Thursday, 21 May 2020
Outbreaks of Covid-19 in Meat Processing Plants: Statements
Michael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
That was a wide-ranging contribution on Covid-19. If the Deputy would like me to give chapter and verse on what we are doing for the beef industry, I draw his attention, for example, to a simple item called the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, aimed at improving the genetic merit of the herd, thereby improving its environmental and financial efficiency. That is just one scheme. Several new schemes opened this year to deliver direct income support to the beef sector as well.
I share the Deputy's observation about the lack of a co-operative structure in the meat processing industry. There are plants for sale and I would like to see farmers perhaps organise themselves in a co-operative manner. It is not a closed shop. Entry into the processing sector is open to anybody. Farmers have made a successful venture into dairy co-operatives. It must be said, however, that farmers were previously involved in co-operative efforts in the meat industry, but they exited it pretty quickly and financially scarred by the experience, I think. That is the historical record. The industry is open, however, to anyone who wants to enter it.
I will make one point in conclusion. The Deputy stated that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine was not doing any inspections. That is to misunderstand the statutory role we have. We have 250 staff who in many ways, outside of their statutory responsibility, are our eyes and ears in these plants. They have been engaging with our senior management in the Department, but also with local management in stating the appropriate steps that have been communicated and the things that should be done. By and large, the feedback has been that meat plant management have responded accordingly. Though we may not have a statutory role, and we will be working now in a more formalised engagement with the HSA through our 250 staff, in the interim those staff have been playing a constructive role in working in tandem with local management to deliver the kind of measures necessary to protect workers.