The issue of food labelling loomed large at the recent Irish Poultry & Egg Conference with delegates questioning why poultrymeat cannot be labelled as Irish, or at least EU produced, to stop decimation of the industry by cheap non-EU imports passed off as Irish.

“We share a widespread concern about the issue of labeling poultrymeat, in particular the labelling of imported meat to show its country of origin,” said minister for agriculture, fisheries and food Brendan Smith. “Not only do consumers want this information but, in my view, they are entitled to this information. I see no valid reason why it should be withheld as long as there is no interference with the free operation of the market.

“The competitiveness of imported poultrymeat is an unrelenting challenge for Irish producers. Apart from our higher cost base we will always have an economies-of-scale disadvantage arising from the market here being so small compared to production levels in Europe and further afield.”

Yet despite the Irish drafting at least two legislative proposals (both rejected by the EU), 18 months of discussion, and much support and sympathy from other EU states on the issue, tighter labelling rules have not been introduced.

Several Irish poultrymeat business have gone to the wall in recent years, in October Cappoquin Poultry had a last minute reprieve and another poultry company, Hannon, has announced it was letting go staff.

Joe O Gorman, Whitakers Hatchery, told Poultry World his company is only placing one sixth of the turkey poults it used to place 10 years ago – 10,000 six-week-old turkeys placed per month as compared to 60,000. The reason for this is that imports of turkey meat have grown.

“Everybody accepts that the lack of clarity in labelling poultrymeat has been hugely detrimental to the industry in general and to those producers who are trying to compete. Most turkey business has become seasonal and it is a tough market.

“Volatility in feed has been enormous in the last nine months in particular, which has led to some price increases and resistance from the catering trade and that has probably increased imports,” he said.

“In the turkey business, most farms are just marking time rather than being able to expand. Unless the labelling rules change and the consumer knows where their meat is from I don’t see any great advances to be made on the turkey business.”

However the situation may be improved when turkey is included in the Irish Quality Assurance (QA) scheme – the Irish scheme allows the country of origin flag to be incorporated in the logo.

“It is only in its infancy but I believe it will roll out in the next 12 months and at least if we are able to put a Bord Bia logo on to the product it should be a good help. When there is no statutory labelling, you have to go for quality assurance labelling and hope there is recognition from your target audience. I hope it will stabilise the market in the short term and in the long term lead to a better market here,” said Mr O Gorman.

Another positive in the turkey industry is that the Christmas turkey trade is holding its own and the turkey is still seen as the centerpiece of the family meal.

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