By Aodhan O’Faolain

Lidl Ireland has told the High Court that allegations made by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), that the supermarket chain has misled its customers and that its own brand milk is not Irish, are untrue and defamatory.

The German-owned chain claims that in recent weeks, the IFA has published adverts in the media that contain statements about Lidl – including that its milk is not Irish – that are extremely damaging to its business and its reputation.

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It also claims that the untrue allegations contained in the adverts have been repeated by senior IFA figures in media interviews and on its own website.

As a result, Lidl Ireland GMBH has brought defamation proceedings against the IFA and its president Tim Cullinan and vice-president, Brian Rushe.

High court proceedings

Lidl seeks an injunction under the 2009 Defamation Act prohibiting the defendants publishing statements to the effect that Lidl’s own branded milk is not Irish; that it is engaged in unlawful and misleading practices; or has misled its customers as to the origin of its products.

It is seeking the order on the basis that it believes the IFA and its two officers have no defence to the claims that is reasonably likely to succeed.

The injunction would remain in place pending the outcome of the full dispute.

Lidl’s action came before Justice Senan Allen today (Wednesday, March 24), when it sought, on an ex parte basis, permission to serve short notice of the proceedings on the defendants (IFA).

Lidl argument

Represented in the High Court by senior counsel Martin Hayden and barrister Jennifer Goode, Lidl said that it sources its own brand 1L milk from Arrabawn in Co. Donegal.

Lidl argues that its milk for its 2L and 3L milk is supplied by Strathroy in Northern Ireland, which it says sources its milk in Ireland. Lidl’s own brand milk is sold under the ‘Coolree Creamery’ brand.

It says those items are packed outside of Ireland, and therefore cannot carry the National Dairy Council (NDC) logo. Its 1L milk cartons are packaged in Sligo and do bear the NDC logo.

The fact whether or not Lidl milk carries the NDC logo on its cartons does not change the fact that all its milk is sourced from Irish farmers, the company added.

Disputes IFA claims

Lidl also rejects claims by the IFA that it has created “a fake dairy” or “a phantom farm” in respect of its products.

It said that it has never represented that its milk comes from a creamery or dairy called ‘Coolree Creamery’. That brand is a registered trade mark for its own product, Lidl added.

It also rejects claims that it has engaged in a branding strategy to drive down prices paid to dairy farmers, who it says are paid via milk processors for all product supplied.

It claims that the IFA is well aware of these facts. Lidl says that it has asked the IFA to desist making, and remove all, the untrue statements about it, but says the defendants have failed to do so.

The judge adjourned the action to a date in April, after the court’s Easter vacation.