The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is working closely with the Department of Health and with other Departments, as part of a whole of Government response to Covid-19. The Department will also be implementing its own business continuity plan to maintain essential services. This means that the Department is taking all of the precautions necessary to protect its staff and its clients, consistent with HSE advice, but is remaining open for business, prioritising the delivery of essential services to farmers, fishermen and the food and forestry sectors.
The Department is taking the necessary steps to ensure:
- that producers and processors can continue to operate effectively and keep supply lines open
- that the Department can operate as effectively as possible during the current pandemic.
Keeping food and other processing facilities operational, ensuring that payments and commercial activities that are necessary to protect farm incomes can continue and that fishermen can continue to land fish and place them on the market, are among the critical priorities for the Department. In many instances, these activities depend on the Department’s ability to carry out its regulatory and inspection functions.
In this regard, the Department is sensitive to the understandable concerns that all citizens will have at this time. It will ensure that its staff operates in accordance with protocols that follow HSE advice. This advice will evolve, and the Department will ensure that it continues to observe best practices in all of its activities.
Subject to this advice, the Department is committed to ensuring animal-related matters such as payment processing, TB testing, animal welfare inspections, animal identification and passport issuing, BVD testing, controls at livestock marts and animal export certification can continue to enable the business of farming to operate.
Similarly, in respect of agri-businesses which depend on Departmental supervision, inspection, control and certification to operate, the department is committed to providing the necessary services, for example in meat and milk plants, marts, breeding establishments, feed manufacturers and suppliers, egg suppliers, suppliers of animal medicines and other agri-products and in our fisheries harbours.
The Department’s commitment extends to ensuring that the systems and infrastructure on which its sectors depend on a daily basis are operating and functional and that its laboratories are available for diagnostic services and regulatory functions.
The Basic Payment Scheme application date will not be changed. Any delay in inspections or change to the application date may lead to delays in payments later in the year, and we are anxious to avoid this at all costs. The updating of the LPIS is a rolling process that will go ahead. Farmers will be updated as we proceed.
There is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the continuity of supply of Irish food and drinks. Senior Department officials met Food Drink Ireland on Wednesday (11 March 2020) to discuss contingency planning for the food processing sector. Food processors, along with all other businesses and employers, are implementing business continuity plans to deal with possible disruption. There are no food safety implications arising from Covid-19, and there is no evidence that the virus can be spread through food products.
In the longer term, there may be significant economic impacts for Irish businesses, including the agri-food sector, arising from reduced demand in key markets around the world. A range of supports for businesses has already been announced by the Government and is available at https://dbei.gov.ie/en/, including the SBCI Covid-19 Working Capital Loan Scheme, which is co-funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. This loan scheme will make working capital available to impacted SMEs, including food businesses. The Minister has written to Commissioner Wojciechowski, following the announcement from President von der Leyen of a very significant economic package to respond to the crisis, seeking to ensure that the full range of market supports available under the Common Market Organisation Regulation are available for deployment in response to any emerging market disturbance.
Farmers and fishermen, along with other workers who are required to self-isolate, or are diagnosed with Covid-19, will be eligible for social welfare support. See: https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/973806-covid-19-coronavirus-information-for-employers-and-employees/
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Minister Michael Creed T.D., has engaged with the main stakeholder organisations, to discuss contingency planning and priorities. Minister Creed stated, ‘‘I am deeply conscious of the impact of the Government’s necessary response to Covid-19. The measures announced are essential, and we need all citizens to assist in containing the threat and spread of the virus. I urge you all to follow the current advice and further advice that will come from the Government, the Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health and the HSE. This is a national public health crisis, and it is critically important that the Government response is coordinated through the Department of Health and the HSE. However, my Department and I will remain in very close contact with agri-food stakeholders as the situation develops. As part of this effort, my Department will be providing assistance to the HSE when requested.”
The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will continue to monitor the situation and is following the advice of the Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health and the HSE in relation to COVID-19. We would remind stakeholders that they should continue to follow the advice being given by the HSE. In particular: wash your hands regularly; cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when you cough and sneeze; keep a social distance etc. Please keep up-to-date with the HSE website https://www2.hse.ie/conditions/coronavirus/coronavirus.html for further information.
The Department’s public offices will remain open for the present. However, The Department has a range of on-line facilities and can provide information to clients over the phone or by email. These services should be used where possible, and unnecessary visits to public offices should be avoided.
As always, farmers should remember to observe basic biosecurity protocols and safety rules when working on the farm.