Lidl sues IFA for defamation over own-brand milk claims

German chain says claims that product is not Irish are untrue and damaging to reputation
Lidl sues IFA for defamation over own-brand milk claims

Lidl Ireland has told the High Court that allegations made 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 claimed that in recent weeks the IFA had published adverts in the media that contain statements about Lidl, including that its milk is not Irish, which are extremely damaging to its business and its reputation.

It also claimed that the untrue allegations contained in the adverts have been repeated by senior IFA figures in media interviews and on its 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.

Injunction sought

Lidl is seeking an injunction under Section 33 of the 2009 Defamation Act prohibiting the defendants publishing statements to the effect that the Lidl's own-brand milk is not Irish, that it is engaged in unlawful and misleading practices, or that it 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, when it sought on an ex parte basis permission to serve short notice of the proceedings on the defendants.

Represented by Martin Hayden SC and Jennifer Goode Bl, Lidl said its own-brand 1-litre milk is sourced from Arrabawn in Co Donegal.

Lidl said that milk for its 2- and 3-litre products is supplied by Strathroy in Northern Ireland, which it said sources its milk in Ireland. Lidl's own brand milk is sold under the 'Coolree Creamery' brand.

It said those items are packed outside of Ireland, and therefore cannot carry the National Dairy Council (NDC) logo. Its 1-litre milk cartons are packaged in Sligo and do bear the NDC logo.

Lidl said that whether or not its milk carries the NDC logo on its cartons does not change the fact that all its milk is sourced from Irish farmers.

'Fake dairy' claims

It rejected claims by the defendants that it had created "a fake dairy" or "a phantom farm" in respect of its products.

It said it has never represented that its milk comes from a creamery or dairy called 'Coolree Creamery'. That brand is a registered trade mark for its own product, Lidl added.

It also rejected claims that it had engaged in a branding strategy to drive down prices paid to dairy farmers, who it says are paid via milk processors for all products supplied.

It claimed that the IFA is well aware of these facts. 

Lidl said that it had asked the IFA to desist making and remove all the untrue statements, but the defendants had failed to do so.

The judge adjourned the action to a date in April, after the court's Easter vacation.

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