Thursday, 8 December 2005
Department of Agriculture and Food
Question 69: To ask the Minister for Agriculture and Food her views on the significance of food miles; if the distance travelled by food between the primary producer and the consumer will be reduced; the steps she intends to take in order to reduce food products sold in Ireland's food miles score; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38388/05]
Under the rules governing the Single Market, it is not possible to restrict imports on grounds other than health and safety or to require retailers to source products from production within a certain radius. These rules apply equally in all member states and have worked to our advantage in that our food and drink exports account for €7 billion in exports, far outweighing product sourced elsewhere. Ireland exports as much as 90% of production for some sectors.
My priority as Minister for Agriculture and Food is to lead the sustainable development of a competitive consumer-focused agri-food sector and to contribute to a vibrant rural economy and society. The key to sustainable development of a competitive food sector, capable of providing nutritious good quality safe food on home and export markets, is traceability through the food chain back to point of production. All the control systems in place within my Department acting in co-operation with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland are designed to guarantee such traceability. There is renewed interest in local foodstuffs on the home market as evidenced by the growth in local markets and farmers markets around the country. An Bord Bia, as part of its statutory role in promoting the development of Ireland's food and drink industry is working with other State and local agencies to develop the farmers market as an alternative route to market. In co-operation with Invest Northern Ireland, they have published a comprehensive information guide on the operation of these markets. They also provide a range of support services for farmers markets including advice and mentoring assistance and have a dedicated person in the small business department to assist both producers and individuals. Bord Bia also offers marketing supports and indeed its financial supports are geared to smaller companies.
In the local context, I have made a point of encouraging interest in the organic sector and facilitating the organic sector in REPS together with encouraging investment in the horticulture sector. I launched the North West Food Forum, the first of a series of regional food forums to promote cohesion between the food industry, food producers and development agencies and to develop regional strengths in the food sector, which has a perhaps unique spatial presence country-wide. The theme for the first forum was a focus on the marketplace as awareness and a deep understanding of the consumer is essential to building close connections between the primary producer and the consumer.