"Irish consumers have been hoodwinked for a long time," Conor Pope tells George Hook...
Food companies and retailers are guilty of "creating an impression" that products are Irish, despite the fact they come from markets overseas, by deploying everything from Irish tricolours to Bord Bia's quality assurance mark on the packaging.
Conor Pope, the Irish Times' consumer affair correspondent, told High Noon that Irish shoppers have been "hoodwinked for a long time" when it comes to 'buying Irish'.
He cited two recent "entirely egregious" cases he has written about which saw Aldi and Lidl list products in their catalogues with the tricolour or Bord Bia mark "despite the fact the products weren't Irish".
In one instance, Aldi advertised what was supposedly "wild Irish salmon", despite the fact the fish had been farmed in Scotland. The company apologised, calling it a "descriptive error". In the other, Lidl used Bord Bia's stamp for salmon, despite the fact Bord Bia doesn't offer such an assurance for fish.
Pope has found the practice to be widespread, and made the case that we need to be "highlighting the fact that provenance matters". Indeed, Irish shoppers ahve been found to be more inclined to opt for more expensive offerings due to their Irish origin.
"If a product is from Ireland," Pope argued, "I think it does a great disservice to producers who make those products... if other products are allowed to piggyback on them."
While he said it was "absurd" that chicken grown in Thailand can simply be "dusted with breadcrumbs" in Ireland and subsequently advertised as Irish, he also noted that it "under the legislation" it is completely legal and, in fact, standard retail process.
By way of another example, he noted that that most Irish-sounding of ingredients, Siúcra, consists of sugar from Germany and other countries. Brand names are particularly useful when it comes to subtly painting an image of the Emerald Isle.
"If Charleville wanted to," he said, "they could source all their cheese in Kurdistan and still be called 'Charleville'...
"The actual reality is if you buy a Donegal Catch salmon, the chances are it could come from South America, maybe it comes from Northern Europe... But one thinks for sure is it doesn't come from Donegal."
While he stressed that he was "not criticising the brands" or the product's inherent quality, Pope believes that well-intentioned consumers are being tricked into believing that they're supporting local produce.
"Especially during the crash years, the austerity years, I found that one of the things that Irish people wanted to do was, they wanted to buy local. It was one of the few things that people felt they could do in the face of all of this massive economic catastrophe that was befalling the country, they could at least go out and buy something that was from their local area."
"In many cases," he argued, "provenance matters more to people than price."
Pope concluded by referencing how good the likes of France, Spain, Italy and Germany are at policing the food that comes within their borders – you can't call a sparkling wine that comes from outside of the Champagne region, champagne – and calling for Ireland to take its cues from them.