Dáil debates

Thursday, 19 January 2023

Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)


3:25 pm

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent) | Oireachtas source

Being a farmer's son and having family still in farming, I am delighted, not before time, to see this Bill finally introduced for debate. It was promised back in 2004 by the then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Mary Coughlan, who was followed by Ministers Smith, Creed and Coveney. I am sure that if Deputy Cowen had been in office long enough, he would have pursued this, as would the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Dara Calleary, when he was Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It is now with the current Minister, Deputy McConalogue, so it is not before time.

The regulator must have the teeth to represent the farmers and producers or else it is a waste of time. We are facing the death of agriculture, with those in forestry, pig farming, beef and horticulture, including the wonderful growers of our fruit and vegetables, exposed to the giants in their industries around the world. As in other food industries, there are suppliers of products who are allowed to monopolise by exercising control over supply and exerting pressure. I call on the new regulator to ignore external pressures and work with the producers such as the meat and dairy producers and our fruit and vegetable growers. These are the growers who are forced to tender blind six months in advance, regardless of environmental factors such as the energy crisis in 2022. The steps the growers and producers must take to have products placed on the supermarket shelves are extraordinary. Every country is getting premiums for growing produce while the producers of vegetables and meat in this country are getting only a pittance.

I say again to the Minister that the regulator, as with the grocery regulator in the UK, must have the powers to access all information, for example, primary documents of sale, purchase invoices and contracts. The devil is in the detail. The regulator must be able to access all information.

Did the Minister know that Grant Thornton was commissioned in June 2021 to conduct a report for the Department on the beef task force? It reported that it was curtailed in making its findings by the absence of data in the market transparency reports. Did the Minister know that? The regulator needs to have the powers to access all information. It must be able to investigate.

I will say it again: the regulator needs the powers to investigate. Grant Thornton has told us this in a report on the beef task force. It is evident they were not getting the proper information. They were commissioned by the Minister's Department to do that inquiry.

For example, with the supermarkets' promotions, who pays for the promotion? What are the long-term discounts? Are they entirely paid for by the supplier while the larger retailers cream the profits? There must be transparency between the producer and the processor and, equally, between the producer and the retailer. The regulator must have the teeth. This is an opportunity to just do that.

Before Christmas, the Government directed the National Oil Reserves Agency, NORA, to release stock for the purposes of electricity generation. This is also important to the agriculture industry. Did the power generation sector make any contribution towards NORA or did they get away with it? After all, it is the ordinary punters such as the farmer and the producers who end up paying, and these multinationals get away with it. I appeal to the Minister to ensure the proposed reversal of this excise duty in February does not happen. If he is committed to the farming industry, he will lobby his Government, as we will lobby the Government, to make sure that this excise duty is not reversed, and that there will not be further taxation, not only on the farmers but on everybody in this country who are depending on producers and farming in the State. The excise duty is up to be reversed in February. I ask the Minister, on the record of the Dáil, to make sure he goes to his Government and the Government partners, to make sure this is not reversed and that we make sure this stays as it is, at a minimum to keep down the fuel costs. The excessive taxes the Government is already taking are enough. Everything in this country is transferred. Everything that produces food in this country uses fossil fuels. The Government already has it on the taxes. This excise duty is only a minor concession that was given. We cannot have it reversed. We need to make sure that it is not reversed for the future of farming going forward.

I met the Minister in County Limerick when he was in Kilmallock last year. We were in the mart. At the time I said to him that when we looked around the mart there were only four people at that meeting under the age of 30, two of whom were female and two male. The rest of the people in the sector there were aged between 50 and 70. They want to see that the rest of their families would take on the business of farming, which is in our blood. The younger generation look at farming and see that it is not a viable option for them to farm. They say they would have to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to make a farm viable. Any farmer now wants to be able to grow the farm and have the time to make sure the profits are there. This would mean that the younger people of today can take on farming. I believe the Minister would like to see this happening. I ask that he would please make sure his Government does not reverse back on the excise duty in February.


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