McConalogue interview: Establishing food ombudsman an ‘immediate priority’

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has confirmed that establishing the office of a national food ombudsman is an “immediate priority”.

Minister McConalogue touched on the topic of transparency in the beef supply chain in a broad-ranging interview with AgriLand news editor Stella Meehan and journalist Sylvester Phelan.

The minister was asked about the current state of play in the beef sector, and if the Beef Market Taskforce – which was formed following the wide-scale beef factory protests in the summer of 2019 – will be changed in any way and what he intends to do to enable further transparency in the sector.

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In relation to the Beef Market Taskforce, last year – in the midst of the factory-gate protests – you were critical of Minister Creed’s handling of the situation.

The fundamental problems still linger…and have not changed as much as some people would like. What is your solution – to bring about greater transparency and better prices? 

Minister McConalogue: First of all, the work of the Beef Market Taskforce is very important and it’s something that I will be putting strong emphasis on…in terms of the agreements that were reached [and that they] are followed through on.

I know we are awaiting in the near future the report that Grant Thornton is conducting in terms of margins in the food supply chain. I think that’s a very important piece of work.

I do think transparency in the food chain is critical and particularly in terms of competence that there is fairness there at different levels and, in particular, that farmers and primary producers are getting a fair deal and a fair crack of the whip.

That has been a big source of the problem and the frustration…that farmers haven’t been able to see that. One of the key priorities I had in opposition that we brought to the country at the last election was the need for a national food ombudsman.

That’s something that’s an important initiative. It’s contained in the Programme for Government and that’s something I will be prioritising to get up and running as well. A key objective of that will be looking and working to ensure that there is transparency in terms of the food chain; in margins; in prices.

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We have to make sure that farmers in Ireland are getting the best price possible based on what’s available on international markets – where we’re exporting our product to – and based on the quality of the product…the premium-quality product we are producing.

That’s something that I will be setting as a key objective – for an ombudsman office to work on – ensuring that there is a light shone on that…to thoroughly and properly report in relation to what the situation is.

With this we can ensure that every effort is made then to ensure that farmers get a fair deal and a fair price.

Image-source-AgriLand-Department-of-Agriculture-Food-the-Marine-building red tape

Is this something that we will see in the first 100 days in office?

Minister McConalogue: It’s certainly something that [I will be doing] in the first week.

Within the first week in the department here, I’ve already engaged with the department in relation to the steps we need to take in order to get that moving.

While I don’t have a specific number of days it’ll take to get up and running, it’s certainly one of my immediate priorities to move that along and to move it as quickly as possible. Over the next number of months we will see significant progress…and try and get it up and established as quickly as is feasible.

Stay tuned to AgriLand for further articles (on other pressing topics) from our extensive interview with the new Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine…

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