Is ICBF heading into choppy waters in its mission to select one laboratory firm to service the National Genotyping Programme?

It’s big business. The first year will be funded by the EU’s Brexit Adjustment Reserve (BAR) to the tune of €23m. After that, the country’s farmers will pay up to €25m in total each year.

Ironically, however, much of this BAR funding could be heading directly to Britain if – as The Dealer is led to believe – the contract to process the DNA samples is won by the pre-tender favourite, Weatherbys Scientific.

There are at least three, if not four, companies with more Irish pedigree that have the capacity to tender for the contract, which was originally valued at €35m per year.

I understand the tender revisions appeared mid-process following some sort of a legal challenge to the original contract.

The potential Irish players with scale include: Enfer; Identigen, which is in the MSD stable; FBA in Waterford; and Independent Milk Laboratories (IML) which is 50% owned by Progressive Genetics and 50% by National Milk Records which was recently purchased by Associated British Foods.

However, all four had issues meeting the terms of the original tender.

Demand for scale

The request to have at least €10m in turnover specifically in the genotyping area has recently been dropped, but the demand for scale remains.

The Irish arm of Weatherbys, which profiles Teagasc’s Donagh Berry on its scientific advisory board, certainly has scale, while its laboratory services partner Eurofins undoubtedly has the technical know-how.

The scale of the National Genotyping Programme demands a big player, unless the ICBF further amends the tender to allow companies take part of the contract.

Is it in the best interests of farmers to seek one big player to cover all the sample analysis work in the genotyping programme?

For many years, cattle tags were provided by one supplier and, now, there are four providers offering farmers options.

Similarly, up to 10 firms compete successfully to test tissue tags for schemes such as the BVD eradication programme. Is one bigger fish always better? I’ll be watching the outcome of this one.