Is it not time to formally review the ICBF?

Rather than green-lighting the introduction of the mandatory 38c Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) tag levy, the Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, should have instigated an independent review into the operation of the organisation in question.

The reality is that eyebrows were raised in certain quarters earlier this year, regarding the validity of certain breeding-related figures that were generated by the ICBF. The past 12 months have also been marked by a number of the pedigree beef breed societies threatening to pull out of the Beef Data and Genomics Programme.

Yes, there is a genuine need for an independent body, which can provide cattle breeding information services to the Irish dairy and beef industries. And the ICBF may well be the organisation that should be in place to make all of this happen.

But no organisation is immune from scrutiny. Minister Creed had the option of instigating a review of the ICBF – and then pushing ahead with the decision to introduce the statutory tag levy, immediately thereafter, assuming no major issues of concern were unearthed.

After all, his decision to rubber-stamp the levy does not take effect until November. But, from a proposed ICBF funding perspective, the critical period will only kick in as soon as the 2018 calving season gets underway. Surely, this would have provided enough time for a small group of independent cattle breeding specialists to assess the services currently on offer from the organisation.

The persons required to carry out this job could, no doubt, be found within Teagasc or one of Europe’s cattle breeding centres of excellence. The board structure of the ICBF should also be assessed as part of the envisaged appraisal.

The rationale for my proposed review of the ICBF is based on the fact that the organisation is funded by both farmers and the public purse. Moreover, dairy and beef production accounts for the vast bulk of the output generated by Irish agriculture. So it’s imperative that the support services available to both sectors are totally fit for purpose.

It is also noteworthy that the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) was immediately out of the traps to endorse Minister Creed’s tag levy decision. The organisation’s president, Joe Healy, said it is crucial that the ICBF continues to deliver real economic breeding benefits to all farmers in line with the progress made over the past 15 years.

Given that many of the IFA’s members will be paying the new tag levy, I thought the president might have been a bit more muted in his endorsement of Minister Creed’s announcement.

Moreover, Healy confirmed that the ICBF has been in existence for a decade and a half. And that’s a long time for anybody in receipt of government funding to operate without having its ‘modus operandi’ checked out.