Tuesday, 18 October 2005
Draft Animal Remedies Regulations 2005: Motion.
Olwyn Enright (Laois-Offaly, Fine Gael)
I thank my colleague, Deputy Naughten, for bringing this matter before the House and for giving Members the opportunity to vote on this issue. It is one that may not be laid exclusively at the door of Europe, as is frequently the case.
This is an issue of great concern to many farmers, particularly in my constituency. I have met individual farmers as well as the farming organisations on this matter. Red tape is already strangling Irish farmers. It is the single largest issue they consistently raise and it is responsible for the anger and frustration many of them feel. The Minister for Agriculture and Food fails to realise the difficulties that this continuous and persistent over-regulation puts in the way of farmers. The current proposals for prescription only animal remedies are among the most recent of many examples of bureaucratic burdens.
I cannot understand why the Minister continues with this proposal as it stands. It is ludicrous to allow these animal remedies to be available on prescription from vets alone. As Deputy Naughten rightly asked this evening before the Minister arrived, where does she suggest the vets are going to come from? The nature of veterinary practice in Ireland has changed considerably, with many being attracted into small animal practice. As a result a greater concentration of vets will be located in towns and larger urban areas for the future, leading to a shortage in many parts of rural Ireland. This will result not only in financial hardship for the farmer, but there is real danger that it will mean unnecessary suffering for animals as well. I cannot imagine a situation where these prescriptions for all veterinary medicines will be issued without a charge. This will be yet another financial burden on the farmer.
Under the proposed regulations, there is a significant onus on the vets to retain records of prescriptions for five years. This may well require more investment in data and storage technology, with further costs to be passed on.
The Minister for Agriculture and Food is not the only person with key questions to answer on this issue. The Progressive Democrats constantly claims to be a party that is pro-competition. However, its deafening silence on this issue appears to tell a different story. That party is allowing a situation to develop which is the direct opposite of competition and which will affect both price and availability, despite the clearly enunciated views of the Competition Authority on this issue. A direct consequence could be the development of a black market for animal medicines as the only affordable option for some. This is not something I condone, but the Minister must look at the realities of her decision. If farmers are unable, by reason of cost or accessibility, to get the medicines needed to treat their animals, it is the health and welfare of animals that will suffer in the long run.
The existing system, which is strict, has worked well. Under the cost compliance procedures for the single farm payment, farmers face extremely tough record keeping standards and their produce is subject to rigorous testing under strict food and feed controls. The Minister should accept that it is the imposition of strict financial sanctions for non-observance of a withdrawal period of a drug that will ensure the sanctity of the food chain and protect consumers, not the simple fact that it was prescribed. The Minister is effectively saying she no longer trusts Irish farmers. She does not see them as the professional keepers of animals and insists that the sole provider of information must now be the vet.
In the last three and half years, this Government has introduced an array of stealth taxes, which have allowed large rises in charges for essential services to the farming community, including VAT, ESB, rising motor costs and even VHI. The backdoor charges have had a major impact on farm families. Neither can one take these costs in isolation, they must be added to the additional costs coming down the tracks associated with the single farm payment, implementation of the nitrates and looming phosphates directives and prospective grain proposals. By taking the stealth charges, rising fuel, fertiliser and even water charges, one can see the massive rise in import costs. Compare this to the farmers' profits. These have fallen by a quarter during the lifetime of this Government.
I am sure that the Minister does not want to be remembered as introducing the additional costs that may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back. I hope she rethinks this issue and has something more positive to offer the House and Irish farmers this evening. Hoping for a derogation and acting on that basis is a dangerous gamble.