Other Questions - Food Labelling.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 682 No. 6

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  49.  Deputy Emmet Stagg  Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg   asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food  Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith   the reason the Féile Bia campaign has been replaced by a new campaign called Just Ask; the advantages this change will bring; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20190/09]

Deputy Trevor Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Decisions on marketing campaigns are primarily a matter for Bord Bia. In this case I understand that Bord Bia considered that a fresh approach was needed to raise customer awareness and transparency on the origin of food and supplier information when eating out. Féile Bia membership, which peaked at 1,500 food service outlets, had decreased in recent years to very low levels of participants. In addition, questions had been raised about its effectiveness.

The Just Ask campaign aims to encourage and empower consumers, when eating out, to ask for information on where the food on their plate, particularly meat, comes from and to encourage restaurants to provide this information on their menus. The marketing activities for the Just Ask campaign, which was launched in March, include targeted national and local radio and press advertising, on-line and print media activities and promotions targeting chefs directly. Research to date carried out by Bord Bia shows that over a third of the target group interviewed are aware of the Just Ask campaign and say it would encourage them to ask where their meats are coming from when eating out. That would indicate that Bord Bia’s public awareness campaign is having a good impact at an early stage.

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  What is the overall cost of this scheme? If I understand correctly, and I seek clarification on this, the Féile Bia logo or emblem was replaced with the Just Ask [67]campaign. If I was being a little cynical I would say that it probably cost approximately €200,000 to come up with the wonderfully succinct and insightful words “Just Ask”. Has there been buy-in to the scheme from the Restaurants Association of Ireland?

Deputy Trevor Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  As I stated at the start, the decisions on this relate to Bord Bia so I will have to ask it to get an answer to the Deputy’s question.

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  With all due respect, on a point of order——

Deputy Trevor Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I do not have the information.

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  The Minister of State with responsibility for food is here to answer questions once a month and I tabled this question last Wednesday so with all due respect——

Deputy Trevor Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  If I could finishing answering the question before the——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  The Deputy rose on a point of order and the Minister of State can now reply.

Deputy Trevor Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  It was not actually a point of order but I am not here to decide that.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  It is for the Chair to determine but I thank the Minister of State for his assistance.

Deputy Trevor Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  It was nice to hear all the same.

Deputy Michael Creed: Information on Michael Creed  Zoom on Michael Creed  It was correct.

Deputy Trevor Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I am trying to be helpful.

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  The Minister of State might respect the fact that I tabled the question in the first instance and I did so in good faith.

Deputy Trevor Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Deputy Sherlock did not, actually. If he had asked that question we could have got him the answer but——

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  I am entitled to ask a supplementary question.

Deputy Trevor Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  Indeed, and I wish I had some knowledge but all I can say is that the Just Ask scheme is far better value for money than the cost of running the Féile Bia scheme. This is not the only reason for the change and I hope Deputy Sherlock agrees with that. We were getting less and less buy-in to the Féile Bia scheme and we needed a reality check; we could not blindly continue with the Féile Bia scheme when of the 81 applications received in 2008 only seven restaurants met the criteria. It needed to be examined and reviewed and the outcome of that review has been a better value for money scheme.

I will not say that was the primary reason for it; it is really about empowering the consumer. There was a level of confusion among consumers. On the one hand there was Féile Bia, which was in Irish, but, on the other, it was not as widely applied throughout the country as it should have been and it was becoming increasingly irrelevant. The Just Ask scheme is a fresh approach and, as I indicated, it is receiving good support from the public.

Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  What meats does this include? Does it include poultry and pork as well as beef? Will the Minister of State assure us that it promotes Irish produce? Question No. 111 tabled today also raises the point——

[68]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  We have not yet reached that question.

Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  ——about the €2.5 million——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  One should not anticipate.

Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  It is linked because there is a €2.5 million allocation——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Brendan Howlin  Zoom on Brendan Howlin  I am afraid it is not being taken with it.

Deputy Seymour Crawford: Information on Seymour Crawford  Zoom on Seymour Crawford  ——to Bord Bia. Is this what the money is being used for? Will the Minister of State comment further on this?

Deputy Trevor Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  While the Just Ask campaign is primarily about meat, it is about all produce. The important question of labelling is dealt with by the Food Safety Authority primarily. Bord Bia has no remit to promote non-Irish food; at the same time it is not the authority that deals with control of labelling and this must be clarified. The Just Ask campaign is about Irish produce but it requires people to ask, as the name suggests.

Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle  Zoom on Andrew Doyle  I know they are not related to the restaurant industry but we see pages of advertisements due to the war between supermarkets. We see Bord Bia quality assurance signs on chicken, beef and fish. Those items that do not have it are conspicuous. I pride myself on becoming informed in restaurants and outlets. The Féile Bia scheme was not completely useless. I do not know why “Just Ask” could not have been added to the existing scheme. There was familiarity and an information campaign was required: why was this not done? We were half way there. If it was not working effectively it should have been improved rather than completely rejigged.

Deputy Trevor Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  We have had discussions such as this previously and undoubtedly we will have them again. Much of the non-Irish produce coming into Ireland was going to catering. It is important to make a fresh start, which this is. The emphasis is on the new campaign, Just Ask, by which the public is mandated to establish where food comes from and who produces it. Restaurants are being urged to provide that information so people will not have to ask as many questions. It is important to point out that Bord Bia does not promote non-Irish produce, and the suggestion that the organisation might apply its funding to promoting products from outside Ireland carrying an Irish label is false. It is equally important to note that Bord Bia does not, nor is it required to, promote products from any other origin. Suggestions of that nature are misleading to consumers, as they have been in the media, and are extremely damaging to an industry that has come under enormous pressure in a difficult marketing environment. Bord Bia is about promoting Irish produce.

Deputy Seán Sherlock: Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  Would it not have been more financially expedient to use the guaranteed Irish label, which is universally identifiable and would have cost significantly less?

Deputy Trevor Sargent: Information on Trevor Sargent  Zoom on Trevor Sargent  I was delighted to hear the president of the IFA, Mr. Padraig Walshe, on the radio this morning asking people to buy Irish produce. The reason Mr. Walshe can do that but neither I nor the Minister, Deputy Brendan Smith, can is that the use of State money for the guaranteed Irish campaign is not allowed under EU rules. I have met representatives of the Restaurants Association of Ireland and others to make that point. It is a case of horses for courses. The Government and Bord Bia, the agency with the remit in this area, have a responsibility to provide the type of quality assurance required but in the case of a guaranteed Irish scheme, such as was mentioned by the Deputy, we can go so far but no further. We can [69]promote EU produce but a guaranteed Irish campaign would require non-taxpayers’ money. Thankfully, there is a willingness on the part of stakeholders such as the IFA and the Restaurants Association to put private money behind such campaigns. Once we have the quality assurance and the guaranteed Irish assurance from those who can do it, we can combine the two to get the message across that buying Irish means buying the best quality. That is the ultimate result.

Deputy P. J. Sheehan: Information on P. J. Sheehan  Zoom on P. J. Sheehan  What guarantee does the Minister have?


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