Wednesday, 12 October 2005
Trevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
The Ceann Comhairle must share my frustration. I thank the Minister for coming in a little sooner than he expected to do. He deals regularly with the groceries order and I want to bring to his attention the situation as it applies to constituents of mine who feel particularly vulnerable at the prospect of the groceries order being abolished, or changed in a way that will not take account of their situation.
I refer particularly to the dairy farmers in my constituency. They have suffered for many years and their numbers have dwindled from 200 in the 1960s to 22 in the north of the county. Their cost base has been growing throughout that time. Quota prices have been cut from €2.50 to €2. Since enactment of the legislation on veterinary prescriptions the cost of veterinary care is growing, particularly for mastitis.
I ask the Minister to examine the practice in the retail sector whereby essential items such as milk or bread become the focus of low-cost selling. These items are used as quite ruthless retail methods to bring people into a shop and so increase competition. The producer is the victim of this practice. The portion of income spent here on food continues to fall, a trend that is bad for both the economic and physical health of the country. As the Minister is a former Minister for Health and Children he no doubt has an interest in that matter too.
I ask him to take into account when considering the groceries order that the Irish Farmers Association and many others have argued strongly that the trend making it difficult for liquid milk producers to stay in business will push many over the edge. Already there is the case of imported milk being brought to Virginia to make a so-called Irish cream liqueur. The basis of our economic success is to include traceability and provide an authentic product. The Minister should note that this will be difficult to maintain, as will the livelihoods depending on it, if we do away with the groceries order.
The number of registered milk producers has dropped in the past ten years by more than 22% from 3,500 to 2,700. Due to increased productivity the volumes of milk produced remain relatively stable and that hides the reality that fewer people are able to earn their livelihood from primary food production, particularly in the liquid milk sector.
If I had more time I would discuss the other sectors such as fresh produce. The vegetable sector is suffering considerably. The number of potato growers in my constituency and around the country declined by more than 50% in the past eight years. Vegetable growers declined by 40% in the past five years. As a former Minister for Health and Children, the Minister will appreciate that we must prioritise food in the retail sector, and the livelihood of the producers. If we abolish the groceries order without taking account of the primary producers, particularly the liquid milk producers, we will become more dependent on imports that will have neither the traceability nor quality of food produced here. Neither will they have the same quality since food miles are not simply a matter of the energy consumed. The closer the food is produced to the consumer, the better its quality and dependability. I ask the Minister to take account of the salient facts that have been strongly brought to my attention by liquid milk producers in my constituency, reflecting a nationwide concern that the groceries order stands between livelihood and oblivion for many. I ask the Minister to ensure that it is maintained on that basis.