Farmers are being driven out of business by over-zealous and unaccountable inspectors, Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada has said.
On Friday, the Ireland South MEP said the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must include substantial reform of the current inspection system, which she says is unfair and needlessly aggressive.
“I meet farmers all over the country and no matter where I go one of the first things they want to talk about are inspections.
“There seems to be no regulation or protocol for these inspections, at least none that is being adhered to.
People who have found themselves singled out for intensive investigation because they dared to appeal a decision
“I've talked to people who have been given 10 minutes notice before an inspection, been penalised for things they weren't there to inspect and people who have found themselves singled out for intensive investigation because they dared to appeal a decision,” she said.
Ní Riada said that there seems to be zero accountability of inspectors either.
Living in dread
“Farmers live in dread wondering what kind of mood the inspector will be in when they arrive.
"Furthermore, when they do find an issue, rather than giving them a time frame to correct it, they are penalised on the spot with a cut in their Single Farm Payment (SFP) [Basic Payment Scheme (BPS)].
“Given the SFP [BPS] is the only thing just about keeping their heads above water, it is simply unacceptable that such a drastic penalty can be imposed with the flick of a wrist, with no accountability, based on one person's mood.
“These are not just the complaints of a few people angry they have been penalised.
"In 2015, over 10,000 farmers had to appeal penalties, often for minor easily-corrected breaches,” she said.
The Sinn Féin MEP said that criteria needs to be urgently put in place at EU and national level to relieve farmers from this often unnecessary stress.
“Sinn Féín has proposed that we use a yellow card system to ensure that farmers who commit first-time minor offices do not lose payments.
The assessment must take into account any external contributing factors beyond the farmer's control
“If a farmer is to be penalised, the assessment must take into account any external contributing factors beyond the farmer's control and the economic situation of the farmer.
“Inspections should be limited to a maximum of 1% of farmers and, more importantly, farmers should be chosen based on the severity of the risk they pose due to their type or volume of produce.
Inspections are important
“Inspections are important to ensure we maintain our high standard of quality and the great reputation Irish produce has around the world.
"However, over-zealous unaccountable inspectors engaging in what amounts to little more than ambushes do not do that.
“The Department of Agriculture, and in particular Minister Creed, should be ashamed of themselves for fomenting the sense of tension and worry that currently hangs over our primary producers,” she said.
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