Dáil debates

Wednesday, 12 October 2005

Adjournment Debate.

Animal Diseases.

9:00 pm

Photo of Denis NaughtenDenis Naughten (Longford-Roscommon, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this very important issue on the Adjournment.

Last Monday there was confirmation of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the Brazilian herd. Before that, countries such as the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea had already banned the importation of beef from Brazil because of the risk of importing foot and mouth disease.

I understand that earlier today the Minister for Agriculture and Food announced a proposal to ban Brazilian beef from specified regions. That does not go far enough since all Brazilian beef should be banned immediately. The reason that I call for such a ban and that the Minister's action is inadequate is that the most recent EU Food and Veterinary Office report on the Brazilian beef industry, carried out in May 2004, expressed serious concerns about such issues as animal traceability, vaccinations, animal movement systems and slaughterhouse hygiene. The office found in the case of Brazil that significant food safety issues persist. Such deficiencies are of serious concern to Ireland given that Brazil is our largest supplier of imported beef.

In early 2003, when the office previously inspected the control systems in place in Brazil from the farm to export stage, similar complaints regarding the structures in place were identified. It is of considerable concern that the inadequacies regarding hygiene and traceability systems in Brazil remain unresolved, based on the most up-to-date information available. Deficiencies identified in that report include identification and certification of animals, farm registration and movement controls. Even the central database had several inconsistencies in it. However, the two most damning comments in that report concerned the control of EU exports, the first stating that: "A number of deficiencies identified in respect of animal identification and movement control undermine the possibility to trace back to the farm of origin." The second was: "Mistakes were noted in respect of the examination of muzzles for FMD in one establishment and no strict separation between EU and non-EU eligible meat in the chilling rooms in another."

If the Minister is talking about a partial ban on the importation of beef, both those concerns raised by the EU Food and Veterinary Office are a damning indictment of the proposal and the decision by the Minister today. Those comments were made by an independent agency appointed by the EU to carry out such inspections, but the Minister is prepared to ignore that information and only ban beef from certain regions in Brazil.

I would like the Minister of State to answer two simple questions. First, why was the inspection of the Brazilian meat industry due to take place last April postponed after it had emerged that the Brazilian tagging and traceability scheme had been abandoned? How, when those systems are not in place, can the Government reassure farmers that their animals are protected from the risk of foot and mouth disease and the public that there is no real or significant threat to the Irish economy? An outbreak of foot and mouth disease in this country would have a disastrous impact on the economy as the national herd and the economic survival of livestock farmers are at stake.

The Minister's piecemeal approach is entirely inappropriate. It is imperative that there is an immediate and outright ban on Brazilian beef. When the Minister decided to act on this, she should have done so with conviction by taking the only course of action that would ensure the protection of our national herd and our economy. Instead of keeping the situation under review, the Minister must take decisive action to shut down the importation of Brazilian beef.

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Minister of State, Department of Agriculture and Food; Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Deputy Naughten for raising this important issue. An outbreak of foot and mouth disease in cattle and pigs was confirmed on a farm in the Eldorado district of Mato Grosso do Sul in the southern part of Brazil on 8 October 2005. This development was communicated to the OIE, the World Organisation for Animal Health, on 9 October 2005. The OlE indicated that the disease virus type is currently unknown and that the Brazilian authorities have implemented controls in the district where the outbreak was detected and in contiguous districts to prevent any movement of animals and animal products.

The European Commission assessed these measures and today presented a proposal to the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health, on which my Department was represented, to suspend imports of de-boned and matured beef, not alone from the regions of Mato Grosso do Sul and Parana but also São Paulo. This will be effected by amendment of Council Decision 79/542/EC. The implementation of today's decision will have a significant impact on exports of beef from Brazil to the EU.

In regard to trade in agricultural products, the EU generally applies the so-called regionalisation principle which allows trade to continue from unaffected regions. In practice, this means that where there is a disease outbreak, restrictions on trade are applied to products from the affected region while trade can continue from other unaffected parts of that country or region. This principle was applied to trade here during the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001.

Detailed EU legislation lays down the conditions member states must apply to the production of and trade in products of animal origin, including meat, as well as to imports of these products from third countries. It is a requirement that animal products imported from third countries meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in and trade between member states. All such imports must come from third countries or areas of third countries approved for export to the EU.

I am satisfied that the action agreed today is the appropriate response to the recent outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Brazil. We will keep the position under close review in conjunction with the European Commission and other member states. Council Decision 79/542/EC establishes the sanitary conditions for the importation into the EU of certain live animals and the meat and meat products of such animals. It details the areas of third countries that are approved for the production and export of animals and meat products to the EU as well as the model health certification that must be provided by the competent authority of the exporting country.

The Commission's caution in proposing to extend the scope of the measure to include the region of São Paulo is to be commended. The Commission made this proposal on the basis of concerns in regard to the possible movement of animals from the area where the outbreak was reported. The Commission's proposal was adopted by the standing committee this afternoon. Accordingly, beef produced in the regions and from cattle slaughtered since 29 September 2005 may not now be traded.

The measures have immediate effect throughout the EU and are being applied to imports by my Department's approved border inspection posts, BIPs. Imported meat can only enter the EU through an approved BIP where it is subjected to veterinary examination and public health checks in accordance with EU requirements. Each member state is responsible for carrying out the BIP checks on its territory. The EU Food and Veterinary Office, monitors the application of import controls by BIPs throughout the EU.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.25 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 13 October 2005.