Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Teagasc Annual Report 2018: Discussion

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the witnesses. On page 35 of the annual report there is mention of the fact that: "Teagasc have concluded their field study which investigated both the environmental and agronomic impact of a GM potato variety genetically engineered to resist late blight disease", which was conducted in both the Netherlands and Ireland. Obviously potato blight has been a curse of this country at times. I ask the witnesses to comment on GM. There are huge concerns about this island being associated with GM or it creeping in by stealth or in any other way.

Will this have implications? There is a strong belief in a wide sector of society that we should be trying to market as GM free. Will the witnesses comment on this?

The next issue I want to raise is really glamorous altogether. It is with regard to slurry tanks. I do not know what the research has shown on this matter but recently it has been raised within and outside the farming community. This is with regard to the spread of disease since we moved to slatted units and slurry tanks. I can remember a time when it was not like that. The dung from where calves were bedded was stacked up and spread early in the year. People used to say frost killed any germs in it. It was spread on top of the land or ploughed in. Now, it is injected into the land. Many animals are housed over the winter period and the tanks will soon be opened. Antibiotics go into the tanks. It is not great in a situation where animals are becoming resistant to antibiotics in the same way as humans. In turn, this goes into the food chain. Are we susceptible to this also? There is also the spread of disease. If animals are carrying bacteria or disease it goes into the slurry tanks and then it is spread. With new technology, it is injected into the land as part of the spreading. Has Teagasc done research on this? I am glad to have had this opportunity to raise the issue.

There is only one very small mention of energy in the annual report. This is with regard to the energy in agriculture 2018 event, which took place in Gurteen College in Tipperary. At this stage, I do not know whether it is Teagasc's role or not. It was highlighted in the symposium in big bright lights that beef on its own does not provide a sustainable income. Having to depend on subsidies to pay the bills does not cut it. There has to be additionality. There has to be a second or third income on the same farm units. What is Teagasc doing in this regard? Do the witnesses see it as being somebody else's role? The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has a big role and I was my party's spokesperson on that portfolio until fairly recently. We are a long way behind other countries on this. We are a long way behind northern Italy and Germany. We are even a bit behind mother England. What is Teagasc's role in this? Are efforts being made to drive it down? Is there a role for Teagasc in it?