Thursday, 19 January 2023
Agricultural and Food Supply Chain Bill 2022: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of the Bill. One thing that needs to be recognised, and I am not going to refer to "my amendment" or whatever like some do, is that everyone in the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine put in amendments. We discussed it and worked together. One good part of being up here is that at least in the committees we are not badgering and going at each other. In fairness to the agriculture committee and its Chair, Deputy Cahill, members from all parties and none worked very constructively. Everyone put an effort into it and went through it at the private meetings and heard different points of view from everyone. We agreed unanimously on all the different amendments we wanted made to the heads of Bill. While every amendment might not be in it, the Minister has taken on a lot of them, which is a good thing.
This is going to be a fair test over the next year or two. Farmers do not know where to go. They have lost faith in the CCPC. Every time we write to it, it is nearly coming back attacking the farmers and asking are they in a cartel. There was a feeling that the price of cattle was the one price everywhere and people were asking how come. Those in the CCPC would tell us it was the person eating the meat they were worried about. People would not know what road they were going down with the CCPC and I think a lot of people have lost faith in it. There has to be faith in a system. This new regulator has to have teeth. It has to be able to go in, if there is an anomaly, and check where the money is got or lost. The other thing we have to attack for the sake of farmers - I see these people kicking the daylights out of agriculture but they all have to eat a bit of grub in the morning, the middle of the day and the evening. They think they can live on fresh air and keep writing about the farmers and giving out about them. That does not add up.
We have a situation in the agricultural sector, not alone in cattle, sheep, dairy or pigs. There is horticulture, with lettuce and onions and everything coming in from different parts of the world. North County Dublin is a long way from where I live but those people who are growing different types of vegetables are very important as well. If we have learned anything from the war that went on, it is that the more we can encourage people to become self-sufficient, the better. One time long ago when we were little gougers, the technical schools had a competition for the best garden in the country. Every youngster went to horrid trouble with their garden to try to win this thing. Every type of vegetable and everything was in it. The EU has a fair bit to answer for in all of this. Then we were told we were better getting the head of lettuce or cabbage flown in a plane. If we had a head of lettuce or cabbage here in Ireland for a few days, we would say it was going off and throw it to the cattle. Damn me, but the heads that come in from the other countries can stay looking good for about three weeks, which is rather unusual. We should be making sure that we encourage our own people. It happened in milk, it is happening in beef and it is happening in the vegetable sector that the big multinationals that buy all this gear are dictating to the farmer. That day has to stop. There is this business of 90 days' credit and they say next month they will put on offer so many pounds of vegetables or whatever for basically damn all money, to get people into the store.
Who is paying the price for that only the farmer who is supplying it?
We have seen in the milk market that some people got out of the bottling plant. There was a lot of distress over that. When places close down no one wants to see job losses. We also see farmers being dictated to. We have been told anecdotally by fairly senior people that some of the big multinationals have threatened the co-operatives that they might put out to tender the whole milk market, the amount of milk they take for tender on a Sunday evening. They have threatened that whichever co-operative makes the cheapest bid can have the contract. That is no way to treat people or have a forward contract. There were more people than me in the room when this was being said. If we keep going down that road, it will be a race to the bottom. What happens then? People will get sick of it, farmers will decide not to keep getting kicked and we will end up in a scenario where we are bringing in beef from Brazil, while they are blowing down the Amazon rainforest, and we are getting milk from America or somewhere else. We need to cop on about the way we are treating people. Farmers are fairly enduring people but sooner or later they will get sick of producing something if it is not providing adequate rewards.
The Bill makes provision to tighten up regulation. The regulator needs teeth, as has been pointed out by previous Deputies, to be able to go in with enforcement power and to take computers or whatever it needs to see if something is going on. I am not saying this practice is happening in the meat industry but the likes of HIQA will announce it will be doing inspections the following day or the next day. If someone is told they will be inspected tomorrow or the next day, they will have the floor washed and everything looking good. That crack needs to stop. There has to be on-the-spot inspections, like what farmers unfortunately get. Farmers get on-the-spot inspections like that but seemingly everyone else will get the call a day or two ahead of time and be told the inspection is coming so they can be sure to have the Daz out and have everything looking well.
This is the last bite at the cherry. Confidence must be brought into the industry that there is somebody there who can investigate, make decisions, regulate, bring out a report and issue fines if someone is doing something that is not legitimate or is making a big amount of money out of it. In certain industries, if there are cartels, we need to make sure we have that covered. I know the Bill will be coming to the committee and I presume there will be amendments. In fairness to everyone on the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, they made an honest effort and I will not be opposing the Bill.