Lidl Ireland has claimed before the High Court that allegations by the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) that the supermarket chain has misled its customers and that its own-brand milk is not Irish are untrue and defamatory.
The German-owned chain claims, in recent weeks, the IFA published advertisements in the media that contain statements about Lidl – including that its milk is not Irish – that are extremely damaging to its business and its reputation.
It also claims the allegations contained in the adverts have been repeated by senior IFA figures in media interviews and on the association’s own website.
As a result, Lidl Ireland GMBH has brought defamation proceedings against the IFA and its president, Tim Cullinan, and vice-president, Brian Rushe.
Lidl seeks an injunction under Section 33 of the 2009 Defamation Act prohibiting the defendants publishing statements to the effect Lidl’s own-branded milk is not Irish, that it is engaged in unlawful and misleading practices or has misled its customers as to the origin of its products.
It is seeking the order on the basis that it believes the defendants have no defence to the claims that is reasonably likely to succeed.
The injunction would remain in place pending the outcome of the full dispute.
Lidl’s action came before Mr Justice Senan Allen on Wednesday via an ex parte (one side only represented) application for permission to serve short notice of the proceedings on the defendants.
Represented by Martin Hayden SC, and Jennifer Goode BL, Lidl says it sources its own-brand one-litre milk from Arrabawn in Co Donegal.
Lidl says the milk for its two- and three-litre milk is supplied by Strathroy in Omagh, Co Tyrone, which amounts to sourcing its milk in Ireland.
Lidl’s own-brand milk is sold under the Coolree Creamery brand.
It says those items are packed outside the Republic, and therefore cannot carry the National Dairy Council (NDC) logo.
Its one-litre milk cartons are packaged in Sligo and do bear the NDC logo.
Whether or not Lidl milk carries the NDC logo on its cartons does not change the fact all its milk is sourced from Irish farmers, Lidl says.
Lidl also rejects claims by the defendants it has created “a fake dairy” or “a phantom farm” in respect of its products.
It says it has never represented its milk comes from a creamery or dairy called Coolree Creamery. That brand is a registered trade mark for its own product, Lidl says.
It also rejects claims of engaging in a branding strategy to drive down prices paid to dairy farmers, who it says are paid via milk processors for all product supplied.
Lidl says it has asked the IFA to desist making, and to remove, all untrue statements about it, but the defendants have failed to do so.
The judge has adjourned the matter to later next month.