Dáil debates

Thursday, 26 November 2009

3:00 pm

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Question 1: To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food his views on the financial and practical effects that the introduction of electronic tagging of sheep will have on the sheep sector here; if he has sought a derogation at European level regarding the introduction of electronic tagging in view of the decline in the sheep sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43825/09]

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State with special responsibility for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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The introduction of electronic identification, EID, for sheep was agreed at EU level in late 2003. At that time, it was agreed to defer the implementation date until January 2008. The Council revisited this issue in December 2007 when it was agreed that the deadline for the compulsory introduction of EID should be set at 31 December 2009, six years after the original decision was taken. I have no discretion regarding the date of implementation.

I have always opposed the mandatory introduction of EID and I have used every opportunity to express both to the relevant European Commissioners, and my colleagues in the Council of Ministers, my clear view that EID should only be introduced on a mandatory basis across Europe when it has been clearly demonstrated that the benefits deriving from EID clearly outweigh any costs or inconveniences associated with its introduction. I have always advocated that EID should only apply on a voluntary basis for that reason. This position was again stated at the Council last week. I also raised the question of facilitating traditional cross-border trade in slaughter lambs at this forum. Unfortunately, most other member states do not share this problem of cross-border trade and were, therefore, unwilling to agree to further concessions in this respect.

In parallel to this opposition, I have placed an emphasis on acquiring concessions that will minimise any inconvenience in its introduction and will take due account of Irish conditions. In particular, provision has been made to exempt from EID, lambs under 12 months that are intended for slaughter. This means the vast majority of Irish sheep will not be affected by the EID requirement. Primarily, only those animals retained for breeding over the coming years will have to be electronically tagged and, therefore, the additional costs to farmers in any given year are being kept to a minimum. In these circumstances, it is with the greatest reluctance that we must prepare for the introduction of EID during 2010. I urge the stakeholders to engage with my officials with a view to implementing a system best suited to Irish conditions.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I am not sure I would like to thank the Minister of State for his reply but we are getting nearer to having all the facts on the table. I appreciate the history lesson and, in some respects, I have sympathy for him because his two predecessors, who should have killed this proposal in its infancy, kicked it to touch and the chickens are coming home to roost on his watch. Does he accept field trials have shown this system to be 20% inaccurate? We have a traceability and tagging system that works. Does he not accept the net import of the proposal for the sheep sector, apart from the cost and inconvenience, is that because EID will be superimposed on the current system, both systems will collapse and traceability will have zero effectiveness as a consequence?

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State with special responsibility for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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It is important to bear in mind a strong qualified majority in voting terms of members of the European Council favour this new system and that has been the case for a considerable time. It has been a major achievement to defer its implementation until now and, more particularly, to ensure animals aged under 12 months that are intended for slaughter, which comprises the vast majority of the Irish flock, are excluded de facto from the system. As the Deputy said, our system works well and the Minister has made the point strongly at Council meetings. I also did so only last week and there is always a concern about the success of any new system.

The case was made by Spain, Italy and a number of other member states that they have expended a considerable amount on EID and they committed to it on foot of the 2003 decision. It is clear a large group of states hold that view strongly. From an Irish perspective, it is important to consider the importance of our export trade. That is a consideration all the stakeholders, including the Department, have to be cognisant of in the context of the decision having been made with a clear majority vote in its favour at Council.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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A 12-month derogation will be meaningless because a significant element of the industry is involved in hogget production. When one goes to the mart to buy store lambs, one may buy from ten different flocks. One will then have to superimpose the new tagging system on the current system. Twelve digit numbers will have to be transcribed individually in respect of each tagging. It will not work. Logistically it is a nightmare and it will collapse both systems. We will tip the industry, which is clinging on by its fingertips anyway, over the edge. We have witnessed the collapse of breeding ewe numbers by more than 50% over the past decade. The impact of this proposal will be the last nail in the coffin of the domestic sheep industry. I do not accept it is a fait accompli. Will the Minister of State give an assurance to the House that he will go back to Europe and show convincingly that the EID system will not work? It has a 20% inbuilt flaw in its capacity to be fully traceable and superimposing it on top of a system that works will only bring both into disrepute.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State with special responsibility for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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I assure the Deputy that what he has suggested has been done at every Council meeting at which this issue has been on the agenda for a considerable number of years.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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With no success.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State with special responsibility for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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A strong majority of member states favour the scheme.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister of State seek a derogation?

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State with special responsibility for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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A number of derogations were successfully secured, particularly in regard to lambs aged under 12 months, which comprises a considerable cohort of the Irish flock. I am familiar with the 12-digit system, as there are many sheep farmers in my area and my family has always been involved in the industry. A study found that the average cost for the Irish flock owner would be approximately €30 per flock. A logistical undertaking is involved and it will be difficult initially but eventually-----

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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What is wrong with the existing system?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour)
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Allow the Minister to answer the question.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State with special responsibility for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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We have no difficulty with the existing system and we have extolled its virtue but we need to access export markets and this decision was made using qualified majority voting at European level.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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It is ridiculous.

Photo of Tony KilleenTony Killeen (Minister of State with special responsibility for Forestry, Fisheries and the Marine, Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; Clare, Fianna Fail)
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At this stage, there is considerable merit in the stakeholders sitting down with departmental officials to examine how best to address the issue.