Dáil debates

Thursday, 22 November 2007

3:00 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Question 4: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the revised regulations she will introduce to facilitate the operation of local abattoirs in view of her stated position on local food production promotion. [29499/07]

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor 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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The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will be interested to hear that I will be in Wexford tomorrow to visit an abattoir with the owner and staff. The regulation of local abattoirs is the responsibility of local authorities, who report to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland on this matter. Under new EU regulations, collectively known as the hygiene package and which came into operation on 1 January 2006, 189 local abattoirs are approved by local authorities. Under the hygiene package no distinction is made between local abattoirs and other slaughter plants. Product from all approved establishments, regardless of size, may now be exported provided it is accompanied by appropriate certification.

Local food production is an interest of mine and is becoming increasingly important to the diversity and strength of our food industry. The growth in recent years in the number of farmers' markets, which now amount to more than 130, new interest in farm shops and more publicising of the region from where food and food ingredients come all demonstrate that as our globalised world becomes smaller, people are taking an interest in local produce.

Last week, as part of a renewed focus on local food production, my Department hosted the first national conference on local food in conjunction with Bord Bia. The conference was attended by approximately 300 delegates. It built on a series of regional food fora and was an opportunity to present new research on what consumers understand by local, to explore national and international case studies on successful development of local foods and to look at retailer interest. A guide developed by Bord Bia on selling through farmers' markets, farm shops and box schemes was also launched at the event.

Following on from this initiative I will meet with local authorities in January to discuss the scope within their remit for developing the food economy in their areas. A central part of this will be the scope to support abattoirs with regard to specific activities under the marketing and processing scheme operated by my Department.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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On his way to Wexford, the Minister for State will pass a number of Wicklow abattoirs which have been closed.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor 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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I am conscious of that.

Photo of P J SheehanP J Sheehan (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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Will he open them again?

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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It is hoped a couple of them will be re-opened.

The number of licensed abattoirs ten years ago was 426 as opposed to the figure of 189 mentioned by the Minister of State. The hygiene package has done nothing to aid small abattoirs to re-establish. Grant aid is available for those who want export certification. Will grant aid and revised regulations be provided for people who do not want or need export certification? The regulations governing the supply of local food by a list of quality assured and quality monitored suppliers to local abattoirs should be different to those for large multinational processors who take their raw material from a range of sources throughout the country.

Local authorities will not have the wherewithal to hone in on this. We need specific revised regulations whether this means amending the hygiene package or introducing new regulations specifically governing non-export abattoirs. I hope the experience of the Minister of State in Wexford tomorrow will highlight this and he will learn something on his visit.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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There is a lot to be learned there.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I make this point with respect to the Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor 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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And my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Browne.

Photo of Mary CoughlanMary Coughlan (Minister, Department of Agriculture and Food; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
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Do not forget him.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor 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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I identify with the frustration on this matter. Small abattoirs have particular difficulties which are different to those of large factories. We must deal with the hygiene package, which is an EU package and aims to establish hygiene requirements for EU citizens which everybody will agree should be of the highest standard. Regardless of whether exportation is involved, every EU citizen is entitled to a level of hygiene and safe food. This is the bottom line of the hygiene package. The health check will simplify regulations but I do not want to wait for it as it will not be in place for a couple of years.

The Leader programme, county enterprise boards and the Department's marketing and processing scheme have a role to play. Unfortunately, the amount of money is not as much as I would like it to be and Deputy Doyle will have a similar view on this. The craft butchers' association made a submission to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food which takes account of many of the points made by Deputy Doyle with regard to small abattoirs and this is being considered.

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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A logical way to deal with this is to ring-fence a certain amount of grant aid for small abattoirs without export certificate requirements. The validity of grant-aiding large processing plants already making money and which are moving towards creating a cartel is questionable. We discussed climate change earlier and this raises the matter of food miles. This is part of a bigger picture.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor 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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The marketing and processing scheme is designed specifically for small abattoirs and they will be favoured. The issue should not be confused with regard to exporting. We are discussing the standard and whether an abattoir exports is a matter for its marketing strategy. This concerns a standard which allows them to export if they are in a position to do so. It neither requires an abattoir to export nor distinguishes between exporting and non-exporting plants.

The craft butchers' association will be important in formulating the policy. I hope my visit to Wexford will bring the same level of reality which Deputy Doyle brought to the debate.