The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA) has called for senior officials at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Committee for Agriculture and the Marine to answer questions on the remit and powers of the proposed National Food Ombudsman.

ICSA president Dermot Kelleher said: “The ombudsman role as constituted under the Unfair Trading Practices (UTP) Directive does not have sufficient powers to make a transformative change for beef farmers.

ICSA has long campaigned for a regulator with robust powers and this must include the powers to forensically audit the books along the food chain, starting at processor level.

“It is accepted that additional legislation will be required to deliver the results farmers need, by strengthening the powers of the new entity. However, we now need clarity around what legislation is actually being considered, and what this legislation will aim to deliver,” Kelleher added.

Powers for food ombudsman

Kelleher welcomed comments made by vice chairperson of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee, senator Tim Lombard, seeking more powers for the ombudsman’s office.

“ICSA met with senator Lombard last week to highlight the critical importance of getting this additional legislation right,” Kelleher said.

We made it clear the office of the ombudsman must have the powers to deliver absolute transparency over where the margins within the beef sector lie, and that will require forensic auditing.

“The scale of that task should be obvious to all. It should also be obvious to all that the meat industry would run rings around an ombudsman that was hamstrung by ineffective legislation or lack of adequate funding.

“There is an opportunity for us to get this right; all that is needed is the right legislation and the resources to get the job done. We cannot allow this opportunity to be fudged,” Kelleher concluded.

‘2-step approach’

Previously the DAFM said it is “taking a two-step approach” in the establishment of the office of a National Food Ombudsman.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue previously said: “My officials are drafting a proposal for a statutory instrument to directly transpose the UTP Directive as it stands before the May 2021 deadline.”

It will include the establishment of an enforcement authority and primary legislation is required; department officials are examining what type of functions might be assigned to that office, in addition to price reporting and analysis.