He believes the ‘strategy’ is unhelpful and misleading for farmers as well as consumers.
“With the catastrophic move towards Brexit gaining momentum, these are uncertain times for the entire agri-sector in Ireland – north and south.
“What farmers and consumers are looking for is leadership, action and direction – not scaremongering, inaccuracy and fake news.
“The notion that there could be a shortage of milk in the country is absolute nonsense.
The ‘strategy’ contains a number of serious and misleading assertions about the Irish milk market.
“We have been in contact with the IFA, via our legal representatives, to correct the false assertions that it has published recklessly,” he said.
The Challenge Of Brexit
An entire section of the IFA’s ‘Milkwise 2025 Strategy’ is devoted to the challenge of Brexit.
This section leads with the statement that ‘one quarter of the Republic of Ireland’s fresh milk market is currently sourced from Northern Ireland, and is produced and processed there’.
This is an ‘utterly misleading statement‘, according to Cunningham.
“Currently, Strathroy sources more milk in the Republic of Ireland than it sells into that market. The IFA statement is wholly inaccurate and does a serious disservice to farmers in the south working with ourselves.
It is potentially damaging farmers’ livelihoods. The percentage of the Republic of Ireland’s fresh milk market that is produced and processed in the North would be less than 5%.
Strathroy also disputes limiting the description of products from the 26 counties as Irish.
“Under the Good Friday Agreement, products from Northern Ireland are as entitled to be labelled as Irish as products from the south.
“The IFA appears to have appropriated the term to suit a particular agenda, and they are well aware of the terminology.
“Their stance is completely at odds with that taken by ICOS (The Irish Co-operative Organisation Society), who have stated that all produce from the island should be labelled as Irish.
“ICOS has its eye on the ball, and are looking towards marketing Irish dairy produce post-Brexit.
“Meanwhile, the IFA is distracted by short-term local issues of no consequence to the vast majority of dairy farmers,” he said.
Fresh Milk Suppliers
The IFA ‘strategy’ also states that 75% of fresh milk for the Irish retail market is sourced from suppliers in the Republic of Ireland; another incorrect statement, Cunningham said.
Said to be sourced from the National Milk Agency (NMA), these figures need to be challenged, he added.
“It is a fact that Strathroy sources approximately 80m litres per annum from farmers in the south, with whom we have built a strong relationship.
We at Strathroy have given assurances to a number of our customers that the products supplied to them use only milk sourced in the Republic of Ireland.
“We have an obligation on behalf of our customers and suppliers to dispute the figures published by the IFA in its ‘strategy’. We segregate the milk produced in Northern Ireland from the milk produced in the south, as some retailers want a guarantee that the milk on its shelves is produced in the Republic of Ireland,” he said.
Cunningham believes statements in the ‘Milkwise 2025 Strategy’ are wrong and clarification from the IFA is needed.
“The IFA report refers to the fallout from Brexit as having a destabilising impact which would affect the entire dairy scene, including liquid milk.
“It is incumbent on the IFA and other agencies involved to provide accurate information and some leadership, instead of publishing inaccurate figures and contributing to farmers’ genuine fears,” he said.