Wednesday, 24 October 2007
Agrifood Industry: Motion (Resumed)
"noting the economic, social and environmental importance of the agrifood industry, acknowledges the Government's continuing commitment and proactive approach to the development of a consumer focused, innovative and sustainable sector in line with the AgriVision 2015 Action Plan and as enunciated in the national development plan;
I ask the Members to be silent to allow her to contribute. I will have to make a statement on this in the morning because we cannot have these interruptions after votes. It is not fair to the Member in possession.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the very important issues of food safety, food security and consumer protection. Eight pages of the script of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food related to agricultural policy and they outlined in detail the advances made in agriculture. She devoted almost half of her speaking time to this subject. It was impossible to disagree with much of what she said but her failure to address the central point of the debate until the second half of her speech indicates a lack of resources, and perhaps a lack of interest in or commitment to the points raised in the motion.
Food security has always been a major concern in Ireland for a variety of reasons. It reflects historic concerns about famine, concerns about the quality and safety of our food as a major export commodity and concerns about an industry at the heart of the economy of rural Ireland as well as being of everyday importance to the consumer. There is no need for us to go into denial over the importance of protecting our market share in the ever-expanding global market. It is becoming a little bit like the elephant in the corner in that it somehow seems we should not acknowledge out loud that we need to protect our agriculture industry, which is so important in terms of the rural economy, employment and exports. It is important to acknowledge that we need to compete, and we want to be able to compete on a level playing field.
It is crucial that we operate on a level playing field when in competition with the major players that have the capacity to out-produce us by a factor of thousands. Scale is so important in countries such as Brazil whereas Ireland cannot compete on this basis; it must compete on the basis of quality. Food quality is what underpins Irish food products and it is the hallmark on which we depend to compete. If quality is to be our trademark, it is therefore reasonable to assume that Ireland, as a country that produces quality meat to high standards, should demand that its standards apply to what are, in effect, its competitors.
Let me address the issue of Brazilian imports. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has overall responsibility for food safety in Ireland. The Food and Veterinary Office of the European Commission is responsible for food safety and animal health control at EU level and this is why I reviewed the various reports from the Food and Veterinary Office over a number of years, which reports make very interesting reading. The Commission is the body responsible for monitoring the safety of food and the state of animal health in Brazil, among other third countries, in so far as its produce is imported into EU countries.
A report published in 2005 on the control of residues and contaminants in live animals and animal products noted that "most of the deficiencies found in 2003 have still not been rectified and many of the promised actions did not in fact happen". It stated that several veterinary medicine products containing substances not authorised for use in food producing animals in the EU are authorised for food producing animals in Brazil. The report mentions that "farmers and veterinarians are not inspected with regard to the usage of VMPs", or veterinary medicine products. The report concluded that "the design of the NRCP [national residue control plan] is incomplete and insufficient".
A report prepared in August and September of 2005 on foot and mouth disease and traceability and certification procedures stated that "despite several guarantees provided by the Brazilian competent authority in response to previous mission reports, several shortcomings were noted in the management of foot and mouth disease controls at establishment level". As a result, the situation had not improved. That survey was carried out in 2005.
Two reports were carried out in 2006. One was published in the January-February period and addressed animal health controls, in particular foot and mouth disease, as well as animal identification and certification procedures. Eleven recommendations were made arising from it pertaining to the following: the need to improve animal identification, to ensure that deficiencies in measures to control foot and mouth disease outbreaks are rectified and to provide guarantees that deficiencies which are detected, and concern about laboratory testing, are corrected.
In September 2006, another mission took place to evaluate the foot and mouth disease controls which are in place, particularly the zero surveillance programme and the laboratory testing procedures. While it was recognised that improvements had been made since the previous visit, it was also noted that laboratories are not externally accredited and that the sensitivity of the tests for virus detection are not confirmed by external quality assurance.
The most recent report on the website of the Commission's Food and Veterinary Office relates to a visit to Brazil that was made in February and March 2007. The report, which relates to residue control in that country, concluded that a great deal of progress had been made in realising the objectives of the national residues control plan, in comparison with previous years. I would like to mention a few key points which were made in the report. It states:
However, the current absence of testing for certain residues of medicines which are likely to be used in specific production sectors (e.g. organophosphate ectoparasiticides in cattle), leaves Brazil in the position of not having objective evidence to underpin residue guarantees for certain food commodities.
The current lack of formal accreditation of the governmental laboratory network to ISO 17025 means that the confidence of the competent authority in the performance of these laboratories and the quality of analytical results produced therein is reduced.
It further states:
The fact that some Brazilian .... maximum residue limits for pharmacologically active substances are higher than the respective Community limits means that there is a possibility that consignments of food which do not comply with Community MRLs [maximum residue limits] could be exported to the EU.
While the report acknowledges that improvements have been made, it makes it clear that the Brazilian standards are improving from a very low base. There has been a great deal of improvement by comparison with previous standards.
Major deficiencies of this nature have been allowed to continue without interruption or control for a number of years. The Food and Veterinary Office does quite a good job by recording and reporting its inspections in a robust manner. It has reported the various Brazilian deficiencies to the Commission in reports that have been published every year since 2002, but nothing has happened. Like the FVO, I acknowledge that there have been improvements, but there are still deficiencies. The EU has continued to import meat from Brazil, other than when foot and mouth disease was considered to be a particular risk. When these discrepancies were clearly acknowledged in printed FVO reports over the past four or five years, why did the Government fail to call for changes to be made to EU policy? The Minister, Deputy Coughlan, and her predecessors should have been shouting from the rooftops about the poor standards applying in Brazil, such as its lack of compliance with basic food safety and training requirements.
This debate was partly prompted by the recent IFA visit to Brazil. The IFA delegation reported what it found in that country to the European Commission, which then exercised its right to reply. The Commission knocked a number of the IFA's arguments on the head. In its report, the IFA highlighted a number of deficiencies, two of which I would focus on if I had more time. The bottom line is that Brazilian controls and standards do not match up to those in Ireland. It is incredible that the European Commission allowed such lax practices to go unchecked over many years.
I will conclude by referring to labelling in the context of the substantial transformation loophole. The two most significant findings of the food labelling group that reported to the Government in 2002 were that problems with country of origin labelling had been partially addressed and that the substantial transformation issue had not been addressed at all. The labelling of Irish food has always been a quagmire. Interpreting the information on labels presents a challenge to the best informed among us. What chance do average consumers have when they are confronted with a plethora of information, often deliberately couched in jargon, as they try to learn more about the quality and real nature of the food they are about to present to their children? I accept that under legislation which was recently introduced, beef labelling requirements were extended to the 30,000 service sector premises which are registered with the HSE and monitored by the Food Safety Authority. It appears that inspections to ensure compliance with that legislation take place sporadically. They are conducted by the Food Safety Authority, which is also responsible for monitoring other aspects of food hygiene. I have been unable to ascertain the precise number of inspections which have been conducted. I do not know whether there have been any prosecutions. I cannot tell what degree of compliance is to be found in the sector. No information is available to help me to track the progress that is being made. However, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that compliance levels are less than overwhelming. I support the motion.
I welcome this discussion. I appreciated the speech made by the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, last night. We are fortunate to have an excellent Minister who has the confidence of farmers. I welcome the Ministers of State, Deputies Wallace and Sargent, and wish them well in their jobs.
The difference between the Opposition motion and the Government amendment is that the Opposition has simply set out a wish list, from which I would not greatly differ, whereas the amendment reflects the fact that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has to work within the constraints and realities which flow mainly from Ireland's membership of the European Union.
In her speech, the Minister referred to the importance of the agrifood package that has been agreed under the national development plan. I was glad to be present earlier this year when she visited Tipperary Co-Op shortly after she announced it was to receive a substantial grant to expand its cheese-making facilities. The farm payment system is very efficient. It is interesting that this year's pre-budget Estimate for agriculture represents an increase of 9% on last year's figure. When Deputy Quinn produced his final Estimates as Minister for Finance in 1997, he provided £395 million, or slightly over €500 million, for agriculture. By contrast, it is envisaged that €1,359 million will be provided for in the 2008 agriculture Estimate, at least in advance of the budget.
The expansion of the excellent rural environment protection scheme will mean that it will cover many dairy farmers. There are buoyant prospects for dairy and grain farmers, which is not before time. I am glad that the set-aside scheme is being set aside.
All farmers hate the sight of idle land. Having spent the past three Saturdays selling forward stores in Cashel, I assure the House that the mood there is fairly good, the weather is excellent and the beef prices are good but unfortunately the margins are very small.
There are real problems for pig farmers and there is a need to streamline the rules governing the imports of feed, most of which contain GM. One of the issues on which the Opposition based its call for reform of the animal feed regulatory regime was the unanticipated difficulties caused by the time delay for the new GM maize event, Herculex. I understand the Commission has today authorised the four GM events voted on, including Herculex.
A tighter timeframe between the authorisation processes in the US and in Ireland would significantly reduce the possibility of unauthorised GM events and would make life easier for European pig producers. I understand consultations are taking place between the US and EU authorities on this matter. What is needed is that as much land as possible is used to grow crops both to help supplies for bio-fuels and to take the pressure off animal feed prices. It is anticipated that the current high prices for cereals will bring extra land into production both here and across the EU next year, thus increasing supply and giving respite to the animal feed sector.
With regard to the concern expressed about Brazilian beef imports, the deep resentment of the lighter regulatory regime in Brazil, is understandable. It might help if there were greater transparency and proper labelling of beef coming from Latin America. Last year I had occasion to eat in a restaurant in Berlin and the product was explicitly labelled as being Latin American beef. I wish people in this country would copy this practice and then consumers would at least know what they are buying. It is legitimate to keep pressing at European Union level for a level playing field.
We have all been made conscious of the misleading labelling that exists here, creating the impression that a product is made or sourced in Ireland when that may not be so. Work is ongoing on those regulations so as to make much more explicit where an animal is reared and which is the country of slaughter.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion.
I represent a rural constituency and like many other Members I work and interact with the agri-sector and farm families. In light of yesterday's announcement, I have lost a large tract of rural area from my constituency and it has been replaced with an even larger tract of rural area so this debate is even more relevant again.
Many issues affect farm families and the agri-sector and food labelling is one such issue. The lifestyle associated with farming and the 24-seven nature of the commitment it involves is significant.
In recent years, much good work has been done in the area of food labelling and traceability at EU and national level. The customer is quite correct in demanding more information, higher standards and improved quality. Ireland has invested heavily in the development of traceability systems. The National Beef Assurance Scheme Act 2000 came into force in 2002 against a background of increasing consumer awareness of the importance of good quality and safe food and the need for high standards of production and processing throughout the food chain.
The purpose of the Act is to provide additional guarantees to consumers on the safety of Irish beef by the establishment of common high standards of production and processing across the industry. Under the Act, all participants in the beef industry must be registered and approved for business.
The Act underpins the Irish bovine animal identification and tracing system, which traces the origin, identity, movements and life history of cattle. In line with animal traceability there have been comprehensive EU regulations on labelling of beef since 2000. These regulations require those marketing beef within the Community to provide information on the label to enable the beef to be traced back to the source animals and the country of origin.
Last year, new extended beef labelling rules came into operation in Ireland. These require hotels, restaurants, pubs providing food and effectively all catering establishments and food service outlets, to give information on the country of origin of the beef they serve. This new labelling provision will benefit everyone in the supply chain, from farmer to butcher and right through to the end customer.
Furthermore, last year the hygiene and public health protection rules were streamlined and the new hygiene package covers everything from the animal health of the milking animals to the labelling of finished products leaving the processing plant. There is an increasing and justifiable demand from consumers at home and abroad for the highest standards of hygiene and quality and we must respond to that demand by ensuring that the standards laid down in the regulations are not alone achieved but surpassed. In the proposed legislation, "origin" will be defined as the country where the animal was reared and, if different, the country of slaughter. This will have to be indicated on meat and meat products containing more than 70% meat. Regardless of the nature, extent or location of the processing or packaging that has gone into the manufacture of the product, the requirement to show actual country of rearing and slaughter of the animal will remain in place and substantial transformation will not override this.
The ideal situation would be to have European-wide legislation on origin labelling of these other meats in the same way as for beef. This would make compliance and enforcement much more feasible. I understand that the Minister, Deputy Mary Coughlan, has lost no opportunity to impress this on her EU ministerial colleagues. The Department has also contributed to a Commission consultation process on the broad area of food labelling where emphasis was placed on the importance of providing the consumer with comprehensive information on the origin of meat.
In my constituency, a privately-owned food producing company, Castlemahon Poultry Products Limited, closed its doors over the past year. The parent company was located outside the jurisdiction in Ballymena. The company had a significant impact on my constituency of Limerick West. Apart from the labelling issue which was raised during the liquidation process, the Castlemahon brand which is known both nationally and internationally was not registered. One of the assets was the brand name. The liquidator registered the brand name and sold it. This was a lesson to be learned.
As a TD representing a rural constituency, I meet farmers and farm families on a daily basis. They have every confidence in the Minister, Deputy Mary Coughlan and in the Ministers of State.
I am delighted to have this opportunity to address the House on the amended motion tabled by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on behalf of the Government. This Government has taken a proactive approach to the development of the agrifood sector, in line with its Agri Vision 2015 plan.
The report sets out a vision identifying the delivery of safe, high-quality, nutritious food, produced in a sustainable manner to well-informed consumers in high value markets as the optimum road for the future of the Irish food industry. The 160 actions in the Agri Vision action plan form a coherent strategy and are reinforced by the 2016 partnership agreement and the National Development Plan 2007-2013. The agriculture and food elements alone of the NDP will account for a total public expenditure of €8.7 billion and together they constitute an integrated package that addresses the overall developmental needs of the sector and specific requirements in the areas of competitiveness, consumer-focus and innovation.
The Government has today received EU approval for the suckler welfare scheme. The new, fully Exchequer-funded scheme is an important initiative aimed at improving welfare and quality in the national suckler herd. The suckler herd is the source of our high quality beef, which is vital to the rural economy. Increased welfare standards will add to the high quality reputation of our beef sector.
In developing this scheme the Government will deliver on another key element of the Agri Vision 2015 plan, which identified the beef sector as a vital area for development. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coughlan, will adopt a coherent and structured approach to the beef sector, the overall aim of which is to equip it to meet the challenges and to exploit the opportunities available in the coming decade. This measure is part of that process.
A number of important steps have been taken to assist the beef and dairy sectors, including the introduction of a capital investment programme of €50 million to cover investment at processing level. The programme, which will also aid the sheep sector, will assist the industry in improving efficiencies and to better compete on challenging export markets.
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coughlan, also launched a new dairy processing industry investment package designed to stimulate necessary investment in the sector to ensure the long-term competitiveness of the dairy industry in Ireland. A total of 19 capital investment projects were approved and awarded Government grant assistance of €114 million. This will generate an estimated capital spend of €286 million.
Government support for the agrifood sector is also provided through the promotion of Irish food and drink products at home and abroad. Bord Bia is charged with this function and receives a grant-in-aid for this purpose. In the case of pigmeat, Bord Bia works closely with producers to promote quality assured pork and bacon on the home market and the Minister has asked Bord Bia to intensify this promotion campaign. I am pleased to note that the pre-budget outlook for 2008 provides for a grant-in-aid of €27.505 million, which is more than the record €26.505 million grant-in-aid for 2007, to support Bord Bia in its marketing and promotion activities.
Irish beef is distributed to more retailers in Europe than beef from any other country. This provides us with an ideal platform to develop the higher value and premium segments of the retail and food service market for Irish beef. The current Bord Bia European beef promotion has been instrumental in building the presence and reputation of Irish beef with consumers and trade to support this significant sustained growth. Plans will be finalised with stakeholders on how we can build on the successful repositioning of Irish beef in the European marketplace as the final phase of the three year campaign comes to an end. Securing our position and seeking higher returns from the market remain critical for the future of Irish beef production in the face of formidable competition from low cost producers.
Bord Bia operates quality assurance schemes in the beef, lamb, pigmeat, poultry, eggs and horticultural products sectors. These are fully integrated schemes whereby standards are developed at producer and processor or packer level. Any product approved under the Bord Bia quality assurance scheme qualifies to carry the Bord Bia quality logo which assists in identifying the origin of the product on the supermarket shelf as well as verifying that the product is quality assured.
Irish produce is noted for its high quality and safety and perhaps this is the reason we are debating the issue of labelling. My colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Sargent, will speak in greater detail on this matter, as will the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Gallagher. The reason we are proud to label our produce is its high quality and safety standard.
There is no doubt that the industry faces many challenges in an increasingly competitive market. The story is to sell our beef and we can speak negatively or we can go down the road of promoting the quality of beef, which we see as the way forward for the industry.
The measures I referred to demonstrate clearly the Government's commitment to the development of the agrifood industry. The Department also has a range of other measures, including in the forestry and bio-energy areas. I assure Deputies that the Government will not be found wanting in taking necessary and appropriate action to defend and promote the best interests of all stakeholders in our most important indigenous industry, putting quality and standards first and dealing with the labelling issue.
I welcome the statement made yesterday by the Minister. The programme for Government will further exploit the potential of existing animal traceability systems for the marketing and labelling of food products, extending the mandatory "country of origin" food labelling to sheep, pig and poultry meat, and increasing nutritional awareness as part of our food advertising and marketing through the development of nutritional and calorific labelling.
The need for stronger food labelling legislation is accepted by all. It was Schopenhauer who stated that all truth passes through three stages: it is ridiculed; it is opposed and it is accepted as being self-evident. We have arrived at a stage where authorities and consumers accept that misleading and cryptic food labelling is unacceptable. We have a problem when a chicken leg or a piece of pork from China is mildly processed in this country and then passed off as Irish or when people look at the contents of a jar or packet and see letters and numbers or convoluted phrases which they do not understand and know nothing of their health implications.
As the Green Party spokesperson on rural and community affairs and coming from the rural constituency of Carlow-Kilkenny, I have observed the stark contrast that exists between the indecipherable world of food labelling on products in supermarkets and the guiding principles found in country markets where fresh produce is devoid of harmful additives or confusing labelling and where markets act as incubators for local business by way of the direct and immediate feedback from consumers at the stalls. People go to such markets because the food is fresh and is produced carefully and consistently, and they know what they are getting and where it is from. Such transparency of processes has bred the success which such markets now experience, fostering in turn sustainable regional food economies.
I welcome the report published this week by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, The Labelling of Food in Ireland, and hope that its contents will help to clarify for producers and the public alike what should be contained in food labelling. I will examine the section covering organic food labelling in detail to support the organic food sector. The authority has highlighted the high proportion of producers who fail to comply with labelling legislation. I look forward to additional resources being made available to enforce such laws, particularly if it is envisaged that they will be extended to include sheep, pigs and poultry meat.
I support the Government in its efforts at European level to influence the current review of food labelling legislation. It is inadequate that the guiding principle of EU food labelling legislation is that labelling should not mislead consumers. We must endeavour to make it informative and intelligible.
Food and food safety is a hot topic. There has been a perceptible shift in attitudes among the public. People now expect to know from where and how healthy is the food on the shop shelf. However, in this modern world of limitless choice we have never been more in the dark about what we are offered. The "E" or the number on the contents label must mean something. The country of origin on a label must be the actual country of origin. We have the opportunity to choose a role as the leader in food safety in promoting our clean green sustainable image. We are living in a consumer paradise of immediate gratification with the express delivery of designer foods and designer genes — I mean genes spelt with a "G". It is time for the merits of quality food, produced in a quality environment, to be clearly labelled for the betterment of our farmers and discerning consumers so a reputation for quality food, clearly labelled and marketed is a source of local and national pride in Ireland. I have every confidence that both Departments involved will deliver this goal.
Trevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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Tá áthas orm an deis a fháil cúrsaí bia agus feirmeoireachta a phlé sa Dáil. Gabhaim buíochas le Fine Gael, an Teachta Michael Creed go háirithe, as a gcuid ama a chur ar fáil don díospóireacht seo. Gabhaim buíochas freisin le Teachtaí eile, ar nós an Teachta Seán Sherlock, as a gcuid tuairimí luachmhara ar an gceist. Cuirim fáilte roimh ráiteas an Aire aréir chomh maith. Ba mhaith liom cúpla rud a rá mar gheall ar lipéidí, go háirithe de bharr gur iad sin croílár na ceiste anseo anocht.
The first demand of consumers is that the food they eat must be safe. The Government is committed to the highest standards of food safety. The acceptance of Irish food products in so many markets around the world is a clear vote of confidence. It was not clear from the debate last night if Opposition Deputies wanted the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, to ban imports of Brazilian beef from the entire EU or just from Ireland. It seemed to be a mixture of both. I must reiterate the reality of the issue. The fact is that Ireland is a member of the EU and, as such, must work within its rules. It is the European Commission which is charged with determining the countries permitted to trade in animal products with the EU. Nonetheless, as we heard last night, the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, has made numerous representations to the EU Commissioner for Health, Mr. Kyprianou, emphasising the importance of applying EU policy that requires that imports of animal products from outside the EU meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in, and trade between, EU member states.
The Commissioner has assured the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, that the Commission will not hesitate to take the appropriate protection measures if a product, imported from a third country represents a risk for the health of EU consumers, livestock or plants. In this context, the Commission relies on reports of the EU Food and Veterinary Office. The Food and Veterinary Office is scheduled to undertake another mission to Brazil next month and I await the outcome of that visit with interest.
Trevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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It is urgent that we hear what it has to say after that visit. The Minister will continue to pursue this matter in the light of the outcome of that visit. Like the Deputy I look forward to the outcome of that visit too.
Trevor Sargent (Minister of State with special responsibility for Food and Horticulture, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Dublin North, Green Party)
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Consumers have an absolute right to know the origin of meat and all food products offered for sale. EU beef labelling regulations have been in place for some time. These regulations require the listing on the label of the place of birth, rearing and slaughter of the animals from which the beef has been derived. In the past, the scope of the regulations applied only to the retailer. Last year, the Minister for Health and Children introduced primary legislation providing for the country of origin of beef to be displayed in restaurants and other catering establishments. Deputies may have seen some of the literature produced by the Food Safety Authority in line with that legislation, advice for caterers and country of origin of beef labelling requirements.
Since my appointment I have had a number of meetings with my colleague the Minister of State, Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher, who has responsibility for food safety, about how our two Departments can improve the enforcement of labelling legislation. For example, we are working on a wider public awareness campaign to alert customers, restaurants and the public at large on how to be active and informed advocates for full factual labelling, especially for beef.
Under that legislation, it is proposed to extend the labelling requirements to other meats and meat products. These new regulations would require the country of origin of all meat to be displayed on the label. In the proposed legislation "origin" will be defined as the country where the animal was reared and, if different, the country of slaughter.
This will have to be indicated on meat products containing over 70% meat. Regardless of the nature, extent or location of processing or packaging that has gone into the manufacture of the product the requirement to show actual country of rearing and slaughter of the animal will remain in place and this will not be superseded by any "substantial transformation" rules. These regulations will be introduced as quickly as possible but this can only be done with the approval of the European Commission. I share the frustration of Deputies in that matter. The requirement awaiting the Commission's approval will impose a minimum of three months' delay in finalising the legislation.
The possibility of a "Green Island" label has been raised during this debate. Ba bhreá liom a leithéad de lipéad a fháil, a fheiceáil agus a chuir i bhfeidhm. While I am committed to promoting Irish food in every way possible, and while I have been doing so when travelling throughout Ireland and Europe since my appointment, for example, to Anuga in Cologne recently, we must all operate within EU law, and within the Single Market rules. According to the European Court, any buy Irish-type scheme cannot be funded by taxpayers' money. However, we do encourage any privately funded scheme which would highlight the origin of Irish produce. We are talking to the restaurants association and other bodies that can help in that regard.
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I do not have the money myself. The Deputy heard what I said. It is illegal to use taxpayers' money.
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Any scheme which falls foul of EU rules will find us in a legal dispute with the European Commission which will be of no benefit to producers.
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We have taken practical measures, which are in conformity with European law, to inform and protect consumers. The route we have followed is quality assurance. Bord Bia, which operates under the aegis of my Department, has developed quality assurance schemes for pigmeat, beef, eggs and horticulture to name but a few sectors. These schemes offer the consumer additional assurances of quality. Bord Bia has been provided with special funding in the 2007 Estimates for quality assurance to supplement the funding in its grant-in-aid. The Bord Bia quality assurance logo provides consumers with an assurance that all pork and bacon carrying the logo is sourced from quality assured farms and with information about the country of origin.
Bord Bia has encouraged the use of the new "Quality Assurance Scheme" logo on eligible products, and a range of promotional activities to increase consumer awareness of the logo has been undertaken in recent years. This has involved a combination of television, radio, press and outdoor advertising combined with point of sale material in retail outlets. A recent national consumer awareness survey indicated that two thirds of the population are now aware of the "Quality Assurance Scheme Origin" logo. The promotional activity in this regard will continue throughout the coming year.
I acknowledge that securing low-cost, high quality feed is becoming more of a problem. Ireland does not produce sufficient amounts of animal feed to meet its needs. Until we become more self-reliant, we will continue to be hostage to international grain and feed markets. The main reason feed prices have risen is a shortage caused by the US policy of sending, last year, 20% of maize to make ethanol, and climate change which causes drought in large, grain-exporting regions.
While high feed prices are a bonus for cereal producers, the feed security problem is affecting all feed import dependent farmers. I am committed to resolving those difficulties, both in the short term and with a view to securing market advantage for Irish produce.
I am committed to ensuring choice for farmers who wish to use non-GM feed. At present, these farmers have great difficulty in securing affordable GM-free or organic feed. The supply of non-GM feed needs to be encouraged if these farmers are to take advantage of the demand in European markets for produce fed on non-GM feed. This will aid Ireland in developing markets for high quality conventional and organic Irish beef.
The decision by Ireland to abstain on the recent EU Council vote on GM animal feeds is in line with France and Italy which also abstained. France and Italy are major buyers of Irish produce.
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I have to finish, my time is short. The Irish Government is committed to negotiating an all-Ireland GM-free zone. The Minister for Agriculture in Northern Ireland likewise feels strongly on this issue. Ireland's abstention on the recent votes on approving GM feed was the most appropriate position to take given that a process has now begun, involving the relevant Departments, to elaborate on this commitment and tease out its implications for policy. The French, Italians and others are involved in similar processes.
I wish to share time with Deputies Tom Sheahan, Bannon, D'Arcy, Tom Hayes, P.J. Sheehan, Enright, Naughten and Deenihan. It is clear there is much Fine Gael interest in this issue.
I thank the Minister for addressing the issue as did Deputy Mary White. Unfortunately their Fianna Fáil colleagues chose not to do that and instead gave us a party political broadcast on general agricultural issues, which is not what this motion is about. This motion is about two specific issues, ensuring that consumers know what they are eating and where it comes from and ensuring that food producers can produce food against competition from abroad on a fair and level playing pitch. Those are the two key issues and there is a whole series of associated issues. To be fair to the Minister he tried to address some of those.
The current situation is not acceptable and it is not adequate that when people think they are buying Irish meat they may well find, given some research, that they are not. That is the essence of the problem. It has been a source of huge frustration for farming organisations and meat producers in Ireland for many years. Every time I attend an IFA meeting and this issues arises, the spokespersons for all parties say they will ensure country of origin labelling in the future and that it will be watertight. It still has not happened. For the nine years since I was first elected to this House I have been saying that to the farmers in my constituency, even though their numbers are diminishing now. The motion expresses frustration that despite the efforts to introduce country of origin labelling and the regulations that were introduced last year specifically for beef, it is still not happening because of loopholes. If a side of beef comes in from Brazil and is butchered in Ireland by being chopped, diced, minced or whatever, it is relabelled as an Irish product. That is the practical consequence of what has happened.
The Government needs to show some leadership either by lobbying at European level, which I know it does, or by introducing national legislation. The substantial transformation issue whereby meat or other food is brought into Ireland and is reprocessed or changed in some form and resold as an Irish product because it has been altered by an Irish company is deliberately misleading consumers and giving them a false sense of security that they are eating Irish produced meat with all the associated standards that we have built up over decades in terms of traceability, animal husbandry standards etc. because of a range of regulations that are applied in Ireland and across the European Union.
At the start of his speech the Minister of State said that we must require that imports of animals produced outside the EU meet standards that are at least equivalent to those required for production in and trade between EU member states. We need to continue to press this issue. Irish farmers do not want hand-outs. They want an opportunity to compete with farmers abroad who look to sell their products into Ireland in the same way that Irish produce must compete in other European countries when it is exported.
It is with a degree of urgency that I rise to speak in the House to convey my disapproval at the manner in which the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is handling the very important agriculture and food industry here and in an EU context. We are talking about a beef industry worth in excess of €15 billion per annum, a pig industry worth €450 million per annum and a poultry industry worth €250 million per annum. Surely the Minister is not blind to the fact that those three industries are under serious threat from the imports of Brazilian beef into the European Union and the imports of chickens and pork from China, Thailand and other far Eastern locations. This practice must end and clear country of origin labelling is essential. It is no good for these outside products to be brought in by the back door, put through some machine here and called Irish food. That is codding the consumer, as the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, knows. When he was in opposition he was vehement in this respect and cited his concerns and desires about it. However, apparently he is now rowing in with his Government colleagues.
The consumer must be assured that the product sold in our shops, supermarkets and giant superstores guarantees the country of origin on all food items displayed on their shelves or served in restaurants. In this day and age the poor form-filling Irish farmer is nearly required to declare the field on which his fat cattle produced for slaughter ate grass to accommodate the Department in its rules and regulations. These meat products are now being dumped on our consumers with no knowledge of the continent from which they came. Prior to our entry into the European Union we were advised that Irish agriculture would become the breadbasket of Europe. Instead we seem to be becoming the stewing pot of Europe.
This is happening because the Minister failed to impress on the European Union the need to stop the imports from Brazil and the far eastern countries of beef, pork and poultry products. Worse still the Minister is allowing them to be sold as Irish products. Furthermore, shops in my village of Goleen have been visited by inspectors to ascertain whether the shopkeeper has indicated the country of origin of oranges, apples, pears, bananas, cabbage, carrots and parsnips. However, the Government turns a blind eye to the back-door imports from third countries into Europe and this country. The Minister should cut out the codding for once and for all and ensure that we eat genuine Irish beef, pork and poultry.
The motion addresses a major issue, namely, the survival of the Irish agrifood industry. I am delighted to speak on this motion having raised the future of the pig industry on the Adjournment debate last week. The range of matters included in this motion is an indictment of the actions of the Minister, which have consistently failed Irish farmers since she first attempted to gain some insight into agricultural matters with, it now appears, little success. The bottom line is that Irish farmers expect the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to protect their interest and in tandem those of the consumer. However, how can we consider that she is in any way protecting our farmers or consumers? The evidence is of a sector that is foundering due to inadequate back-up from the person assigned to look after the interest of the industry which accounts for 10% of employment, 8.5% of GDP and 25% of net foreign earnings.
Pig farmers are held to ransom by the rising cost of animal feed and an extraordinarily muddled approach by the Minister to the acceleration of EU approval for feed crops with GM components. On 27 September the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, abstained in a crucial vote at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels, yet she was actively in favour of the EU proposals last June and had the full support of the IFA. However, some disjointed thinking forced her into a change of heart that was never fully explained. This U-turn has damaged Ireland's credibility in Brussels and assurances given by her last June now count for nothing. Irish farmers are once again facing heavy financial losses in this sector and rely heavily on the import of grain.
The delays and the obstruction of grain and protein supplies have a detrimental effect on the entire livestock sector. The problem faced by our farmers are compounded by the labelling abuse which we know to our cost is permitted under the substantial transformation loopholes. In terms of meat we have a product from a source unknown to the consumer packaged here and labelled as Irish, for example beef from Brazil. The bottom line is that the only way to take action is through the courts to secure a prosecution. When will the first prosecution be made, which will successfully resolve this matter? The Minister of State is cowering and fearful in regard to issues raised. Such a weak approach is an insult to our farmers whose future in the agriculture industry is yet again on the line.
Europe must have a sustainable supply of its own food. World food production is no longer in a state of permanent surplus due to increased consumption by China and India, climate change affecting production and the diversion of lands to bio-fuels.
Why does Ireland as a producer of internationally renowned foodstuffs need labelling? The case of winter beef finishers, of whom I used to be one, should be considered. Last year most producers lost approximately €100 per head. The best case scenario for this winter is a maximum gross margin of €50 per head, which is unsustainable. European food production is highly regulated to guarantee premium foodstuffs. This is the correct model of food production but it is only sustainable if the product price allows a margin for the producer. Only clear labelling informing the consumer of the standards of production in regard to hormone usage, veterinary medicine usage, inputs, including the usage of GM crops, and animal welfare standards can ensure a premium price for a premium product. That underpins the sustainability of food production. No other producing bloc achieves the same standards of food production as Europe, otherwise food for European producers and consumers would be fraught with dangers. Europe must ensure this supply.
In 1900 the world's population was 1.5 billion whereas today it is more than 6 billion and it is projected to be 20 billion by 2050. At this time, it would be folly for Europe to compromise its agriculture industry in any way. No threat to food security can be tolerated and Europe must err on the side of caution. If there is a risk from any source, the food industry must be protected. The greatest risk currently is Brazilian beef and it should be banned immediately. I welcome today's decision by the EU Commission regarding the importation of Herculex maize for feed. This will allow EU farmers to use the 2006 feed in their units. Unfortunately, this has all been traded by now and this decision will have a limited impact on the current high prices. There is a problem with the 2007 crop, which is almost fully harvested, because it contains two new GM crops, which are not approved by the EU. GM technologies are outpacing the approval systems. This begs the question of whether the Government will abstain on this occasion again or adopt a proactive position to facilitate EU farmers.
I fully support the motion. The way the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is handling the Brazilian beef issue is a total disgrace. It is unfair to the farming community, which has reacted responsibly over the years regarding traceability from birth to slaughter. Every movement of every animal in the State is documented to the minute.
What the Minister is presiding over is a disgrace. Brazilian beef, which cannot be traced, is being imported. People do not know what they are eating in restaurants and elsewhere because of the Minister's inaction. Nobody knows what are the problems associated with disease in Brazilian beef. Hormones, which can destroy animals, are freely available. Brazilian animals, which are imported for processing in Ireland, are full of hormones and they are destroying our agriculture industry. The motion might do nothing other than prompt the Minister to do something about this deplorable situation.
I am disappointed the Government felt the need to oppose the motion, which relates to something people have sought for years. Like many colleagues, I attended pre-election meetings with the IFA in Laois and Offaly. Every party was represented at the meetings and everybody agreed with the IFA and Fine Gael that this issue needed to be addressed, yet eight months later, the Government has adopted a totally different attitude.
Our farmers operate to the highest, strictest standards and suffer severe penalties for the most minor infringements, even if they are completely accidental. They accept this because they know, in part, this is done to protect their market, yet they must tolerate a scenario where their direct competition does not meet the same criteria.
Consumers are unwittingly forced to purchase products that look Irish although they are anything but. The Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, accused Deputy Hayes of promoting law breaking. We want country of origin labelling because such labelling is clear. I visit supermarkets and the British flag, for example, is clearly emblazoned on British produce. Irish produce should be clearly labelled in the same way. We are not promoting law breaking. The origin of products should be clearly identified so that if sauce or breadcrumbs are added to a product, it is not classed as Irish.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I would like to focus on an issue, which I have raised with the Minister on numerous occasions, namely, the unpublished 2004 report by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland into the traceability and recall systems within the food industry. The report highlighted the complete failure of the current labelling regime to protect domestic shoppers. The report stated consumers are often misled on the country of origin of beef, chicken and salmon. It found that beef products marked and labelled as Irish originated in South America and imported salmon and chicken were also labelled as Irish. It was also pointed out that one fifth of retail outlets did not provide adequate information in line with laws in place at the time on loose and packaged beef.
I cannot understand why the Government is unwilling or unprepared to enforce the laws relating to the retail and catering sectors. A total of 75% of catering outlets and 20% of retail outlets are ignoring the law. While the Minister pontificated about all she was doing last night, it would be more in her line to ensure the legislation passed by the Oireachtas was enforced and resources were provided to do so. The Minister will pass the buck to someone else on this issue but the law is not being enforced.
The FSAI report was never published. However, when I raised this in the House on 14 February 2006, the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Tim O'Malley, stated: "This year the Food Safety Authority of Ireland proposes to conduct a series of checks on various sectors of the food industry in conjunction with the staff of its official agencies. I would like to assure the Deputy that it is intended that the results of these audits will be published." However, after 20 months, instead of a comprehensive audit, a review of the labelling laws was published yesterday. Strangely, this publication made little mention of the blatant abuse of labelling laws. What happened to the extensive audit that was to be carried out in 2006? Has the audit been hidden? Was it ever completed? If not, why not? Were the FSAI and the Departments of Health and Children and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food afraid of what they would find if they carried out and published the audit?
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Minister for Health and Children have been aware of the contents of the 2004 report for three years. Nothing has happened and the report has only gathered dust. They are now complicit in a further cover up and a gross abuse of our labelling laws. Beef from Brazil, pork from the United States, vegetables from Israel, poultry from Asia and lamb from New Zealand can be brought into this country and sold as Irish food products when the only Irish aspect is the label itself. It is a disgraceful situation and one that cannot be accepted within the European Union.
It is extremely frustrating for Irish farmers that an animal that is sent to a meat processing facility in this State without the necessary traceability tags is immediately put in the skip. However, the Department turns a blind eye to what is happening in the food industry. I commend the motion to the House.
I fully support the Fine Gael motion. The agricultural sector is under pressure from all sides. Farmers are getting lower prices for their products while paying increased prices for feed products. All that the agricultural industry seeks is a level playing field. Farmers in Ireland are regulated to the highest degree but must compete in the marketplace with food products from other countries with entirely different standards. Legislation must be introduced to provide a comprehensive labelling system. What is being demanded is not rocket science. We have talked about it for long enough.
Consumers are entitled to be confident that they are supporting Irish farmers. The only way this can be achieved is through a comprehensive labelling system that accurately indicates the origin of the products they wish to purchase.
I had the privilege of serving in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food more than ten years ago. At that time, there was major concern about BSE. The then Minister and I confronted that challenge by putting in place adequate regulations to protect the future of the beef industry. One aspect of this was our concern to ensure the safety of Irish meat products, which we dealt with by introducing a comprehensive labelling system. Ten years later, however, little progress has been made. The legislation and directives are in place but, as I know at first hand, they are not being implemented.
The recently published report, The Labelling of Food in Ireland 2007, states:
Information required under the beef labelling regulations should be applied to, or attached to, individual pieces of meat or to their packaging material. Where beef is not wrapped, the information is required to be provided in a written and visible form to the consumer at the point of sale.
However, this is not happening. That is the bottom line.
Under WTO regulations, Brazil is entitled to export a specified quantity of beef to Europe and elsewhere. The issue we are discussing is the safety of that beef. Deputy Neville told me he worked in a meat processing plant in Rathkeale some years ago that exported a large quantity of beef to the United States. Every month, customer representatives came from the United States to inspect the quality of the meat they wished to purchase. Does somebody from Ireland or the EU travel regularly to Brazil to monitor the origin of the beef being exported here and how it is processed?
My question is whether that inspection is happening. The same standards are not being applied to meat that is imported here.
The issue of the country of origin is at the core of this debate. Current regulations stipulate that if a beef product is derived from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the country in which it is being sold, the identification on the label may indicate that the country of origin is that country. If the beef is derived from animals from different countries, the label must indicate country or countries of birth, fattening and slaughter. An example might be an indication that a piece of beef came from an animal that was born and reared in France and slaughtered in Ireland. However, these regulations are simply not being upheld.
The Minister makes frequent reference to the Féile Bia scheme when addressing groups in this country and elsewhere on this issue. This was an excellent concept. However, in very few of those restaurants branded and accredited by Féile Bia does the menu declare the origin of the beef or lamb. This is because most of it comes from Brazil.
That is not what I said. My point is that the Minister is naive if she does not accept that what I have outlined is happening. That is the bottom line. There is no comprehensive monitoring of the Féile Bia scheme throughout the State. It is a great concept but it has not been successful because it is inadequately regulated.
I support this important motion. I am disappointed there are not more farmers' representatives in the Gallery.
While the issues raised in the course of this debate relate primarily to the responsibilities of my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, it is appropriate, given my role as Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, with responsibility for food safety, that I reply to some of the issues raised. Rather than attempting to respond to all the points made, I will limit my contribution to a few issues of particular concern.
During this debate, the importance of good food information has been emphasised. The higher level of sophistication of the modern consumer, the greater health awareness of the general public, the increase in the number of products available on the Irish and international markets, and the continued globalisation of trade have all contributed to a greater need to ensure information is presented in a comprehensive, unambiguous manner. The necessity for well regulated labelling of foodstuffs has never been greater.
The Government recognises the importance of labelling. Both the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have produced a significant body of work in this area. In the past two years, four items of EU labelling legislation have been transposed. At national level, 2006 saw the enactment of primary legislation under which the beef-labelling requirements on country of origin were extended to the catering sector.
This year, there has been a consultation programme, culminating in draft national legislation on country of origin labelling. This legislation is intended to extend mandatory country of origin food labelling to sheep, pig and poultry meats. The Department of Health and Children is progressing this proposed legislation in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It will, of course, be necessary to notify the draft legislation to the European Commission to allow the Commission and other member states an opportunity to comment.
While much work has been done in the area of labelling by Departments, it must be recognised that the industry has a responsibility as well.
With this in mind, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland announced yesterday a new report on food labelling in Ireland and a national campaign on the importance of correct food product labelling. This report, The Labelling of Food in Ireland 2007, aims to dispel confusion as to what a food label should contain. It will ultimately assist food businesses to ensure correct labelling. This will benefit consumers by enabling them to make informed purchasing decisions based on accurate and clear food labelling.
All food labelling should provide sufficient information to help all of us as consumers make an informed purchasing decision. Given that label space is limited, it is accepted that it may be necessary to distinguish the information that must be provided from that which should be provided. Further discussion is necessary on this information.
We must determine what information should be mandatory and what should be optional. Food labelling should be clear, consistent and understandable. The current diversity of legislation, coupled with a range of regulations or directives, represents a complex and potentially confusing matrix. Therefore, it is being recommended that the provisions currently spread across a number of texts be recast into a simplified text.
Deputies will be aware that at EU level, a working group has been set up to consider changes to legislation in this area as part of the Commission's overall review of food labelling legislation. Ireland submitted its particular concerns on food labelling to the Commission as part of this process. It is intended the Commission will present the document produced by the working group to the European Parliament in December.
Both Departments will be working closely with the Commission on this issue and I have suggested that a regulation, rather than a directive, would be the most appropriate legislative tool. It would provide less scope for differing interpretations across member states.
It is clear there are many changes on the horizon for those involved in food control activity in Ireland. Most of these changes emanate from Brussels and the European Union has been and will continue to be the main driver of change in food safety. It is therefore important that Ireland continues to be an active participant in the decision-making process.
It is important to bear in mind that the agrifood industry is not only an industry of great importance to the Irish economy and in the maintenance of the fabric of rural life, but it is also an industry of great potential.
I thank Deputy Creed for putting down this fine motion. It is an awful pity some on the Government side would not listen to our comments. I have no doubt that if the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, was sitting on this side, as he did for the previous five years, he would agree with us and press the red button tonight. It is very sad the Minister of State's party has not got what it takes to tell the Government what to do.
I agree with the comments from those on this side of the House that we must have an honest debate on this matter. The Commission of the European Communities published a White Paper on food safety in January 2000. Chapter 7 of that White Paper states: "Consumers are to be provided with essential and accurate information so that they can make informed choices". That is not happening.
Binding labelling rules must therefore be accurate in ensuring the consumer has the information on product characteristics and determines choice on composition, storage and use of the product. Operators should be free to provide more information on the label, provided this information is correct and not misleading.
Has the Minister seen the IFA DVD which showed recordings made in Brazil?
If the Minster had seen it, she would vote with us tonight. As Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coughlan should be ashamed to watch the contents of that DVD. Irish people are eating that Brazilian beef, with no traceability and no labelling. The Minister and Ministers of State should be ashamed to stand over that. We have all spoken about food safety and I am sure the Minister has people looking after that issue in her Department. What the contents of the DVD show is deplorable. It is scandalous and shameful to have Brazilian beef imported into this country.
An Irish farmer has much to go through. Agricultural officials come on to farms to see what medication is given to animals, but this should be compared to the medication given by Brazilian farmers to their animals, which end up as beef in this country. I ask the Minister to look into this shameful activity.
The two most important items in this motion are the protection of consumers and farmers by introducing a comprehensive labelling legislation and the banning of substandard imports, and the protection of consumers and farmers by closing the legal loopholes allowing foreign produce to be passed off as Irish.
The Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, has stated that "the necessity for well-regulated labelling of foodstuffs has never been greater". Has the Minister of State read the report, The Labelling of Food in Ireland 2007? He has indicated he had read this. The CEO of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, Dr. John O'Brien, as recently as last Monday clearly outlined four examples which the Minister of State has clearly ignored.
One example was that fish sold as cod was actually pollack and another was that 25% of honey labelled as Irish is imported. Another example was that gluten-free breakfast cereals had high levels of gluten in them. If the Minister of State was serious about the contents of his address, he would not have mentioned that particular report.
I have previously spoken of Bord Bia, a statutory body with responsibility for food labelling on Irish products.
A representative of that statutory body approached the owner of a restaurant in County Galway and asked him if he was interested in getting certification for his restaurant. The restaurant owner was told that if he was interested, he had to get beef from a wholesaler in this country who turned out to import Brazilian beef. The restaurant owner stated his beef came from his own cattle. The official told the owner he could not receive certification if he was using his own beef.
I wish to speak on two issues. We cannot have two rules in this country, one for the Irish farmer and a different one for the Brazilian farmer. If there is foot and mouth disease in Brazil, their beef should not be coming into this country.
For any food in this country, we should have a label detailing where it was produced and we should not allow any industry to put Irish labels on if the product is not Irish. The same thing is happening in the pig industry, where pigs are being brought in from all over the world and being labelled as Irish. That is the kind of world in which we are living. I thought when Deputy Sargent was to be made Minister of State with responsibility for food, we would have many proposals, the first being that we would see proper labelling on food. While I accept that the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, holds responsibility in this regard, I would not ask him to take action. He let the fishermen down and now he is going to let us down with regard to food labelling.
——to know that what they are eating is safe and that it is produced by Irish farmers. We do not want the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food placing all kinds of restrictions on farmers and business while allowing beef to be imported from Brazil where foot and mouth disease is prevalent. That is a disgrace and should not be allowed to happen. We should know that what we are eating is safe but instead we have one rule for Irish farmers and another for their Brazilian counterparts. Shame on the Government because farmers are sick and tired of being over-regulated. The most common complaint one hears from them is that they are over-regulated. Meanwhile, the Government will not regulate those it should be regulating.
I thank colleagues on this side of the House who spoke in support of the motion. I particularly welcome the support we received from the Labour Party. I thank the Members on the opposite side who went to the trouble of reading the motion and addressing it in their contributions.
I wish to refresh Members' memories as regards the motion. It relates to consumer information and substantial transformation, the loophole through which a coach and four is being driven in order to facilitate the marketing and passing off of Brazilian beef to consumers here as an Irish product. It also relates to concerns regarding the viability of beef, pig and poultry producers' operations as a result of the difficulties they are experiencing in accessing affordable feed because of the failure to introduce a synchronised regulatory regime between the United States and the European Union. Very few Members opposite, with the exception of the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent, and Deputy White, actually went to the trouble of reading the motion.
The Committee on Procedure and Privileges may wish to examine this matter because the Government's amendment refers to the agrifood package under the national development plan, single farm payments and the meat and dairy industries. It does not in any way address the issue before the House.
The Minister referred to the Agri Vision 2015 action plan, the national development plan, CAP reform, REPS, farm waste management——
The Deputy should read every European Union debate in which my colleague, the former Minister of State at the Department Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Brendan Smith, took part. He was the only one who ever raised the matter.
If one has a problem with traceability and tagging and one goes to a factory with an animal, that animal will end up in a skip and not be processed into the human food chain. Why is it that the Minister can state there is a problem with traceability and tagging of beef from Brazil——
I welcome the thoughtful contribution of the Minister of State, Deputy Sargent. However, I would not entirely agree with what he said.
There is a commitment in the programme for Government in respect of a GM-free island. The issue of GM organisms gives rise to a great deal of emotion and heat but not much light is being shed on it.
I fail to understand how it is possible to have a GM-free island if the Minister facilitates the importation of GM feeds. I support the latter because they have been a part of the agriculture sector here for the past ten years and will continue to be so. There is an issue of serious significance coming down the line in this regard.
Non-GM soya products will not be available in two years' time. Strains of GM soya are being sown in the United States which will be the sole source of protein for the Irish feed industry. This matter must be addressed.
We must engage in a rational debate on the GM issue. If the Minister is intent on creating a GM-free island, we must be informed as to whether this will involve turning around the multi-billion euro agrifood sector and banning the importation of GM feeds.
The Dail Divided:
For the motion: 78 (Dermot Ahern, Michael Ahern, Noel Ahern, Barry Andrews, Chris Andrews, Seán Ardagh, Bobby Aylward, Joe Behan, Niall Blaney, Áine Brady, Cyprian Brady, Johnny Brady, John Browne, Thomas Byrne, Pat Carey, Niall Collins, Margaret Conlon, Seán Connick, Mary Coughlan, Brian Cowen, John Cregan, Ciarán Cuffe, Martin Cullen, John Curran, Jimmy Devins, Timmy Dooley, Michael Finneran, Michael Fitzpatrick, Seán Fleming, Beverley Flynn, Pat Gallagher, Paul Gogarty, John Gormley, Noel Grealish, Seán Haughey, Jackie Healy-Rae, Máire Hoctor, Billy Kelleher, Peter Kelly, Brendan Kenneally, Michael Kennedy, Tony Killeen, Séamus Kirk, Michael Kitt, Tom Kitt, Brian Lenihan Jnr, Conor Lenihan, Michael Lowry, Martin Mansergh, Micheál Martin, Jim McDaid, Tom McEllistrim, Finian McGrath, Mattie McGrath, Michael McGrath, John Moloney, Michael Moynihan, Michael Mulcahy, M J Nolan, Éamon Ó Cuív, Seán Ó Fearghaíl, Darragh O'Brien, Charlie O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Noel O'Flynn, Rory O'Hanlon, Batt O'Keeffe, Mary O'Rourke, Christy O'Sullivan, Dick Roche, Eamon Ryan, Trevor Sargent, Eamon Scanlon, Brendan Smith, Noel Treacy, Mary Wallace, Mary White, Michael Woods)
Against the motion: 65 (Bernard Allen, James Bannon, Seán Barrett, Tommy Broughan, Richard Bruton, Ulick Burke, Joan Burton, Catherine Byrne, Joe Carey, Deirdre Clune, Paul Connaughton, Noel Coonan, Joe Costello, Simon Coveney, Seymour Crawford, Michael Creed, Lucinda Creighton, Michael D'Arcy, John Deasy, Jimmy Deenihan, Andrew Doyle, Damien English, Olwyn Enright, Frank Feighan, Martin Ferris, Charles Flanagan, Terence Flanagan, Brian Hayes, Tom Hayes, Michael D Higgins, Phil Hogan, Brendan Howlin, Paul Kehoe, Ciarán Lynch, Pádraic McCormack, Shane McEntee, Dinny McGinley, Joe McHugh, Liz McManus, Olivia Mitchell, Arthur Morgan, Denis Naughten, Dan Neville, Kieran O'Donnell, Fergus O'Dowd, Jim O'Keeffe, John O'Mahony, Brian O'Shea, Jan O'Sullivan, Willie Penrose, John Perry, Pat Rabbitte, James Reilly, Michael Ring, Alan Shatter, Tom Sheahan, P J Sheehan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Emmet Stagg, David Stanton, Billy Timmins, Mary Upton, Leo Varadkar, Jack Wall)
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Tom Kitt and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Paul Kehoe and Emmet Stagg.