Cross-border dairy council dispute

The Dairy Council Northern Ireland and its case against the National Dairy Council (NDC) with the European Commission Directorate-General for Competition for its campaign on locally produced milk was discussed in the Oireachtas recently.

In a parliamentary question, Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Agriculture if he believes the NDC is in breach of single market rules under EU law.

The National Dairy Council is a private company owned by a number of dairy processors and co-operatives.

“As Minister for Agriculture, I have no ownership, planning or operational role in relation to the organisation,” stated Minister Coveney in reply. “It is true to say that the NDC is engaged in promoting its members’ products under the packaging mark ‘Farmed in the Republic of Ireland’.”

The minister confirmed that the marketing campaign is not supported by public funds, has not been adopted in any way by the State and is not a”scribable” to the Agriculture Department.

“In fact, those activities are supported by voluntary milk levies collected from the NDC’s member dairy co-ops. I understand such marketing campaigns, funded entirely by the private sector, are not uncommon in other member states,” he added.

With regard to competition, the minister said he has strong views on the importance of protecting the single market in the EU and he opposes any anti-competitive practices that might adversely affect free trade.

“The Irish agri-food sector is export-orientated and we should be cognisant of the importance of overseas markets as an outlet for our produce. I am not aware of any complaints to the Irish Competition Authority in relation to the activities of the NDC. In any event, any such complaint would be objectively examined by that body in its role as competent authority in the competition area. My department would not have a role in any such examination, though it would, of course, provide any assistance sought and co-operate fully with the authority if required.”

Related: NDC milk campaign continues to generate heated response north of the border

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