THE POULTRY INDUSTRY CRISIS

11 January 2013 No Comments by The Northern Standard

The serious difficulties confronting the poultry production sector in this region can be regarded as nothing less than a crisis.
Deficiencies in the rules governing disclosure of country of origin, which allow the importation and repackaging of produce under the deceptive guise of it being of Irish provenance, and the factors combining to shave precious income off the prices that producers are receiving, form a threat to the very future of an industry that has come to play a vital role in the Co Monaghan economy.
Such are the serious implications of this situation for those dependent for a livelihood, either directly or indirectly, on the poultry industry that it is nothing less than shocking to see representations made on the issue by Monaghan Co Council receive what can only be described as a desultory response from the Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney (see story, page one).
The brief missive dispatched from the Minister’s private secretary merely “noted” the Co Council’s call for legislation compelling food outlets such as restaurants and takeaways to display explicit country of origin information showing where their chicken produce has been sourced.
The correspondence also seemed to engage in a hand-washing exercise by passing the buck of responsibility for this particular matter to the EU rule-makers and the Minister for Health.
Government Dept responses to local authority petitions are occasionally less than expansive and in many cases understandably so given the volume of correspondence they receive from Council Chambers across the country, some of it concerning issues less than momentous.
But in this instance, when an issue of an urgent and serious nature was raised with them, it is deeply troubling that there was no hint of cognisance from the Minister or his officials of what is at stake here: no less than the future existence of one of the sectors of activity that has come to define and strengthen the economy of our local region, Co Monaghan’s in particular.
At a time when many of those involved in poultry production are questioning the viability of continuing – when jobs are on the line – one would have expected at least an indication from Minister Coveney that he is aware of the problems the industry is facing and is working hard to address them.
Perhaps the Minister will compensate for his lapse on this occasion with a more detailed response to the series of proposals which emerged from Monday’s Council debate and which can be seen as forming the rudiments of a rescue strategy for this currently embattled sector.
Pat Treanor’s proposal for the establishment of a Poultry Council is an important initiative that those within the industry are vigorously pursuing as a pre-requisite for survival.
This would be a laudable development but it must receive the weight of Ministerial and Dept endorsement and assistance in its establishment if it is to exercise any meaningful weight of influence.
Colr Treanor’s advocacy of an Ombudsman who would have a role in determining an equitable price for poultry farmers for their output is also worthy of consideration – some mechanism is surely needed to insulate the small producer in particular from the factors reducing his margins, and to protect the grower from the depredatory instincts which the marketplace allows some of the larger retail chains to indulge in at the present time.
Colr Treanor and Colr P J O’Hanlon also threw down a challenge to the Health Minister to demonstrate how he is addressing existing food labelling legislation and attempting to influence the EU legislators to clamp down on the disgraceful abuses of country of origin rules being perpetrated at the present time.
Given the large library of legislative structures Europe has produced to govern all aspects of agricultural production and trade, it is remarkable – indeed, suspicious – that the governance of the country of origin issue is so deficient as to allow imported poultry produce to be disseminated under a ‘home-grown’ label with the minimum of added value.
While this is a matter that must ultimately be addressed at EU level – where concerned MEPs such as Marian Harkin are bringing it under concerted focus – the Health Minister and his Dept have a duty to devote the resources adequate to ensure that the available enforcement in this area is exercised to the protection of the Irish producer, and ultimately the shopper and consumer.
And it is in the role of responsible purchaser that all of us can make our own contribution to assisting the poultry industry through its current make-or-break challenges.
A great many retail outlets and food purveyors in our circulation area are making admirable efforts to display and promote locally sourced poultry produce – but where this practice is obscure or deficient, the consumer has an important policing role to play.
A consistent insistence on purchasing home produced chicken in our shops and eateries will ultimately have greater force than that of regulation in ensuring that such outlets give the support to the local poultry sector that it so urgently needs to tide it through the difficult period it is currently facing.

AN IMPORTANT DEBATE
Regardless of the outcome of Monday’s Monaghan Co Council debate on a proposal advocating the right of same-sex couples to marry, the occurrence of the debate itself is noteworthy.
For the first time in this county, the challenging social issue of gay rights was afforded a full and frank discussion in public forum in a local authority chamber, a development that is in itself progressive and praiseworthy.
And it was a debate of substance, the arguments in favour of the Sinn Féin-tabled proposal being forcefully advanced by Colr Matt Carthy, and the body of opinion against the measure being well encapsulated in the cogent contribution of the Fine Gael councillor Gary Carville.
In the end, by a small voting margin, the nays carried the day – an outcome suggesting, if not guaranteeing, a true reflection of the weight of opinion current in the county on this particular issue.
Some of our readership will be deeply interested in the course and outcome of the discussion – others ambivalent – but the importance of the debate occurring at all should be recognised and applauded.
Ultimately it will not be in the Council Chambers of the land, or through any community plebiscite, that the question of affording marriage rights to gay and lesbian couples will be determined.
But Monday’s debate might serve a very useful role if it stimulates consideration of what life is like in our local communities for gay people.
Whereas there are the beginnings of an organised public profile being assumed by this sector of our population, it is questionable whether an environment of tolerance yet exists in Co Monaghan that makes it comfortable for people to embrace an openly gay lifestyle.
The majority of Monaghan gays who are comfortable in their sexuality are nevertheless compelled to be circumspect about this aspect of their identity – while those who are struggling with questions of sexual preference and are perhaps in some emotional turmoil as a result can experience difficulty in seeking support and guidance for fear of prejudice or condemnation.
Perhaps the most pertinent debate we need to be having – not just at local authority level, but in our communities and in our homes – is whether we are genuinely tolerant and accepting, in our attitudes and practices, towards people of all sexual orientations.

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