Tuesday, 18 October 2005
Draft Animal Remedies Regulations 2005: Motion.
Pat Breen (Clare, Fine Gael)
Like my colleagues, I am delighted for the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion. Many of my constituents are farmers who have very strong feelings on this issue. I commend my colleagues, Deputies Naughten and Crawford for tabling this motion in the House.
Under this new EU directive, all veterinary medicine will become prescription only. Imagine the chaos in the country if all human medicines that can be bought off the shelf in local foodmarkets, were to become prescription only. This is happening to animal medicines. This is only a directive, not a regulation. As Deputy Naughten said, Britain, Northern Ireland and other EU states are taking a more liberal approach in allowing suitably qualified persons to issue prescriptions, including licensed merchants and pharmacies. Ireland is fast becoming a country of regulation after regulation. The Government is driving this new regulation which will destroy the livelihoods of many farmers, young and old, and in turn drive many people off the land.
When I was growing up in County Clare every village had a butcher shop and small abattoirs supplied them with their produce. Meat was sourced locally and was almost all organic. These abattoirs and butchers gave local employment but, as a result of over-regulation, they were removed from the countryside, just like the corncrake. Now we do not know where the meat we eat is sourced. Brazilian and Argentinian beef is labelled as Irish, with little regulation or disease control. We all know about the foot and mouth epidemic that is currently affecting Brazil. The same may be said of poultry products imported from Thailand and other countries in the Far East. I hesitate to even mention the bird 'flu scare.
We have the best beef and lamb in Ireland. The regulations the Minister proposes will lead to an explosion in the costs of preventative medicine and a drop in the use of essential medicines. Irish beef is widely recognised as a high quality product. The use of antibiotics is strictly monitored. Farmers are committed to these high standards and the vast majority of them adhere to the withdrawal periods. If they do not they pay dearly, with heavy penalties. This regulation will not improve farm health. It will have a negative effect on Irish farming. The law is anti-farming and is a charter for the veterinary profession, giving it a monopoly over farm medicines.
We cannot blame the veterinary profession for creating this situation; it has lobbied as expected. However, the responsibility lies with the Minister and the Government for allowing this over-rigorous interpretation of a directive, which recognises in its wording the flexibility required for it to be adopted in different jurisdictions within the EU. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan, has acknowledged that "Rip-off Ireland" exists. I do not know whether the Minister for Agriculture and Food acknowledges this. However, if her proposed regulations are implemented, they are a recipe for ripping off Irish farmers and I urge her to withdraw them. They are a licence for one sector to print money and will add to the competitive pressures on farmers, lower standards and encourage black market medicines. Vet only prescriptions are expensive and have rocketed in cost in recent times. The same will happen to routine medicines such as vaccines, worm and fluke control doses and mastitis control products. This could add up to €80 million to veterinary costs.
The Fine Gael Party understands how important agriculture is for the economy. This type of red tape is nonsense and an unnecessary and costly regulation in an industry that is constantly under pressure, with little profitable reward. Ask any farmer who bought cattle this springtime if he or she made a profit. The answer is "no". He or she will lose substantial money on such an investment. Live exports trade must be kept alive and factories must give farmers a fair price for their produce.
I ask the Minister to take on board the Fine Gael motion. She should listen to the lobby groups. If she does, she will have served her brief well. Otherwise, these regulations will add to the Government's considerable reputation in recent weeks for turning the screw on people struggling to get by, while millions are flittered away on consultancy fees and white elephant projects.