 kg of 'black bin rubbish' every year, and about one third of this waste is food waste. This is the equivalent of 3,750 apples;

- this waste costs every household in Ireland about €1,000 per year;

- restaurants dispose of about €125 million worth of food every year;

- wastage is a huge financial cost to the State through the dumping of it in landfills;

- food wastage is a major factor in greenhouse gas emissions through rotting;

- food is inadequately labelled and its true origin is often obscured to the consumer;

- food is inadequately labelled in terms of content;

- there is a childhood obesity epidemic with more than 300,000 children considered obese;

- most requirements of the new EU Food Information Regulations requirements do not apply until 2014 and nutrition labelling will become mandatory in 2016;

calls on the Government to introduce proper food labelling to improve information to consumers and other food safety measures:

- including the provision of 'consume by' dates of food products, in tandem with the 'best before' and 'sell by' dates' (that is, many foods are in fact edible after the 'best before' or the 'sell by' or 'display until' dates used by retailers) to reduce food wastage;

- immediately ensure ''verifiable country of origin'' labelling on all farm produce sold by retailers to ensure that consumers are not confused and undermine local producers by passing off imports as Irish as is the case currently (e.g. through the use of tricolours, shamrocks, green labels and so on) - especially as the EU debate about country of origin labelling has effectively been postponed;

- ensure that terms like ''Irish food'' can only be used after specific criteria are satisfied - by doing so, it will help to stimulate growth in the economy by allowing consumers to buy produce verifiably produced in Ireland;

- include labelling on food so that Irish consumers know exactly from where their products originate;

- given that it is estimated that up to 25% of an individual's carbon footprint is associated with their diet, consider the introduction of labelling for products with at least 25% greenhouse gas savings (as in Sweden) to provide consumers with the ability to make an informed choice and with the ability to see how some products are more sustainable than others;

- introduce labelling with clearer food storage instructions to reduce waste;

- consider the introduction of simpler food labelling for food products aimed at children;

- teach primary school children more effectively about food and food labelling, emphasising healthy eating and continue to examine existing advertising regulations with regard to children and clarify the potential tax on fatty foods; and

- welcomes the European Commission's proposal for the introduction, for the first time and on a voluntary basis, of an electronic identification system (EID) for bovine animals by repealing the current provisions on voluntary beef labelling; and

to consider additional measures to reduce waste, including, but not limited to:

- introducing a proper system for distributing leftover food to those most in need and to the appropriate charities; including ensuring that any catering procured by the State will be required to redistribute that food to vulnerable groups;

- encouraging retailers to allow '2 for 1' offers to be redeemed at a later date through a voucher system, discouraging waste; and

- encouraging producers and retailers to reduce packaging including the introduction of biodegradable packaging and packaging that keeps fresh produce edible for longer in addition to making packaging easier to open for the elderly or disabled.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney and am delighted he has come to the House. I have been in the food business all my life and have been interested in making sure that those who have a responsibility in the food business are able to do something useful. One of my heroes was Mr. Norman Borlaug, the 1970 Nobel Prize winner, who died two years ago. He was the man who fed the world, or that is how he was known. He recognised that there was a problem of people dying of starvation and he perfected a form of wheat that was able to save a million lives. It is said that over his lifetime he saved 1 billion lives, which gives some idea of what a person can do if that person is determined and says "I can achieve a lot".

When I look at the problems in the world and wonder to what extent we can do something about them, I realise is there is huge waste in Ireland, in particular waste of food, and that there are things we can do about it. I would love to see us do something about those things because the number of people dying in the world because they do not get enough to eat is a scandal.

An article in The Guardian today is headlined "Hunger crisis kills 2.6m children a year". That figure is far higher than I had thought. The article states:

Malnutrition is the root cause of the deaths of 2.6 million children each year, and the bodies and brains of 450 million more will fail to develop properly due to inadequate diet over the next 15 years unless immediate action is taken, according to a survey published on Wednesday by a leading international charity. The survey of developing countries ... produced by Save the Children, estimates one in four children are already stunted because of malnutrition.

The chief executive of Save the Children said:

This is a hidden hunger crisis that could destroy the lives of nearly half a billion children unless world leaders act to stop it. Every hour of every day 300 children die from malnutrition-related causes simply because they don't get to eat the basic, nutritious foods that we take for granted in the [West]. Yet solutions are clear, cheap and necessary. Not only will tackling hunger save children's lives but, at a time of economic meltdown, it will help reboot the global economy.

Ireland has set the standard in taking action on other issues. We were the first to ban smoking in public places and the first to take steps to discourage the use of plastic bags. Others have followed where we led. Likewise, there are actions we can take to reduce food wastage, but success in this regard will require commitment, encouragement and support from the Minister. In tabling this motion my objective is to draw attention to what we in Ireland can do. When I saw that the Government had proposed an amendment, I expected the gist of it to be that I had not gone far enough in my proposals and that there was much more that could be done. I am extremely disappointed that this is not the case. I hope the Minister will not press the amendment because it does not add to the proposal. Rather, it seems to suggest we are already doing enough. I hope, therefore, the Minister will reconsider it.

A massive amount of food is wasted in the State every year while people are dying of starvation elsewhere in the world. Almost 1 billion people in developing countries go hungry every day owing to food shortages. World food prices, as tracked by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, reached their highest ever level in February 2011, while food riots erupted in Haiti to Egypt. Here in the West, on the other hand, obesity is a major disease. How can we go on throwing out one third of the food we buy, while people in other countries starve? In addition, this level of waste imposes a huge cost on the State through waste disposal and is a massive contributor to CO2 emissions. Changes in behaviour will require a combination of legislation, information and encouragement.

While an EU regulation on food information and nutrition labelling will come into force in the coming years, there are several vital issues that must be addressed immediately. Part of the reason food is thrown out is that labelling is unclear and there is a lack of information for the consumer. There is real confusion about what the various dates on products actually mean and this is not helped by instructions such as "display until", "sell by", "use by", "consume by" and "best before". As somebody who was involved in the business for many years, I am well aware that these labels are for the benefit of the retailer, not the customer. People see these labels and assume it is unsafe to consumer a product after the specified date, even though this is often not the case. I recall a customer complaining that the potatoes for sale in our supermarket were out of date. I was incredulous that potatoes could be out of date. They had come into the store on a Monday and the best before date was the following Friday. Our potato supplier had labelled them thus because, being new potatoes, they would be at their most delicious if eaten within three or four days. In other words, there was nothing wrong with them two weeks later, but they were more delicious if eaten immediately. However, customers made the mistake of assuming they were unsafe to eat after the specified date.

It is clear that most products featuring the "sell by" and "best before" labels are capable of being eaten after the date printed on the label, although they may no longer have the flavour the producer would like. Should we simply throw out fruit and vegetables that have lost some colour or gone a little soft? I read an article in recent days about a German pensioner who had discovered in his home a tin of American lard which he had received in an aid package after the war. Upon tasting it, he discovered that, 64 years later, it was still edible. I am not advising Members to follow his example, but it is remarkable to consider. A German food expert observed that the test results on the lard might make consumers think twice before discarding food immediately after the expiry date.

It may be time to move towards a simplification of food labelling. In the United Kingdom, instead of marking foods as best before a certain date, it is proposed that in future producers use labels giving details of the health risks associated with individual foods that remain on the shelves or in the fridge for a lengthy period. This type of change does not require legislation. All that is needed is to encourage companies to participate. Natural competitiveness will work to our benefit and probably provide a better solution than if we, as legislators or civil servants, were to impose specific requirements on producers. We can achieve a great deal on that basis.

Research shows that Irish consumers throw out 1 million tonnes of food every year, which is approximately 30% of all food purchased. The average person disposes of 300 kg of black bin rubbish every year, some one third of which is food waste. The average cost per household of disposing of this waste is €1,000 per annum. We can do a great deal to reduce that level of wastage. In the retail trade we often offer incentives to customers in the form of two for the price of one or buy two and get one free offers. In order to discourage waste, retailers might instead offer a buy two and get a voucher for a third incentive. If it is a fresh food product, most people do not need a third. I am not proposing that this type of system be imposed on retailers, but it is the type of suggestion we should encourage.

I hope the Government amendment which adds nothing to my proposals will be withdrawn. I have no problem in accepting the Sinn Féin Party amendment.

Photo of Mary Ann O'BrienMary Ann O'Brien (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I second the motion which includes a suggestion that the label "Irish food" be permitted only where specific criteria are satisfied. We are all aware that buying Irish benefits the economy and safeguards Irish jobs. If Irish consumers choose Irish-made products over foreign imports, it gives indigenous companies a significant and welcome boost. Our superb and ongoing record in export growth has proved that we are extremely competitive in the agrifood sector. If we can find a way to label our food products as made and packed in this country in order that consumers can identify them as such in a split second, we will be taking a huge step in assisting the local economy towards recovery.

Among the 1.5 million Irish households, the average spend on Guaranteed Irish products is €16 a week. Increasing this to €20 a week would create 6,000 new jobs based on the turnover per employee of existing Guaranteed Irish members. In this respect, current practices by certain producers and retailers are harming local produce, in particular, the mislabelling of products as Irish. According to Amárach Research, 83% of consumers believe it is more important to buy locally produced goods and services now than it was five years ago, while almost two thirds say buying Guaranteed Irish products helps them to feel they are supporting Ireland. However, the problem for consumers is that we have only one second to make up our mind in the supermarket. We are all busy these days and it is difficult enough to navigate the aisles of large supermarkets without having to work out whether the products one is purchasing are Irish. A good example is the difference between smoked Irish salmon and Irish smoked salmon. It is difficult to tell which is Irish salmon and which was farmed in Norway and merely smoked in Ireland. It comes down to a problem with food labelling. Another example is chicken produced in Thailand but coated in Ireland. In some cases, the smoked salmon has only been processed here. For years I believed fish sold under the Donegal Catch label was produced in and around County Donegal, but that is not the case. It is possible it is farmed in Norway or Greece and sold under the Donegal Catch label.

At the Irish Ploughing Championships last year I came across a superb new company, Truly Irish, which produces pork and bacon from the farm to the table. It is receiving huge support from Irish consumers. I wish I had thought of calling Lily O'Brien's Truly Irish Lily O'Brien's in order that everyone would know it was made in Newbridge.

On a related note, it was stated in The Irish Times last September that people associated Jacob's Fig Rollswith Ireland. It has been said they have been Ireland's favourite for over 100 years. Sadly, they are now made in Malta. Siúcra which many regard as a purely Irish product imports sugar from elsewhere in Europe, frequently Germany, to be repacked here.

The economist I listen to most is Mr. Jim Power who fronts the Love Irish Food campaign. We need to sort out the labelling issue. As I stated, I do not want people to stop buying Jacob's Fig Rolls or Mikado, but I do want consumers to know for certain that what they are buying in supermarkets are Irish products, allowing them to truly support Irish food products. My business recently lost two fairly large contracts, one in the USA and the other in England. The American company, a rather large blue chip company, stated that while it loved the company and that we had done a great job for six years, President Obama wanted it to support the domestic economy and American companies. It was for that reason that it had decided to switch from an Irish supplier, with which it was delighted, to an American one. I know there is EU legislation in this regard. However, we need to move towards what is being done by the Americans and the English.

The final part of the motion states the European Union believes that by 2020 there will be a 40% increase in the food waste generated. We must address this issue through involving producers, retailers and consumers. Proper labelling and education will also help us to address it. Young people have helped to educate us on issues such as recycling and waste, so much so that we are all recycling properly. Imagine what could be achieved if they were to explain to us what "best before" or "sell by" meant. Last week Sainsbury's informed its consumers by way of an article in The Daily Telegraph that it was to change its label "freeze on day of purchase" to "freeze up to two days after sell-by date".

This is a wide-ranging and interesting debate. If the Minister is serious about dealing with the issues of Irish agricultural food waste, obesity and Irish jobs, he should move to make real changes as regards how we look at Irish food and food labelling.

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I move:

To delete all words after ''Seanad Éireann'' and substitute the following:

''noting that:

- minimisation and management of food waste is being addressed under the national waste prevention programme and the plan covering the period 2009-12;

- the Waste Management (Food Waste) Regulations 2009, on commercial food waste, introduced by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, include a requirement that from 1 July 2010 the commercial sector has the food waste it generates segregated and collected separately and also imposes obligations on the major sources of food waste such as hot food outlets and institutions;

- the Waste Management (Landfill Levy) Regulations 2011 provide for an increase in the landfill levy to €50 per tonne from 1 September 2011 and that there is a commitment to further increases;

- the general food labelling Directive 200/13/EC (S.I. 483/2002) requires indication of the place of origin where failure to give such particulars might mislead the consumer to a material degree and EU food information regulations will provide additional information for the consumer;

- according to IUNA data, children are not eating the recommended portions of milk, fresh meat and fruit and vegetables;

considers that these measures will improve Ireland's performance in relation to food waste, and in particular;

- notes the launch by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government of the green public procurement action plan in January 2012, which aims to implement green public procurement in favour of more resource efficient, less polluting goods services and works;

- highlights that food and catering services are a priority area for green procurement and that contracting parties will be required to deal with food waste in compliance with the national composting standard;

- emphasises that the sustainability of the agrifood sector in Ireland provides consumers in Ireland and further afield with environmental assurance, and welcomes in this regard schemes such as the Bord Bia beef and lamb quality assurance scheme, developed in partnership with Teagasc and the Carbon Trust, which includes traceability back to the farm and carbon measurement on the farm, as well as an indication of origin;

- remarks that country of origin labelling is currently mandatory for beef, fish, honey, olive oil and fresh fruit and vegetables and for other products when its absence might mislead the consumer; that this is being extended to other meats and that the European Commission will carry out a feasibility study of the possibility of extending country of origin labelling requirements to other foods, including ingredients that represent more than 50% of a food;

- notes that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is supporting research into anaerobic digestion, utilisation of by-products of processing and fruit and vegetable waste in particular and considers that it is important that the findings of such research are commercialised and used on a wide scale;

- encourages more schools to take up the EU school milk scheme;

- notes that the Food Dude-EU school fruit scheme, managed by Bord Bia and funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has now been rolled out to over half of primary school children and that evaluations of the scheme have consistently shown increased consumption of fruit and vegetables;

- recommends wider publicity of the stop food waste programme (, and the EPA publication Less Food Waste — More Profit which provides advice for consumers and operators on buying, storage and low waste cookery tips such as buying what is required, taking note of existing stock, checking "use by" dates and understanding the differences between "use by", "best before" and "sell by" dates, and how to compost any residual food waste, as easy access to information and advice could have a substantial impact on individual consumer decisions and national patterns of consumer and operator behaviour''.

I welcome the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney. I am delighted he is with us for this debate. I also welcome the content of the Private Members' motion and acknowledge the work done in its drafting.

The minimisation and management of food waste are being adequately dealt with in accordance with the national waste prevention programme which covers 2012. The Waste Management (Food Waste) Regulations 2009 on commercial food waste introduced in July 2010 impose strict requirements and conditions on the commercial food sector. The labelling of food products sold in Ireland is regulated by the general food labelling directive which requires indication of the place of origin where a failure to give such particulars might mislead the consumer to a material degree.

I welcome implementation by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, of the green public procurement action plan launched last month. This demonstrates the Government's commitment to ensuring greener public procurement in favour of more resource efficient and less pollutant goods and services and works.

Ireland's agrifood sector is second to none. The Irish meat and livestock sector expanded by 9% in 2010, with the value of exports increasing to €2.44 billion. An increase in the value of beef, pigmeat, poultry, sheep meat and live export was evident.

SI 435 of 2000 as amended by SI 485 of 2002 requires mandatory traceability and origin labelling for beef from the slaughterhouse to the point of sale to consumers. Bord Bia has an excellent beef and lamb quality assurance scheme in place, developed in conjunction with Teagasc and the Carbon Trust. The scheme demands traceability back to the farm and carbon measurement on all farms, including indications of origin. Being a farmer, I have first-hand knowledge of this, like every other farmer.

The Government amendment emphasises that country of origin labelling is mandatory for beef, fish, honey, olive oil, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and other produce, where its absence might mislead the consumer. This is reassuring for all Irish consumers. We can rest assured that our food products are adequately labelled.

I firmly believe increased publicity of the stop food waste programme would be useful in increasing public awareness of the level of food waste in the home and society. The EPA report, Less Food Waste - More Profit, provides excellent advice for consumers and operators and tips such as buying only what one requires.

In response to some of the points raised in the motion, in regard to nutritional labelling on food products, the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, has recently written to all food chain outlets in Ireland asking them to introduce calorie indicators on their menus. He has given a commitment that if this is not done, he will introduce legislation to ensure food chain outlets are mandatorily obliged to print and display calorie indicators on all food produce sold to consumers. A consultation process was recently launched by the Minister which presents an opportunity for consumers and the food industry to give their views on how a policy of having calorie indicators on menus can be implemented in Ireland. All interested parties are invited to comment and to facilitate maximum participation in the consultation process which involves the completion of a short on-line questionnaire. The consultation process will close at the end of February. This is the first step in altering lifestyles in Ireland, for young and older people. By the same token, parents will be able to make more informed choices and purchase healthier food for their children when they go shopping for groceries.

On education for schoolchildren on food labelling, safefood has previously stated choosing the right foods to suit one's diet is an important skill for all ages. Healthy eating is not just about knowing about nutrients, it is also about choosing good quality food which one can afford, ensuring it is rich in nutrients and safe to eat. safefood has designed educational lessons on food labelling for primary school students in second and third class. It has designed, in consultation with teachers, three lessons that have a variety of suggested activities and that teachers can extend to a fourth session should they wish to spend longer looking at labels and studying them. Issues such as whether all fats are bad and food intolerance are some of the relevant topics. These lessons are a resource for the curricular modules on physical health, communication skills and influences and decisions. As part of the curriculum, these lessons are designed to enable students to put labels in the context of a typical diet, thereby promoting the concept of self-management. This resource will provide students with the skills necessary to make healthy and safe food choices in addition to making them sensible food shoppers and handlers. I agree that one always was taught about the importance of not wasting food. I thank the Minister for his attendance and for his contribution to the debate.

Photo of Brian Ó DomhnaillBrian Ó Domhnaill (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I commend Senator Quinn on tabling this Private Members' motion on a topic that has been discussed in this Chamber in recent months, not least regarding the subject of obesity and childhood obesity at the instigation of Senator Eamonn Coghlan. In addition, Members had a debate recently on the issue of food safety standards. This issue deserves some time and attention and Senator Quinn, who comes from a background of food service provision in the retail sector, certainly can speak with some authority on the subject. Fianna Fáil is delighted to be able to support his motion, which is very sensible, particularly when one considers how it has been laid out. The Senator touches on the obesity issue and the food waste issue. As Senator Quinn outlined, given that 1 billion people go hungry each night in the Third World despite so much food being wasted in our world and country, governments must take control and take stock of the issue of food waste. While regulation or legislation may be a step too far, codes of practice can be brought into the industry that could ameliorate the issue of food waste and the manner in which it takes place in Ireland. In addition, the introduction of education programmes in primary schools to educate pupils certainly would be an important step in that process.

Approximately 90 million tonnes of food go to waste each year within the European Union alone, of which approximately 1 million tonnes of food go to waste in Ireland. That is a great deal of food and if one stacked up 1 million tonnes of food on O'Connell Street in Dublin, one can imagine the amount of food one physically could see. When one takes buildings into consideration, O'Connell Street probably could not contain such a quantity of food, which represents the wastage that occurs within the food industry each year in Ireland. The food industry comprises a number of sectors, including the manufacturing sector, within which much of the food wastage probably is unavoidable. I refer to materials such as bones and carcases in the context of meat products, as well as technical malfunctions in which there may be overproduction or misshapen products. For example, Senator O'Brien has a background in chocolate manufacturing and some chocolate companies sell on misshapen chocolates, which is the correct thing to do, and one sees them in supermarkets.

As for householders, this is where education from a young age comes in because at present, there is a lack of awareness regarding the quantity of food waste being generated individually, the environmental problems food waste causes and the environmental costs to the Exchequer in dealing with that waste, as well as the manner in which householders purchase food in general and the lack of knowledge on how to be efficient in respect of food consumption. This latter point also pertains to the retail sector because when supermarkets make special offers, people probably will purchase additional food they may not necessarily require at that point. Such food then goes off or the "best before" date thereon expires and suddenly one's fridge contains food that is out of date, inedible or potentially unsafe to eat. This generates part of the problem. I refer to attitudes, preferences and planning issues in respect of the home. In addition, Senator Quinn referred to labelling issues and there is misinterpretation of and confusion over date labels. In particular, there is confusion regarding recognition of the meaning of the "best before" date in terms of food being safe to use. One often sees this in one's own home, where the "best before" date of food that is stored in the fridge at a correct temperature can be surpassed and the food is safe to use. However, people are not generally aware of this. Perhaps there should be "best before" and "use before" dates but this also comes down to education.

The wholesale and retail sectors also must play a part, as must the food service sector and in particular the large restaurant chains people use. In such restaurants, Fianna Fáil believes there should be a calorie count on the menus so that people would know the calorie count, the quantity of protein and carbohydrates and the make-up of the food on their plates. This is something with which Members should concern themselves, particularly when one notes the incidence of obesity, which is growing in Ireland and globally. At present, 22 million children under the age of five are classified as being obese and 327,000 Irish children are classified as being either obese or overweight. This is a major issue and while I do not make a political point in this regard, it goes back to a fundamental lack of education and a lacuna in the primary school curriculum in respect of healthy eating, sports and fitness, recreation and calorie consumption. As someone who has studied food science, I am aware that children can pick this up very quickly. While it would take a cross-departmental approach to review the educational curriculum, unless one starts at that level, it will be extremely difficult to tackle. Although one can continue to pump money into the health system to deal with obesity, the fundamental problem lies with the consumption of those foods people choose to consume. Marketing also is a major problem in this regard.

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I second the amendment and thank the Minister for returning to the House, where it always is good to discuss food issues. I believe there is good architecture in place and that between the national waste prevention programme, the Waste Management (Food Waste) Regulations 2009, the landfill levy, the food labelling directive and the Stop Food Waste programme, the Government has put in place good architecture to cope with the enormous difficulties that I acknowledge arise. While Senator Quinn is right and it is good that Members are discussing these problems, I support the amendment because this architecture is in place. The Government will take the time and the care to build on that architecture, to take advice where it can and to change where it must, to ensure the problem of food waste does not grow out of proportion and become something about which no care is taken. However, I believe the Government is taking care of this problem and I look forward to the coming years to ascertain how this can be built upon and improved.

I will address my opening remarks to healthy eating and children in particular. The Food Dudes project is welcome and has worked. As a consequence, I have seen my children eat us out of house and home with those 4,600 apples mentioned by Senator Quinn. However, it would be worthwhile to ascertain whether the Food Dudes project can be extended to more schools more frequently. I have spoken to its organisers and this year, it is operating in 386 primary schools, which is great news. However, given the manner in which it rolls around different schools, some schools may not get it back again for a while or perhaps cannot afford to engage with it. Children must be reminded as they are only in a learning curve and if they learn something for six weeks they may forget it and must be reminded again. Although this may be the minor flaw in the programme, it is a great project that has proved to be successful in Wales where it originally was launched, elsewhere in the United Kingdom and in the United States.

The issue of school milk arises in the context of healthy eating. As a dairy and food scientist, I always support the drinking of milk. I would like to see a good deal more excitement being generated in respect of the consumption of milk. The advent of the Olympics in the UK this summer has prompted the launch of the "make mine milk" campaign. All of the UK's top athletes are currently appearing in advertisements in which they proclaim that skill, self-discipline and semi-skimmed milk will help them to win at the Olympics. This is a fun campaign, a part of which is a great interactive website which really reaches out to children and informs them that milk can be good for them. The athletes to whom I refer are pictured on the website sporting "milk 'taches". The latter are milk moustaches people often get when they drink milk. Individuals such as Gordon Ramsay, a chef, and Kelly Rowland, from "The X Factor", are also assisting in creating the kind of excitement to which I refer.

Children have far more available to them now than was the case when I was young. At that time, milk was both the only and the cheapest option and parents relied upon it for their children. This reflected the post-war view that if babies were given milk they would grow strong. We have moved so far away from that outlook that we have forgotten how things used to be. We could do a great deal to change people's perceptions. The Irish Dairy Board has done much to promote our food and dairy industry across the globe. That industry had a turnover of €1.9 billion last year. Perhaps we might engage the Irish Dairy Board to promote milk in a more exciting way in order that we might develop the healthy eating process further. Everyone is aware of the need to promote healthy eating, a matter which has been discussed in the House on numerous occasions. We must continue our efforts in respect of this issue.

Anaerobic digestion is not something which many of us might not wish to discuss very often. This is a technology which uses micro-organisms to break down biodegradable material. I would like our efforts in respect of delivering on the commitment the Government has given in respect of this matter to be driven by the Minister and his colleagues, the Minister of State at the Departments of Education and Skills and Jobs, Innovation and Enterprise, Deputy Sherlock, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan. I am aware of two projects relating to anaerobic digestion which are currently ongoing at Sligo Institute of Technology. One of these is being carried out in partnership with South West College, Omagh, and involves trying to take small-scale waste from farms and converting it to energy to be used locally. This is because it is not possible to transport biohazardous waste to large sites and then try to convert it to energy. The small project to which I refer and which is still at the research stage involves dealing with waste and energy conversion at the same time. What is being attempted in this instance is good and I would like anaerobic digestion to become - as is the case with the fiscal compact - an issue which everyone would discuss.

Sligo Institute of Technology is also carrying out research with the Scottish Association for Marine Science in order to discover how to produce energy from marine algae. Again, this work involves anaerobic digestion. However, it is not so much driven by the need to deal with waste as it is by seeking to develop alternative ways to produce energy in the future.

A major problem exists in the context of food waste. Even with the architecture to which I refer being in place, I do not believe the Minister could or would ignore the fact that such a problem exists. In the US, some 110 kg of food per person per year is wasted. In sub-Saharan Africa, the figure is 5 kg per person. If one does not have any food, one does not have anything to waste. I agree that there are enormous difficulties in the context of waste food. Such food cannot just be dumped in landfill because it is dangerous and leads to the production of methane, etc. As is the case with the FareShare charity in the UK, I would like to see a similar charity here given support in respect of collecting food that is going to go to waste from supermarkets. Superquinn had a recent initiative in this regard. This is something which should be done on a nationwide basis in order to ensure that food which is safe to eat today can be eaten tomorrow and not placed in landfill.

What procedures are in place to deal with the fats, oil and grease, FOG, which are the by-products of food preparation within the catering industry? There is a major problem in respect of this matter in the US, with billions of gallons of untreated wastewater being allowed to flow into local waterways. I am not sure what is the position in Ireland in this regard.

Food labelling is a vexed question. Like many other people, I become confused when confronted with Irish smoked salmon and smoked Irish salmon. I welcome the fact that the EU has taken action in respect of this matter and that legislation is pending. In light of the difficulties to which so many other Senators referred, I ask the Minister to urge the relevant authorities to bring the process in this regard to a conclusion as quickly as possible. The concept of substantial transformation remains a problem. I refer, for example, to chickens which have been produced elsewhere but which, because they were substantially transformed and repackaged here, are labelled as Irish. We must move past that. I am aware that this matter is regulated by the EU and I welcome the fact that legislation is soon to come into place. I hope the EU legislation to which I refer will be transposed into Irish law in the near future and I look forward to further debates on this matter.

Photo of David NorrisDavid Norris (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I welcome the Minister. It is appropriate and helpful that he is present because he is a highly-competent individual who is well on top of his brief. The Minister has authority to do certain things and I am going to suggest one further action he might take.

There does not appear to be any conflict between what Senators Quinn and Mary Ann O'Brien have proposed and what is contained in the Government amendment, which, I presume, was drafted by some helpful officials in the Department. No confrontational language is used in the motion. The Government is not condemned but is instead encouraged, helped, persuaded, etc. To use a cliché which one of my colleagues at the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade continually employs - and I am not sure whether he has any particular religious beliefs - we are all singing from the same hymn sheet on this matter. Even though it would make for a very lengthy text, would it be possible to combine the motion and the amendment? I have consulted Senator Quinn and he has no difficulty with amendment No. 2, which was tabled by Sinn Féin. In the context of that amendment and as Senator Quinn indicated, Irish produce is viewed on an all-island basis in any event. There is no partitionism in this regard at all.

Would it be possible to produce a combined text in order that we might avoid a vote on this matter? I will be prepared to partake in such a vote, if necessary, but would it not be possible for us to display a degree of unity? There is no conflict between the various texts with which we have been presented. I accept that a unified text would be extremely long and would include terms such as "anaerobic digestion", with which I have become familiar, and "composting", which is a useful process and which I employ in my garden. That is my first practical suggestion. The Seanad is not partisan and we are extremely lucky to count among our number people such as Senator Quinn, who has extensive experience at the highest level in the retail grocery business, and Senator Mary Ann O'Brien, who has an extremely good reputation in the area of food production. I can vouch for the latter because I ate a couple of her products earlier today. I would welcome it if the Minister would consider accepting a large, ungainly but composite motion in the interests of having everyone move in the same direction, particularly because it appears we are all heading in that direction in any event.

Senator Comiskey referred to the production of olive oil. I am not sure whether he was referring to its production in Ireland and I am certainly not aware of that latter happening. If olive oil is being produced here, then that is a most interesting phenomenon and development.

Senator Quinn addressed the question of food waste. I was not aware that we actually throw away 1 million tonnes of food every year. That is shocking, particularly when one considers that 2.6 million children across the globe die of hunger each year. The contrast between our affluence and our happy abandon with regard to food is striking. When I was young, matters were different. Senator O'Keeffe referred to the post-war years. I remember those very well. I recall that a man used to travel around Dublin 4 collecting swill. I have just read Bob Quinn's wonderful novel about life in the working-class area near Dundrum. One of Mr. Quinn's relatives also used to go around collecting swill, which was then recycled and reused. One of the things I admire so much about the mountain community in Cyprus in which I live on a part-time basis is the fact that everything from the vines there - leaves, wood, grapes, etc. - is used and nothing is allowed to go to waste. In Ireland, however, we throw so much out. For example, restaurants dispose of millions of euro worth of food.

The second part of the motion tabled by Senators Quinn and Mary Ann O'Brien relates to their colleagues in the retail trade and the food production industry. I am not sure whether Government direction is required in respect of this matter. I understand some businesses, particularly large retailers, already give leftover food to charities such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for distribution to the less well off. What Senator Quinn had to say in respect of expiry dates, best before dates and use by dates was extremely interesting. Perfectly good food is being dumped because such dates have been passed. Such food should be capable of being used to feed those who are hungry.

I will end with the idea of cross-party consensus. Some years ago I was involved with "Operation Transformation" and I was determined that the politicians would win it because we needed a good news story, and we did. It was a cross-party effort. I said later to my colleagues from all parties and none that we should remain together as a little group because we had learned a certain amount and I thought we should stay in touch with the team. We did so and we had meetings and sent information to the Minister about calorie labelling in food outlets and restaurants which has been successful in the United States. The Minister agreed with it but the Government fell. I hope this will continue because we have the fattest kids in Europe and this is an extraordinary change since my day when we did not have much to eat after the war. This is a good example of cross-party co-operation and it is what the Seanad is for. In light of the fact there is no confrontational language and we all seem to agree, perhaps we can avoid a vote, do something positive and support the Minister in his excellent work.

Photo of Pat O'NeillPat O'Neill (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I welcome the Minister to the House and I compliment Senators Quinn and Mary Ann O'Brien for tabling the motion. We all know the line "food, glorious food" from "Oliver!", and as Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach, so it is important we have a proper discussion on food. Food is the most important thing in the world. We cannot live without bread and water. Many of the points I was going to make have already been raised by other Senators.

The Government has tabled an amendment to the motion, which I second, but I agree with Senator Norris that we should try to come to a consensus on this because it is all for the good of the nation and the people. Good food produces good health. Senator Norris mentioned how we lived after the Second World War. Many cookery programmes on television are aimed at the high end of the market. I watch with interest programmes broadcast on the Discovery Channel and the History Channel on how the English coped during the Second World War and how leftovers were used properly. Part of the motion concerns how to deal properly with leftover food. Perhaps the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland or a Department should offer grants to people who produce a programme on creating proper meals from leftovers. It is shocking to see that 300 kg of black bin rubbish go out every year and that this is equivalent to 3,750 apples. This is a lot of apples and we would not need a doctor if we were eating that many. We should try to inform people on how important food is. People are starving throughout the world so we should not waste it. Senator O'Keeffe mentioned only 5 kg of food is wasted in Africa.

Senator Mary Ann O'Brien mentioned the difference between Irish smoked salmon and smoked Irish salmon. I do not eat smoked salmon so I do not know which is which; I am not in the smoked salmon brigade. This country should be very careful with regard to sanctions on other countries because we rely on exporting 80% of our products and we do not want another economic war. This country can pride itself on our food security and the food safety we have established through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Bord Bia, and it is important that we continue to press home these issues.

Labelling is important and I thoroughly disagree with the fact that if one sticks a breadcrumb on something one can label it as Irish. The EU is changing its regulations on this and the amendment states ingredients will have to represent more than 50% of a food for it to be claimed by a country of origin.

Senator O'Keeffe mentioned anaerobic digesters but I think people are afraid of them because of the name. They feel they are dangerous, like a crocodile in the river. This House has debated energy on many occasions and we see how the cost of energy is increasing. If food is wasted and it cannot be recycled the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and planning offices should make it easier to build anaerobic digesters in local areas. The Campile community in Callan has an anaerobic digester and the people provide their own energy.

Senator Quinn mentioned best before and sell before dates and I welcome the Government amendment recommending wider publicity for the stop food waste programme. Websites exist but the issue needs to be highlighted. At home we have often used a carton of milk after it is out of date. Such milk is often perfectly good and the way to judge it is on its taste. It is the same with regard to ham, and I see my young lads-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

You are very mean.

Photo of Pat O'NeillPat O'Neill (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I am not mean; I am practical. Ham can be perfectly good after the date shown.

The EU school milk scheme was mentioned and it should be encouraged. I also welcome the fruit scheme in schools and the food dude. It is a great measure. Many speakers mentioned obesity and fruit is the healthiest thing one can eat. We must import the majority of our fruit but it is still important to include it in school diets and get young people used to eating it. I look forward to hearing the Minister's comments and I hope agreement can be reached on this motion. Food is the most important thing in the world and we must keep food security and food labelling on the agenda. I thank the Independent Senators for tabling the motion.

5:00 pm

Photo of Kathryn ReillyKathryn Reilly (Sinn Fein)
Link to this: Individually | In context

As a Cavan woman I can say we definitely would not throw out perfectly good food; we would make sure to eat as much of it as we can.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I thank Senators Quinn and Mary Ann O'Brien for tabling the motion. I have a keen interest in the area of food labelling having been a researcher on a report commissioned by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment from 2009 to 2010. Arthur Morgan was the rapporteur of the committee at the time and I spent much time researching food labelling. I will focus my comments specifically on country of origin labelling, substantial transformation and use of the term "Irish food". When I read the motion I was very excited and quite nerdish.

One of the recommendations adopted by the report, which was supported by all parties in the committee, was on the use of the term "Irish food". We stated a set of guidelines should be established so such terms could be used only after specific criteria were satisfied.

Senators mentioned the rule on substantial transformation, which holds a product originates in the country where it last underwent a substantial working or processing resulting in the creation of a new and different article of commerce having a name, character or use different to its constituent materials. This terminology originates in a World Trade Organisation codex and EU legislation governing the EU custom code and therefore it can be amended only at EU level. As it stands, the tariff nomenclature does not distinguish agri-food products which are subject to substantial transformation. Because of this it is not possible to distinguish between goods wholly made in one country and those transformed in the tariff codes under the current international system.

Once the good meets the requirement for substantial transformation under EU rules of origin, it qualifies as a good originating in the country in which the substantial transformation has taken place. It is treated in the same way as a good wholly made in the same country for the process of applying or suspending tariffs.

With regard to the Government's amendment, will the Minister provide the House with further details of the feasibility study of the possibility of extending country of origin labelling requirements to other foods? Will he or the Minister for Health inform the process or make submissions or will consultation take place? What interaction has his Department or the Department of Health had with the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the national codex committee in Ireland on the issue of substantial transformation, given that it is a critically important?

I refer to the use of terms such as "Irish food". State aid rules are restrictive and, therefore, the Government cannot intervene. The importance of marketing and promotion by the industry and other stakeholders cannot be underestimated in the light of this. Campaigns such as Bord Bia's Ireland - the Food Island have capitalised on the excellent image of Irish food abroad, but I would add a caveat. Market-led food campaigns are at risk of being exploited by companies operating and manufacturing outside the jurisdiction and, because of the state aid rules, consumers have become wholly reliant on industry-led campaigns such as Love Irish Food for the indication of country of origin. The problems that can arise which are beyond the scope of Government intervention are that consumers can be misled by the use of the term "Irish food" in a campaign where the producer does not always use Irish raw materials and must only ensure 80% of the manufacturing process takes place in Ireland. While the campaign supports Irish businesses, the food may not be completely Irish. For that reason, it is necessary to put ethics regulations and guidelines in place in order that the term "Irish food" can only be used when specific criteria are satisfied. In that way, the Government would not contravene state aid rules per se and would prevent exploitation of consumers by the industry.

The ramifications of state aid rules for Government intervention leave a large vacuum for industry to exploit consumers because there is a financial imperative behind making consumers think a product is more Irish than might be the case. Many examples have been highlighted in the debate. For example, how many Irish cream liqueurs are made in Ireland? It is only when there is complete transparency that we will be able to tackle food issues such as the level of obesity. That is why I ask the Ministers for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Health and the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation to work together to examine this issue in serious detail.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank the Senators concerned for tabling the motion. While I will circulate my script, I will depart from it to respond to the questions raised.

Senator Feargal Quinn commented on the tragic irony of there being an obesity problem and gross waste of food in some parts of the world, while in others 300 children an hour die from malnutrition. There is a great deal we can do in this regard, but we are doing significant work also. Ireland's development aid programme makes a significant impact in the programme countries in which we operate. I was anxious to link my Department to the programme and we have developed a new policy with the development aid section in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which has not yet been announced to put finance in place to support Irish food companies which want to invest in developing food production systems in the developing world. This will help developing countries from a financial point of view. We could make a significant impact in many countries, particularly in Africa, in building capacity to promote the growth, processing and preparation for consumption of protein-based foods, particularly in dairy and meat production. I can forward the details to the Senator.

We are examining other issues which have not received the attention they should receive for various commercial reasons such as the level of discards in the fishing industry. The quota around our coast is approximately 1 million tonnes and this year approximately 400,000 tonnes of fish will be dumped back into the sea because the quota under the Common Fisheries Policy will have been exceeded or the fish are too small to be landed for market. That figure is probably higher, but, conservatively, 40% of the fish caught are dumped, with up to 70% of some species being dumped. There is, therefore, gross wastage of viable food which could and perhaps should feed people who cannot afford to buy it. However, because of the system we have bought into for environmental reasons in the case of the CFP to protect fish stocks, that facility is not allowed, which is ironic. We are trying to address this issue in a genuine way under the CFP. Only last week, for example, I went out on a fishing trawler on the Irish Sea to be shown new technology to separate cod from prawns. We have plenty of healthy prawn stocks, while the cod stock is under severe pressure in the Irish Sea, but fishermen now have the capacity to separate their catch which will I hope lead to the conservation of cod while viable prawn stocks are landed. Mechanisms such as this are needed across a series of sectors.

We also have a crazy milk quota policy which will be in place until April 2015. Ireland has the capacity to dramatically increase the volume of milk it produces, but if we exceed our milk quota, we will be subject to superlevy fines. There is huge demand for the dairy products we have the capacity to process and export. EU and international policies have been put in place for domestic commercial reasons to deliberately limit supply to drive demand and maintain high prices or, in the case of fisheries, in an attempt to conserve stock, but the side effect is to force the industry to dump significant volumes of adult marketable fish which could feed hungry people. We are working on a series of initiatives in the areas referred to by the Senator to reduce waste and focus our policy on using our natural resources more effectively to feed more people. The island of Ireland has a population of 6 million, but we produce enough food for 36 million. By 2020, we will produce enough food for 50 million and, if I have my way, it will be closer to 60 million. I am hugely ambitious for the food industry in producing more for less in a safe, sustainable way that is in sympathy with the environment and the climate. I will refer to this later in discussing our carbon footprint.

We are modernising agriculture and primary food production in Ireland in an impressive way. It is industry-led and strongly supported by the Government. That will have a commercial return but it will also make a significant contribution in terms of our contribution towards feeding populations outside Ireland.

A point I repeatedly make at Council level in the context of the Common Agricultural Policy is that issues globally have changed. We can no longer look at the European Union in a protectionist way to try to create an artificial market for food to keep prices high. Most commodity food prices outside the European Union have caught up because of significant increases in food commodity prices in the past two years due to a shortage of supply. Europe must concentrate on feeding itself and making a contribution to feeding the world as part of the Common Agricultural Policy as opposed to the opposite, which has been the case in the past.

On the motion, I would like to think I am a constructive politician. I do not try to find division unless it is necessary. There are some proposals in the motion I know I cannot deliver. I cannot vote for something to try to keep everyone happy knowing there are some proposals in the motion that legally I cannot deliver, particularly around labelling. I will read the section of my speech on labelling that has been prepared for me because I want to put a number of points on the record but I have bought into the spirit of what the Senator is proposing in terms of trying to address more effectively the issue of food waste.

We have a series of proposals and projects, whether they be in primary schools, through local authorities, the Environmental Protection Agency website or driven by the Department of the Minister, Deputy Phil Hogan, on trying to reduce waste levels in food and also in energy. Some of them are working reasonably well but much more can be done. This motion seeks to drive forward that agenda and force new thinking on finding ways of reducing the almost one third of food that is not consumed and is dumped. This occurs despite all the standards we impose in terms of food production and the mechanisms and structures we have in place across the European Union, not just in Ireland, although we do it better here than any other country in the European Union, to ensure food safety and so on. It is a bit like the crazy statistic on water that indicates we spend €1.2 billion a year treating water for human consumption and nearly half of it leaks through the pipes before it gets to its destination. We have the same problem with food, although the problem is nearly worse because consumers get the product and then throw it away because they leave it in the fridge too long, they do not consume it or whatever. A series of sectors are responsible for that, and the retail sector is part of the chain that is responsible for it.

The Senator makes a good point about the two for one or the five for four offer. The only exception to that is alcohol in that people probably consume all of it because it does not go off. My household is like any other. We have two young daughters. We try to bring a lot of fruit and vegetables into the House and we end up throwing much of it away because of not getting the volumes of shopping right. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has set up a website to help people to measure and target what they should be purchasing each week in a more accurate way to reduce waste and so on, but it has had limited effect.

In terms of the motion, I am happy to sit down with anyone from this House who wants to talk to me about the individual bullet points they propose should be considered. I will take them on board and try to implement them where possible, but my Department is not solely responsible for all these areas. Some of them come under the Department of Health and others under the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Other elements might involve taxation measures that encourage certain behaviour, which comes under the Department of Finance. Some may relate to my Department but I am happy to work with this House in terms of trying to achieve the goals the Senator is proposing. What I will not do, however, is support a motion when I know it contains specifics that are well-meaning but that I cannot deliver, particularly around the labelling elements.

I refer to some of the issues on labelling. Members are aware that responsibility for the enforcement of general food labelling legislation rests with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI. The EU general labelling directive sets out mandatory information that must appear on the packaging of pre-packed food or on an attached label. Last September, the EU adopted new legislation on food information. That sets down additional labelling requirements to help consumers make healthier and better informed choices. The new rules aim to streamline the legislation to ensure better compliance with greater clarity for stakeholders, which is what people have been calling for.

The general labelling directive requires the place of origin of foodstuffs in circulation in the EU to be declared only where failure to provide it would be likely to mislead the consumer. I will refer to that again shortly. Specific country of origin labelling for beef and veal was introduced under Regulation EC No. 1760/2000 originating with the need for traceability arising from BSE. Some other products such as honey, fruit, vegetables and olive oil also require origin labelling under EU legislation.

Ireland has long favoured the extension of mandatory origin labelling to meats other than beef, including where such meats are ingredients in processed products, and has pressed for this at a European level for a number of years. Regulation (EU) No. 1169/2011 of the European Parliament and Council extends the current provisions which apply to beef to other meats, namely, pork, poultry, sheep and goat meat.

Country of origin labelling is about providing the consumer with information on the country or countries where food was grown, produced, manufactured or packed. Some product specific legislation requires that origin is indicated on the label and the criteria for determining origin are set out in the relevant legislation. For example, the legislation for beef and beef products requires that the country where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered must be indicated.

Origin labelling was also required under marketing standards regulations for unprocessed poultry meat imported from third countries, that is, outside the European Union. That legislation does not include the detailed traceability requirements provided for beef. For the purposes of international trade, origin is deemed to be the place where the product last underwent a substantial transformation, which is what a number of people have raised and have concerns about in this debate.

Impact assessments will be prepared over the next two years in respect of pig, poultry, sheep and goat meat and other products such as milk and unprocessed foods. These reports will examine issues such as the need for the consumer to be informed, the feasibility of providing the mandatory indication of the country of origin and the potential impact on international trade. Following these impact assessments, the Commission will adopt implementing Acts regarding pork, poultry, sheep and goat meat, and the new requirements will apply from December 2014. Enforcement will be the responsibility of the FSAI.

The European legislative wheels are moving on this issue. The principal decision has been made by the Parliament and the Council to extend country of origin labelling to other meats, including pork and poultry. We are also looking at dairy products, but there must be an assessment of the impact of that decision on the Common Market and on international trade, but it will happen, although it is frustrating that it takes as long as it takes to get it done.

I want to issue a note of caution on one aspect. There is a great deal of talk in Ireland, and rightly so, about encouraging consumers here to buy Irish products. While I support that, we must be careful that we do not promote at EU level the adoption by countries of a protectionist approach towards their own producers, because 85% of all the food we produce has to find a purchaser, a home and a consumer outside of Ireland. We export nearly €3 billion worth of food to the UK each year. If the UK decided to deliberately target Irish food and encourage its consumers not to buy it, it would have a devastating impact on our food industry. Ireland more than any other country in the European Union relies on a common market that is functioning. The approach I take on this is to say to consumers that they have a right to know from where the food comes and that the best quality of food they can buy is likely to come from Ireland because I can stand over the systems we implement here at a farm and processing level and so on. I encourage consumers to buy Irish because of the quality, safety and sustainability that is part of the Irish tag or label, but I do not say buy Irish because we do not like the French or the Belgians and they are also food producers. We need to ensure we do not take a protectionist US approach towards keeping out beef exports in terms of the European Union. Our food industry is based on markets outside of Ireland. Practically all the growth we are aspiring to deliver in terms of the Food Harvest 2020 business plan is based on finding markets, and premium markets at that, for our produce outside Ireland.

That brings me on to an issue I am glad the Senators raised around carbon-footprinting. Sweden is doing some interesting work on carbon-footprinting but it cannot match what Ireland is doing. We are the only country in the world that can put a label on most of our beef to show the consumer the carbon - or methane - footprint associated with that beef production. Some 500 farms a week are being carbon-footprinted through the Bord Bia quality assurance scheme. We have approximately 28,000 beef farms in Ireland that can measure the carbon footprint or emissions that come from their herds while they are growing their beef. We are the first country in the world to do that and we are about to extend it into the dairy area. Within the next 18 months or probably prior to that we will see an equally proactive rollout of carbon footprinting in the dairy area.

We are doing a good deal on carbon-footprinting and for good reason. At a European level the climate change policy being pursued by the European Union is fundamentally at odds with the food security policy being pursued by it - they do not make sense. In essence, our emissions problem in terms of the target we have set ourselves by 2020 means that 40% of our emissions problem comes from the agriculture sector. When the traded sector - the top 106 emitters in Ireland which trade between each other at a European level - is taken out of the equation, 40% of our emissions problem comes from agricultural, from the front and back end of cattle predominantly. There are also emissions from machinery, ploughing of land and so on.

The idea that EU policy would encourage a country like Ireland to reduce its herd size to meet climate change targets when we produce beef at one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world makes no sense when this is a global problem because we would simply transport the problem to somewhere else. In other words, for the EU to meet its targets from an emissions point of view as regards agriculture, we would import from other parts of the world where the carbon footprint is not measured and simply displace the problem. If the European Union was serious about linking food security and food production with climate change, it would encourage countries like Ireland and other countries that can measure the carbon footprint, and know that we represent best practice in terms of reducing emissions from food production, to produce more food and to displace food production from other parts of the world that are not as efficient at doing it. That is the big advantage of Ireland because we have a grass-based system for beef and dairy, which is much more sustainable and is becoming much more price competitive as the cost of meal - which most cattle are fed in most parts of the world both for milk and for beef - has increased; and as grain has got more scarce, the price has gone up by nearly 50% in two years. We are in a competitive place from the point of view of climate change labelling, sustainability, animal husbandry and safety, but we need to do a great deal more work in regard to the waste that happens in the supply chain between the retail sector and the consumer, predominantly in people's homes and businesses, hotels, restaurants and so on. I am happy to work with anyone in this House who would like to meet me on this to try to make an impact.

On the labelling issue, we cannot unilaterally decide that we will change labelling standards in Ireland and expect there to be no consequences from doing that. We operate in a common market, which is essential for Ireland in terms of our growth. Some 41% of our exports go to the UK and 34% of them go to the rest of the European Union. If Members add those two figures they will realise that the vast majority of the food we export goes either to the European Union or to the UK. We need common standards on labelling, standards, controls and enforcement across the Common Market, which has half a billion consumers, to ensure we play on the same pitch as everybody else. If we start changing the rules for ourselves, others will follow, and it is not in our interests to do that. We need to continue to lobby and push aggressively at a European level to get the country of origin labelling result that we want, which is already on the way but is frustratingly slow in coming. We need to raise other standards by getting agreement at an EU level to get a common platform for trade and import and export of food and so that consumers associate buying Irish food with everything that we want them to associate it with around sustainability, quality, safety, animal husbandry, carbon-footprinting issues and so on, whether they buy it in Germany or in Glanmire.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I remind the Minister that a number of other speakers wish to contribute.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I will conclude.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I hesitate to interrupt the Minister as his contribution is very interesting but a number of other speakers wish to contribute.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I appeal to Senator Quinn not put this motion to a vote as I would rather not have a vote on this issue. I do not know if the procedure is available for us to have a sos to see if we could change some of the wording in the motion and amalgamate it with some of the wording in ours to try to get agreement on that or whether the motion can be withdrawn on the assurance I have given during the debate that I will take on board the issues the Senator has raised, but that is an issue for the House. As the motion stands, I cannot support the current wording of it because I know I cannot deliver on it and I do not want to mislead people. I can deliver much of it but not all of it, particularly on the labelling side. Any motion we agree on this should recognise the good work being done around beef and lamb quality assurance schemes and the school education programmes that are working. There is a generational mind set change on these issues, particularly around climate concerns. Any motion should be broad enough to recognise the good work done by previous Governments and being continued by this Government and I would be happy to accept it should also include a statement that there is much more to do particularly around the waste issue that has been raised by the promoters of this motion.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Cuirim fáilte romhat, a Aire. I commend him on the work he has done since his appointment as Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. On a personal level, I have been most impressed by his work in regard to fish quotas. His proactivity in that area has been felt very strongly in my constituency in north Dublin and along the east coast. I commend him on the work to date in that regard and wish him the best for the future. I hope there can be agreement on the motion, as the House should not divide on it. My group will be following Senator Feargal Quinn's lead.

With regard to food labelling, there are points to be made on child obesity. We are all aware this is an issue, just as we are aware of the level of food waste. The Harvest 2020 document, produced under the former Minister, Brendan Smith, and enhanced by the Minister, details the importance of the agrifood sector and how it will assist in getting us through these difficult times. There is massive potential. In my area of north Dublin there is a predominance of growers on the horticultural side, some of whom are doing well, others not so well, particularly in the potato sector in which things have been difficult.

With regard to research, there are a couple of areas about which I have specific concerns that are not particularly local but apply at a national level and also fit in with the motion. I ask the Minister to use his good offices to deal with them. One is the operation of Teagasc and how we are investing - or not, as the case may be - in further research on the horticultural side, in particular. The Minister mentioned the dairy and beef industries which are very important, and also grain production. However, on the fresh food side, I have seen many micro-industries set up in recent years. Only last week I was made aware of a beekeeper who had come out of nowhere two years ago and began producing high quality honey in Skerries. This business was set up by an individual with no Government support. There a lot of potential at that level.

There are some areas in which we are now a major producer. If we go back 25 years, we were nowhere in mushroom production and now look where we are. Peppers production is another example. All of these items can be produced under glass. These are areas in which we are successful and can be even more so.

I am concerned about Teagasc's plan to close the only horticultural research centre in the country, which is located in Kinsealy, as the Minister is aware. There is a proposal - I have written to the board of Teagasc about this a number of times - to close the centre and amalgamate it with the one in Ashtown, Dublin 15, which deals predominantly with beef and dairy research. It does not have the required amount of land and a €5 million investment by Teagasc will be required to bring the facilities up to date, even though we already have the facilities required in Kinsealy. In fact, Teagasc which owns more than 2,000 acres of land and has nearly 200 acres in Kinsealy is seeking to rent land in Ashtown. I am not raising this as a constituency issue, as it affects a number of constituencies in Leinster.

There is grave concern that within many of the large agricultural sectors, horticulture seems to play second fiddle. The closure of the only research centre for horticulture would be a backwards step, particularly as Teagasc seems to be proceeding with the closure, despite the fact that it has conducted no cost-benefit analysis, as it has confirmed to me. As part of its figures it proposed to sell the Kinsealy site for €2.64 million; it would not get 15% of that figure now, and even at the time it was unlikely. I know the Minister has no direct operational control over Teagasc. I have written to Professor Gerry Boyle about the matter on a number of occasions and raised it at the Committee of Public Accounts. I have grave concerns about the effect the move will have on the horticulture sector. That area of the country is effectively our bread basket, as 60% of our horticultural produce is produced in it. To move a centre which has done such fantastic work for 20 or 25 years would be a backwards step.

I commend Senators Feargal Quinn and Mary Ann O'Brien for tabling the motion. Many Members have spoken about the issue of food waste and labelling. The Minister has said that if he had his way, we would be producing enough food for 60 million people by 2020. He is hugely ambitious about this and I agree with him. We must consider how we could do this by examining the proportion of what we produce that is being wasted and trying to reduce it. I support the Minister in his efforts in this regard.

I understand there are a couple of elements within the motion that the Minister cannot support on the basis that he does not have control of them. There should be an opportunity for the Government parties and the two Senators who have tabled the motion to come to some agreement. The Minister's engagement with the House so far has been excellent. He has accepted points that were made, for which I commend him. Research is a key element in all sectors, but in the food sector it is absolutely crucial. Closing a horticultural research centre and trying to shoehorn it into a much smaller centre that is shared with those involved in dairy and beef research makes no sense. I ask the Minister to examine the issue.

Photo of Denis LandyDenis Landy (Labour)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I, too, commend the Minister for his work to date. I was awestruck by his knowledge of his brief and ability to relay statistics to us.

I support Senator Darragh O'Brien on the issue of horticulture. I come from south Tipperary, but literally in the next parish is Iverk Produce, probably the biggest vegetable producer in the country. I know from talking to many of the staff that they are extremely concerned about the Teagasc research centre, to which the Senator referred to. The company is at the cutting edge of fruit and vegetable production, particularly vegetable production. We need a centre such as the Teagasc centre which is carrying out dynamic research. I ask the Minister to consider this issue seriously.

Every one of us is concerned and dismayed when we see the coverage on national television of fish being returned to the sea in the interests of preserving fish stocks. It is ironic. I know the Minister is doing some work on this issue, but perhaps he might relay his current views to us before the debate finishes. This practice is unsustainable. We see nets being hauled and, in some cases, more than half of what is caught being thrown back. I am interested to hear that some work is being done in this regard and that there is new technology available for separating fish, but I would like to know what the position is at EU level. Can we not convince the European Union that throwing dead fish back into the sea will not sustain or improve fish stocks? What we are being forced to do is ludicrous.

The problem of obesity is mentioned in both the motion and the amendment. There is an effort to require all food outlets to display the calorie count of the food they are selling. This has been championed on the programme "Operation Transformation" by Professor Donal O'Shea. Is there any intention to introduce legislation in this regard? This issue is of great importance. Such systems are in place elsewhere, particularly in New York, and they do make people more conscious of what they are eating.

Composting was mentioned in the original motion. Home composting, the first point of engagement in reducing waste, has not been promoted to a great extent, although some local authorities are endeavouring to provide composting units and information. In my own town I was involved in promoting the use of home composting kits. However, it is hit and miss. One may say there are brown bins, but they not are provided in some parts of the country. Where a person has a choice between putting food into a composter in the garden and putting it into a bin to be taken to a landfill site, if he or she is not encouraged to take the first option, he or she will not do it. I ask the Minister to comment on this issue, although it is the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government more so than the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

The other issue about which I am concerned and which is dealt with in the motion is the condition of food in retail outlets, particularly fruit and vegetables. There are two problems. First, the quantities being sold discriminate against elderly people living alone. They are forced to buy, for example, six tomatoes in a pack, but as they will not use them in two weeks, they will have to throw out half of them. The second is the condition of packaged fruit and vegetables and practically all of them are packaged. Even though there is a "sell by" or "use by" date on them, when one opens the packet, much of the product is damaged and unusable. This is something the local health inspectors are supposed to regulate by carrying out spot checks, but that is not happening. The multiples and large stores are the main culprits in that regard.

There are many successful local markets in rural areas. I am the son of a former greengrocer as my mother ran a greengrocer shop for about 25 years. The consumer wants fresh vegetables straight from the soil, but, unfortunately, we are regulating this out of existence. We should look at the matter again, as there is scope for this. People who have stalls in markets are finding it extremely difficult to operate because of regulations. On the one hand, there must be regulation, but, on the other, we must find a way to allow fresh fruit and vegetables to be sold. That means the carrots will still have the dirt on them, once they are traceable. Perhaps the Minister will comment on this suggestion.

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I welcome the Minister. I am sorry if it sometimes seems like I am trying to make very profound statements from these poor, Independent, academic benches, but the Minister and his ministerial colleagues who have responsibility for energy and water policy have the most important Departments. Long after the penny drops that our future as a species is not wrapped up in things like the embassy to the Vatican, 1916 Rising commemorations, NAMA and real estate prices, it will be realised that our failure or success will depend on whether we can feed and water ourselves and have sufficient energy to carry out our activities.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Minister, Department of Agriculture, the Marine and Food; Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

What about septic tanks?

Photo of John CrownJohn Crown (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I was going to mention them, but as they probably intersect with the supply of water, I decided not to leave myself open on that issue. That was my first ministerial heckle; my mother will be very proud.

Worldwide, the trend is towards food shortages. As has been mentioned, we have the ability to feed ourselves many times over, as well as a sizeable number of our neighbours. That puts us in the unique position of having a strategic asset which we must protect very carefully. I support my colleague, Senator Feargal Quinn's motion and hope the Government side manages to reach a compromise on it.

As part of our strategic vision for the future it is essential that we be specific that it will be a case of thus far and no further in terms of the incursion of development on agricultural land. We have learned from the colossal mistakes of the real estate bubble that we used much of the land very unwisely. We succumbed to the temptations of short-term gains not only in terms of profits but also in terms of the wise stewardship of the land we have been given, which is an unrenewable resource. It is critical that we have a long-term view on how it should be used.

For that reason the Minister, together with his colleagues in the other Departments responsible for housing, urban development and so forth, must have a definite view on the agricultural land we have available. The default position must be that we keep it. What is certain is that the world's population, as well as Ireland's, is increasing significantly. The demand for food domestically will increase and, more importantly, food will become one of the few tangible bargaining chips we will have in a future in which we might need to import energy supplies and other raw materials which we cannot provide for ourselves.

The catch in all of this is that while we really wish to encourage the rest of the world to buy and eat our food, we must have policies to decrease our food consumption, as many of my colleagues have mentioned in this and other debates. That is the reality. We want to decrease the level of food wastage, but we also wish to decrease food consumption. Undoubtedly, other than giving up smoking and decreasing our alcohol consumption, the single best thing we could do to decrease the risk posed by many health issues that are likely to trouble us is decrease our calorie intake. We are at or near the top in calorie consumption per head of population in world league tables. As a result, we are at or near the top in the incidence worldwide for diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and a number of cancers. For several years we have seen evidence that cancer of the bowel, breast and pancreas, three common cancers, is related to obesity and excessive food intake.

We must achieve a fine balance in this regard. We are not trying to put our food producers out of business, as we must keep them producing food. At the same time - we have not exactly acknowledged this, although we are beginning to do so in the case of alcohol - we must set the goal of reducing the number of calories we consume per head of population. It is not as simple as a small number of people overdoing it. The problem of excess eating is pervasive and no longer confined to a minority. Most people in Ireland will satisfy either a definition of obesity or of being above average weight. The only way to tackle this is by having explicit policies to reduce it. This will be a responsibility of the Minister as well as the Minister for Health.

I support the idea that all restaurant foods be calorie labelled. They should also be weight labelled. People should understand exactly how many grammes of food they will eat with every portion they order, in addition to understanding how many calories they are consuming.

I wish the Minister the very best as he approaches the end of his first year in what I hope will be a long tenure in office. As it will probably be coterminous with the duration of this Chamber, we probably have a vested interest in wishing him well.

It is critically important that we give a high priority to protecting the quantity of our agricultural land, by decreasing further systematic encroachment on it, and to protecting the quality of that land. There are profound market forces which will tend to drive farmers and food producers in the direction of over-farming land and not being careful about renewing the supplements which need to be put back into it. I thank the Minister for his attention.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I also welcome the Minister. It is a great compliment to a Minister when a leading farmer comments, as one did to me recently, that the biggest worry in the farming industry is that Deputy Simon Coveney will be promoted to some other Department and the industry will lose him. Apparently, the Minister spoke for an hour and a half, without notes, at a dairy producers' conference in Cork. He won the hearts and minds of everyone present. It was most impressive. He is obviously taking to his office very well. Certainly, farmers in Ireland are extremely receptive.

It is an important Ministry; it is one of the key Ministries for driving our economic recovery. One hears talk about green shoots in the economy, but we have seen them already in farming. There has been a transformation in the last couple of years through a combination of education, better means of production and greater awareness of waste and what can potentially be achieved. It is great that average farm income is improving, although it still has a long way to go.

There are a couple of areas in which I have a particular interest. The first is the retail food sector. Senator John Crown referred to calorie labelling of food, for which we have a moral and ethical responsibility to provide. It should not be an issue for debate, rather it should simply be done.

With regard to the sale of food, we generally adhere to a very high standard in food quality, both in the food purchased in supermarkets and the food served in restaurants. The facilities in Irish restaurants are far ahead of what one would find in Italy, although Italian food is also good. We seem to have over-regulated the food industry. One can easily get a bowl of pasta in a café bar in Italy, but people in the food industry in this country say the environmental health requirements are completely over the top and are not conducive to the cost-efficient production and sale of food. Some of the requirements are off the wall. Safe food is extremely important. The majority of people in the food business produce safe food but they find that red tape causes them difficulty. I am not sure if this is the Minister's responsibility, but I know the Government is working to ensure that overall policy is proper, fair and reasonable.

I spoke about the quality of farming. I remind the House of one area of which I know the Minister is aware. In the Burren, in County Clare, the Farming for Conservation project involves farmers who are producing extremely high quality food in an environmentally friendly way. They are ambassadors for tourism as well as being in the food production business. They are earning their living from the land but preserving it for future generations. They are respecting the flora and fauna that has made the Burren famous and are acting as real-life tour guides. The agritourism business has huge potential.

I would consider our unique farming methods and the expertise we have developed as intellectual property which we could sell to the Asian markets, including China. We will never be in a position to supply the food requirements of China. If the whole of Ireland was producing at 100% capacity, we would not supply a suburb of a major city in China. However, we could teach the Chinese how we do it here, and do that on a long-term basis. There are many ways of reaping an economic benefit from what we do and from the knowledge we could pass on.

It is a shame to see the amount of food that is thrown out every day.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Senator is using up my time.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

This is an important point, if Senator Mooney does not mind.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Senator Conway could have made it at the beginning of his statement.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Senators, you are both wasting time. I must call Senator O'Brien to respond in three minutes.

Photo of Martin ConwayMartin Conway (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I know of a situation in Maynooth where sandwiches were ordered for 500 people but only 50 turned up. The unwanted sandwiches were sent to the Dublin Simon Community, who refused to take them because they could not trace the producer. That type of thing is not common sense and we need to deal with it.

I apologise for wasting Senator Mooney's time. I do not do that type of thing.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Senator Conway's apology is graciously accepted. I say that with my tongue firmly in my cheek, by the way.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

The Senator has two minutes remaining.

Photo of Paschal MooneyPaschal Mooney (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I hope Senator Conway understands the banter in the House. I am simply concerned about the few minutes that are left. I meant no reflection on his contribution which was excellent, as always.

Media reports suggest that the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly, intends to introduce legislation on calorie counting on labelling. While this is not within the mandate of the Minister, Deputy Coveney, the two cross over. I draw the Minister's attention to an article in yesterday's health supplement to The Irish Times , which raises questions about the efficacy of calorie counting and questions whether it reduces obesity or increases people's awareness of what and how much they should be eating.

We throw away approximately one third of all the food we buy. The main foods wasted are potatoes, bread, apples, meat and fish. Half of all salads, one third of all bread and a quarter of all fruitbought is thrown out. Does the Minister agree that this is an issue of public awareness? For example, confusion and misinterpretation of date labelling is widely recognised as contributing to the generation of household food waste, leading to the discard of still edible food. It is now common practice to label the sell-by date and the best-before date, which is confusing labelling. This is done by all food manufacturers. Food is perishable, so people stick rigidly to the labelling information. The Minister is probably aware that manufacturers tend to err on the side of caution and give dates that are sooner than strictly necessary.

The practice of taking leftovers home from restaurants is not universally accepted across Europe. It is a cultural thing in the United States where there is no difficulty in diners asking to have uneaten food wrapped to take home in a doggy bag. There is a strong potential to reduce waste of restaurant food.

Awareness of food waste is currently low but it is rising with environmental awareness. I compliment Senator Quinn and others on tabling this motion. I thank the Minister and I hope Senator Conway and I will remain good friends.

Photo of Feargal QuinnFeargal Quinn (Independent)
Link to this: Individually | In context

I thank Senator Mary Ann O'Brien for working with me on this motion, those who spoke in the debate and the Minister. I have been impressed by the Minister's knowledge and his ability to control his brief and to tell us what he has done. He has educated me to a very large extent. I was unaware of much of what he told us. He kept us hanging on every word he said. It was a pity the Leas-Chathaoirleach had to interrupt him when his time had concluded.

I went to great pains, with the help of Senator O'Brien, to ensure that anything I put down could be accepted so that we would not have to vote on the motion. If I slipped up, I apologise. I tried to use words like "encourage", "consider", and "urge", rather than "determine", particularly in the area of labelling. I realise that one or two of the proposals ask, rather than encourage, the Minister to do something. The concept was there as well as the ability to achieve it. I was hoping there would be agreement and that the debate would bring attention to the challenge that faces us. I think we have done that. I thank the Minister for his words and for the support we have got from all sides of the House.

I do not want to put the motion to a vote, so I suggest we adjourn the debate.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
Link to this: Individually | In context

When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Michael ComiskeyMichael Comiskey (Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context

Ag leathuair tar éis a deich maidin amárach.