COMMENT: On Monday we had the very positive announcement that Japan was going to recommence the import of Irish beef.

This trade ceased during the BSE crisis in 2001, in response to fears about our beef traceability.

It’s estimated this will be worth between €12 to €15m annually to our beef industry. The news was warmly greeted by Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney who said the decision to allow access for Irish beef to Japan was very significant and reflected Japanese confidence in the integrity of Irish food safety systems and in the quality of Irish beef.

The minister further emphasised that this decision by the Japanese Government was an endorsement of Ireland’s “traceability systems and more importantly being able to verify these claims to global customers”.

Sadly, closer to home warnings on the illegal movement of over quota milk around the Island continue to surface.

There are many reports of farmers telling their milk processor that they had dried off their cows until spring, yet apparently continuing to produce milk and have this milk collected.

Who is collecting this milk? How and to where is it being transported? What happens to it next? Is it entering the processing system somewhere or perhaps getting directly into the food chain?

In the past few weeks the Department of Agriculture has issued letters warning both of the illegality of selling milk to a non-approved purchaser and of the severe traceability consequences of having this milk moving about the place unaccounted for.

I can only speculate that these letters were issued on the suspicion that some of this illegal milk, produced at farm A, was presenting at processing facilities around country purporting to be from farm B. Farm B in this case, is under quota and, therefore, entitled to continue supplying milk.

As in many aspects in Irish life, it appears that an unscrupulous minority are willing to jeporadise the viability of the majority for a quick financial gain.

What are the potential negative consequences? Take infant milk formula as an example. We hear lots of talk about Ireland’s growing importance as a leading supplier of infant milk formula worldwide.

Consider the consequences for the Irish dairy industry if an infant in one of our dairy export countries, becomes seriously ill – or worse – and that this misfortune becomes in any way connected, however tenuous, to the consumption of Irish sourced infant milk formula.

If it is then further revealed that there has been some illegal movement of milk around the island, what will be the view of the world market regarding Minister Coveney’s championing of “our traceability systems and more importantly being able to verify these to global customers”?

I am sure that the vast majority of Irish dairy farmers are, like me, very angry about the illegal movement of milk on this island and will emphatically agree that it must stop immediately.

Unfortunately I sense that there may be some farmers who, like the three wise monkeys, have adopted a position of hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil, in that they are aware of where this activity is taking place but are reluctant to either put a stop to it or report it to the relevant authorities.

This omerta must be broken before the legitimacy and reputation of our industry is damaged.

All stakeholders in the industry are strongly urged to report all such illegal activity to the Department of Agriculture. The most severe sanctions must be seen to be applied to the offenders.

Pictured friesian weanling heifers. Photo O’Gorman Photography