Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 2 July 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine
Animal Health Levies (Pigs) Regulations 2019: Motion
As there is a degree of continuity in the questioning, rather than dealing with the questions individually, I will try to deal with them broadly. If I omit to deal with anything, I would be happy to come back to it.
This is trying to build on the template that Animal Health Ireland has brought to the livestock sector. As alluded to by Deputy O'Keeffe, that has ten years under its belt. It has been a significant success. I appreciate that the Deputy zoned in on one of the sticks used to beat it. Broadly speaking, it has been quite a successful endeavour in dealing with BVD, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, IBR, Johne's disease and somatic cell count and has contributed to the public good for farmers. For example, on BVD the private gain to farmers, if I may put it that way, has been estimated at approximately €85 million. As a model it works because it is owned by the industry stakeholders and facilitated by the Department, which puts some money into it. We are trying to do the same thing for the pig sector. I confess that this is somewhat later than I would have liked. As I said in 2017 we hoped the matter would get under way, but we are getting there now anyway.
In response to Deputy Pringle's question, it will deal with welfare issues. It will deal with a host of other efficiencies, delivering on biosecurity issues through a targeted advisory service to be delivered through private veterinary practitioners to individual pig producers. AHI has been successful in a tendering process under the rural development programme in that area. That will be a critical part of it. Hiring somebody to lead the effort in this area is really important. I believe we have got a really credible internationally recognised expert in the field to drive this significant agenda.
We are developing a database to map the status of all producers' efficiencies, looking at things like lean management practices. We are more familiar with that in its application to industry. In the past 12 months I have seen its application in the dairy sector. We are working on driving that efficiency programme into the pig sector.
Welfare will form a critical part of it. It is an holistic embrace of the industry, driven as much by the industry itself as by the expertise that AHI or the new programme manager brings to it.
Somebody asked about what we are doing about African swine fever on which much remains to be done. While I am somewhat slow to say we are prospering on others' misfortune, it is critical that we do everything we can to protect our own biosecurity here. We are fortunate that, as an island nation, it is somewhat easier than it is elsewhere. However, there is no room for complacency owing to the amount of traffic into and out of the country.
A disease information leaflet went out with the annual pig census letter to all registered pig farmers last autumn. We are preparing some messaging on food waste, which is a critical issue particularly for smaller farmers. A biosecurity leaflet for non-intensive pig farmers was distributed at the ploughing championship last year. A biosecurity leaflet for hunters travelling to African swine fever areas was sent to the National Association of Regional Game Councils in April. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport sent a leaflet to international hauliers on our behalf. Members will be familiar with a new poster campaign at point of embarkation from the State, whether airports or ports. We are working with individual pig farmers to address their own biosecurity issues.
Considerable effort is going into African swine fever issues to create awareness not just within the industry, but among members of the public because an accidental or inappropriate disposal of salami, ham sandwiches etc. could expose the entire sector here to African swine fever. Some of the recovery in the market is as a consequence of problems other countries are experiencing in this area and we want to ensure we have no own goals in that respect. It is a complex multifaceted approach to try to create awareness of the appropriate biosecurity measures, not just at the industry level but among the broader public travelling abroad.
In response to Senator Paul Daly, it is 4 cent per animal slaughtered or exported. The collection will be primarily through the slaughtering plants. There is agreement between the producers and processors on this issue. It will raise approximately €125,000 for AHI and we will match that.
In terms of market potential, we obviously see significant market potential in China, which is our second biggest market after the United Kingdom. We also see opportunities for increasing exports arising from EU-Mexico and EU-Thailand trade deals. We have agreed veterinary health certificates for pigmeat with Ukraine recently. All those help to contribute to a positive market situation, which has seen the price rise from about €1.39 to about €1.70 in recent months.
Deputy Cahill is correct that it is a difficult sector and is a capital-intensive sector. I believe Senator Mulherin asked about the possibility of new entrants but it is a capital-intensive sector to enter. It goes through cycles of challenge in terms of returns. It is not an industry for the faint-hearted in that sense. People need to be able to ride out the downturns while waiting for the upswing. The upswing is significant now and there is a level of confidence about the sustainability of that in the medium term for reasons I have just alluded to.
I appreciate that Deputy O'Keeffe would know more about this than any of us in the room. While there is potential for new entrants the numbers have been reducing steadily. There are about 440 commercial pig farmers in the country, but 19% of them produce more than 40% of the total output. Some of them are very big by any international standards. As I said, it is a very capital-intensive industry to get into.