The National Dairy Council’s (NDC) ‘mark’ campaign came under sustained criticism from Cormac Cunningham and Ruairi Cunningham, directors of Strathroy Dairy based in Omagh, who were speaking to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and Marine this afternoon.
Speaking to the committee, Strathroy director Cormac Cunningham explained his company’s position: “We do not qualify for the NDC mark, which says ‘Farmed in the Republic of Ireland’. The reason for this is simply because the milk we buy is processed in Omagh. We are an Irish company and we supply Irish milk, yet we cannot carry the NDC logo. In this way it is being disingenuous and misinforming the consumer.”
He went on to say: “The NDC mark says ‘farmed in the Republic of Ireland’. What it does not say is that it must be farmed and processed in the Republic. We source Irish milk from Irish farms all over the Island. We have depots and distribution facilities all over the Island, we employ more than 250 people. But because we process this Irish milk in Omagh. We cannot say the words farmed in the Republic of Ireland.
“I feel to make any distinction between cows North and South is not only bad for us, but bad for the whole dairy industry on the Island. We can guarantee the quality, the origin, traceability of all our milk and milk products.”
Cunningham reminded the committee “of the strange situation at the National Ploughing Championships where cows were brought down from a farm in Derry to demonstrate how robotic milking worked”.
“Because of the confusion they couldn’t decide whether the cows were northern cows or southern cows. As a result the milk was nearly going to be thrown out. Where the cow stands is not the way to run a business. Our processing facilities have been audited by all the key retailers; they have satisfied themselves beyond any doubt the quality and integrity of the processes we carry out. Yet the NDC will not allow us to carry the mark.”
On the NDC mark itself, he said: “This will impact not only our business. But It’s bad for the consumer because we compete at retail level and competition keeps prices competitive. It’s bad for farmers because we buy milk directly off farmers they come to use because they get a better price. We bring completion to the market place for farmers.”
“The NDC is not a state agency, it’s not a semi-state agency. This mark is not a government policy. We are precluded from having it simply because of the location of our processing facilities.”
Director Ruairi Cunningham explained its stance further: “If there was milk being produced on a farm in Wexford, processed in Kilkenny and sold in a shop in Donegal it would be called local. Whereas we in Strathroy would buy milk in Donegal and processes it 20 miles away in Omagh, yet it’s not local.”
The directors concluded by claiming the packaging mark was anti-competitive and that it contravenes EU legislation. They said that the future of Strathroy Dairy in the south is at risk as a direct result, with the possible loss of 75 jobs.
The National Dairy Council was not present at the committee hearing today and it declined to comment.