Dáil Éireann - Volume 463 - 26 March, 1996
Revised Estimates for Public Services, 1996. - Developments in BSE and Implications for Beef Industry: Statements.
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates) Ivan Yates
Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Yates): I propose to share my time with the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy O'Shea.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Joe Jacob
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: I am glad of the opportunity to speak to the House on the recent developments on BSE. I recognise that this is an important and sensitive issue and that it merits a serious and considered debate in the House.
I do not consider it necessary to go into the full details and history of BSE. However, there is a number of salient points which must be highlighted. BSE was first identified in the UK in November 1986 and the first case in Ireland was in 1989. The scientific view is that BSE was caused by cattle consuming infected feed, more than likely due to the inclusion in cattle feed of protein derived from scrapie infected sheep. That scientific view remains and the development of the disease in the UK and in the small number of cases here supports the case that contaminated meat and bonemeal was the primary source of the problem.
 The incidence of BSE in Ireland is at a totally different level to that in Britain. Since 1989, there has been a total of 124 cases in Ireland, representing an annual animal incidence of 0.0002 per cent in a cattle population of over seven million. All cases were aged four years and over and this age profile of cases continues to increase. In other words, cases identified in latter years tended to be in even older cows. By comparison, there have been almost 160,000 cases in Britain which has a cattle population of about 12 million.
We have in place strong and clear-cut control measures both to protect consumers and to maintain and safeguard our trade. Among the most important control measures in place are that BSE is a compulsorily notifiable disease and set procedures ensue from that classification; a comprehensive surveillance system is in place, in abattoirs all animals are examined ante-mortem for signs of diseases including BSE by an official veterinarian, and all obvious nervous lymphatic tissue is removed from the carcases; BSE confirmed animals are destroyed and buried in situ or incinerated and market value is paid by the State in compensation; the entire herds in which BSE occurs are depopulated at full market value and paid by the State; feeding of meat and bonemeal to ruminant animals has been banned since 1990 and importation of cattle from UK and Northern Ireland is banned under EU legislation. Ireland has an extremely low incidence of sheep scrapie and the balance between its cattle and sheep population significantly reduces the risk factor.
Questions have been raised about one element of our controls, namely, what happens the meat from depopulated herds. The original decision to depopulate herds was taken for trade and certification reasons. It was not taken for veterinary or scientific reasons because BSE is a disease of individual animals; it is not a viral or herd disease. There was no sleight of hand about this policy, indeed it was publicised on a number of occasions. Specifically, in January I  announced by way of reassurance that we would carry out skull tests on suspect animals in depopulated herds and those test results did not show any incidence of BSE in the animals tested. However, in recent weeks we had been reviewing our policy and in regard to the most recent depopulations it had been decided to condemn all this meat. It should also be understood that depopulations are not a very frequent event — roughly one per month — and, therefore, the amount of meat involved is insignificant in the context of overall throughput. Over a period of six-and-a-half years, out of a total of 3.5 million tonnes, this would involve some 3 million tonnes.
The origins of the current problems can be linked to the announcement in the House of Commons last week which has generated a great deal of interest and a certain level of concern. Its impact has been felt right across the beef industry and not only in the UK but also in Europe and in third countries. This information should be seen in the proper context but this is proving difficult in the current wave of hysteria. It is part of an ongoing review of BSE by various scientific groups. That review has expanded into possible connections with CJD, a rare neurological disease in man. Over the past decade new information has emerged and a good deal more is known about BSE now than when it first emerged in 1989. It is vital that this information is properly assessed and that wrong or hasty conclusions are not arrived at. This latest information is being examined by our authorities and, in particular, by the Food Safety Advisory Board which involves veterinary and medical expertise. What is at issue is a cluster of ten CJD cases which have shown a previously unrecognised disease pattern.
The discussion and decision at the Standing Veterinary Committee yesterday was a recognition of the difficulties in the UK and showed the clear intention of member states and the EU Commission to ring-fence the problem until the situation has been further clarified.  The implementation of that decision may need to be clarified but the position is clear; there is a ban on UK cattle, beef and beef products. Ireland is not included in that ban and this is clearly a very important consideration.
The restriction on exports from the UK raises the very important issue of preventing illegal cattle movements across the Border and protecting the integrity of our product. The level of Garda and Customs activity has been very significantly increased and no effort will be spared to prevent such movements. There have already been two seizures of suspected illegally imported cattle and arrangements are being made for their slaughter and their removal from the food and feed chains. This is not just an issue for the control authorities alone; the entire industry will have to close ranks and ensure that such cattle will be neither purchased nor processed in this jurisdiction.
Deputies will be aware that a degree of concern has been aroused in third country markets and that problems currently exist in a number of important markets. The full resources of my Department, the Diplomatic Service and of An Bord Bia are being devoted to assuring the authorities in those countries and protecting our market position there.
Veterinary officers are currently en route to the Middle East; arrangements are being made for other markets to be visited in the next few days. An urgent priority is to resolve the problem in Egypt and Libya. I have just come from a meeting with the Iranian Ambassador and I am taking steps to have further direct dialogue with the Iranian Agriculture Minister tomorrow morning. My senior officials will talk to some of the Iranian officials who are here to clear up any misunderstandings.
It is important to stress that policy in regard to the Irish cattle and beef sector is designed to ensure the highest possible standards of public and animal health and to provide the strongest possible guarantees to customers and  consumers of Irish beef. I have already outlined the comprehensive series of controls in place in relation to BSE. These controls go beyond what is recommended by scientific evidence or by international organisations. They are enforced through clinical examinations of all animals prior to slaughter or export, through the disease being compulsorily notifiable, ongoing surveillance, a Government diagnostic service, the compulsory slaughter policy and the banning of meat and bone meal as a cattle feed. The difficulties at present are not of our making.
I am concerned about the current situation regarding four shipments of live cattle to Egypt and other third country markets. I spoke to one of the key exporters this afternoon and we will be communicating with the Egyptian authorities at the very highest level. The confusion in Egypt arose out of a European ban. My strategy, and that of the Government, is to try to implement yesterday's decision of the European Veterinary Scientific Committee — by 14 votes to one — that a ban on UK beef and beef products is the appropriate response. I encourage the Commission to implement this decision. The committee to which I referred has reconvened this afternoon to deal with the issue.
Media reports have made it clear that, in conjunction with the customs authorities and Garda Síochána, we have stepped up surveillance on movement of animals in the Border region. The Government decided at the weekend that any movement of animals in this area would be treated as suspicious. This action was necessary because of the difficulties relating to the lack of outlets for people living in the UK and Northern Ireland to sell cattle, beef and culled cows there. The Government also believed that there would be a major incentive for such people to attempt to use the Republic as an outlet. It was, therefore, appropriate to step up our vigilance, which yielded results in counties Louth and Donegal. The animals impounded in these areas will be destroyed as soon as possible. Earlier  today I signed an order which implements a ban on imports of all British beef and beef products. Ireland joins every other member state in Europe which has taken similar legal steps.
I had a meeting this afternoon, following a series of meetings between the trade and the Irish Food Board, which focused on the arrangements required for different markets in Europe and elsewhere. A strategy is being finalised in this regard and representatives from my Department and the Government will be visiting our key markets in Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Britain to explore the possibilities and provide necessary assurances vis-à-vis country of origin labelling and other particular advertising and promotional efforts which will safeguard those markets. At present delegations from Sweden and other member states are actively engaged in dialogue to provide reassurances about Ireland's veterinary and high animal health status.
I appeal to the media and the public not to engage in the level of hysteria, panic and confusion witnessed in Britain. We must have a common-sense approach to this problem. Ireland enjoys a grass-based, generally green image in relation to livestock production and a very high animal health status. Since 1989, we have had the strictest possible policy for dealing with BSE. I remain open to implementing any further steps recommended at scientific, national or EU level with regard to a ban on specified offal or other procedures relating to killing lines. There is no need for panic or knee-jerk reactions. However, if our trade customers deem it appropriate to further tighten regulations, they will be pushing an open door as far as Ireland is concerned.
This is undoubtedly a difficult situation. There is some evidence of confusion in third countries such as the UAE, Kuwait, Egypt and elsewhere. Ireland has been caught in the loop of confusion relating to a ban on British products. We must ensure that the state purchasing importers and government  authorities in such countries receive the veterinary information they require. It is significant to point out that Ireland exported beef to over 80 countries last week. There is no additional evidence of increased BSE in Irish cattle. The available evidence shows that the problem relates to elderly cows and is diminishing. With the controls in place and the policies deployed by successive Governments, we believe that Ireland is in a very strong position to reassure those 80 trading countries of our bona fides in that regard.
Comments have been made in relation to the attachment of the Deparatment of Food to the Department of Agriculture. Other member states in Europe, with one exception, have integrated their Departments of Food and Agriculture. The reality of the Common Agricultural Policy — and all products — requires a level of integration between food processing and agricultural production. Even if a separate Department of Food existed, all the key reassurances required on these issues relate to animal health, on-farm activity, veterinary and meat inspection procedures as opposed to food processing. By their nature, the key critical issues of confidence are agricultrual and veterinary. This matter is a red herring with regard to the central issue of reassurance. There is already a national advisory food safety board under the remit of the Minister for Health, in close liaison with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and I am anxious to facilitate any adjustments or developments to this, if deemed appropriate.
I will be glad to respond to questions at the end of this debate. I hope that, notwithstanding the inevitable pressures arising out of global panic with regard to beef consumption, we will have an orderly development of our market. I also hope that, within a reasonable period, the opportunities to increase our market share in some countries will be fully availed of so that this major threat can be converted into a genuine opportunity.
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. O'Shea) Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. O'Shea)
 Minister of State at the Department of Health (Mr. O'Shea): Tá áthas orm go bhfuil seans agam labhairt sa díospóireacht tábhachtacht seo. Ar shlí, bhí mé mar Aire Bia sa Roinn Talamhaíochta, Bia agus Foiraoiseachta ar feadh beagnach dhá bhliain. Fad agus a bhí mé ann, chonaic mé an caighdeán marfheola atá ar fáil sa tír seo. Ina theanta sin, chonaic mé cé chomh cúramach is a bhí an Stáit ó thaobh galaire 'sna h-ainmhithe.
I am glad to have an opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I served for two years as Minister with responsibility for food in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. During that period I saw the very high quality of our product and witnessed implementation of the measures outlined by the Minister.
Deputies will have listened carefully to what my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry has just said and I am sure they will have been reassured by the information he has provided, especially on Irish beef. I would like to draw attention to a number of what I consider to be significant differences between the position in Ireland and the UK.
First, in relation to animal feed, in Ireland, we had not adopted the production process that is considered to have given rise to the problem. Second, we imported only small quantities of UK produced animal feed before a ban was put in place several years ago. Irish farmers, in any case, are much less reliant on feeds than their UK counterparts, due to the abundance of grass here.
Our responses to BSE have also been different. The ban on use of suspected offal in animal feed was introduced at a very early stage and enforced rigorously. Ireland has also adopted a depopulation policy for herds in which this disease occurred. That has now been tightened. All these responses should give the consumer at home and abroad confidence in the safety of Irish  beef, which is, of course, the prime concern and interest of my Department. The Food Safety Advisory Board and its predecessor, the Food Safety Advisory Committee, have been monitoring the situation very closely since the late 1980s and have kept the Minister for Health and his Department abreast of all the latest information. The board had already commenced further review at my request before these latest developments and it will meet again within the next few days to review and update its advice.
My Department has also been in continuous liaison with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and a high level discussion took place as recently as last Thursday when my Department sought and was provided with details of the controls in place. My Department is fully satisfied that the controls operated in Ireland are satisfactory to meet the concerns currently expressed by consumers.
I want to address the question of the possibility of a link between BSE and CJD. The bottom line is that at this time no scientific link has been established between BSE and CJD. This was repeated most recently in the SEAC report last week in the UK. It is worth noting that even in the UK the incidence of CJD is still very low and in line with levels elsewhere in Europe. However, even a very remote risk justifies precautions and the steps taken at EU level and nationally in several member states of the EU must be seen in that context.
In Ireland, we have had fewer than 20 cases of CJD, almost all of them in the older age group. The chief medical officer of my Department is undertaking a detailed study of all those cases and will be reporting his findings to me shortly. However, no evidence has emerged which suggests any unusual developments in the pattern of the disease here.
All Departments and agencies involved in this issue will continue to treat it as a top priority, to ensure that the consumer, the primary focus of our  concern, is given the necessary information and assurance to maintain confidence in Irish beef. The focus of our efforts, singly and together, over the days and weeks ahead will be to ensure that we put beyond doubt any concerns people may have regarding the safety of the product and that our inspection, evaluation and control systems continue to be implemented at the highest possible level of effectiveness and efficiency.
Mr. Cowen Mr. Cowen
Mr. Cowen: This is a most important debate and I am somewhat disappointed by the content of what we have heard so far from the Government side. It denotes complacency at Government level in coming to grips with the problem. There seems to be no realisation that the confusion and hype, which has been rightly criticised, about the treatment of this matter in the UK and elsewhere since this scare erupted again last week has an impact on Ireland. Confidence in our industry is being eroded because of the treatment of this issue elsewhere. The best example of that, as we are aware from talking to butchers and others, is that consumption of beef is down by 30 to 40 per cent. That may be an initial reaction but it is a serious reaction to the problem by our own people. How will we come to grips with the problem elsewhere — 85 per cent of our product is exported to non-Irish citizens — when our own citizens have not got the message that this is not a problem in Ireland? All the evidence suggests that the message is not getting through.
I am very surprised that at a Cabinet meeting this morning it was indicated this issue might be discussed; it was not put at the top of its agenda. I had hoped that as a result of such a meeting a co-ordinated approach would be adopted and a coherent information campaign introduced which would enable Irish citizens to be reassured in the first instance before undertaking successful ventures abroad.
In the last few minutes I received from a constituent in Dubai a fax on the  Gulf news which is headed “Municipalities to Ban Import of Irish Beef: Possibility of Mad Cow Disease Reaching UAE Blocked — Official”. There is a lack of distinction between Irish and British beef in those markets, in Egypt, Libya and Jordan — people are also very testy today because of rumours about the Iranian position.
It is time the Government came to grips with the fact that our essential national interests are at stake in terms of our £1.7 billion industry. It should get its act together quickly and communicate the good news about Irish beef. Not only is that news not getting through to Irish consumers, it is not getting through to other consumers upon whom the industry depends. Let no one think — I do not believe anybody does — that the fact that the British are experiencing difficulties in this regard is to our advantage. About 30 per cent of British processing capacity is Irish owned and — given the ban — the impact this issue is having in Britain will have an impact on those processors and their ability to deal with the domestic market.
The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry has been the only Minister to speak in public on this issue. The Minister for Health and his Minister of State have been invisible since this health scare about British beef arose last week. It is unbelievable that there has not been a co-ordinated Government approach. This is not just an animal health issue; it is a public health issue. The Department of Health and the agencies under its remit should be actively involved in reassuring the public. They would be perceived as independent of the agribusiness industry. However, the Minister, Deputy Yates, is not seen in that light regardless of how well he may try to argue otherwise.
I wish to be supportive, I have looked for the campaign to ensure our industry is saved and enhanced but I cannot see it. No co-ordinated effort is being made to inform the public that Irish beef is safe. I have heard a number of individual statements but there is no co-ordinated Government response. A Cabinet  subcommittee should have been formed last week to pull all the strands together to get the message across at home and abroad. The evidence so far suggests that message is not getting through.
It is important when our national interests are at stake that we get out act together. The Taoiseach suggested yesterday that he would consider making a telephone call to President Mubarak if he thought it would be helpful. He should make it his business to find out if it would be helpful and then make the call. With due respect, the Taoiseach can campaign in Dublin west at any time but the situation in Egypt must be addressed now. I accept that our veterinary officers have been sent out there but a political response is required to safeguard these markets. Political decisions are being taken in Egypt, Libya, possibly in Iran and in Dubai this evening, on the basis of an information gap.
Where is the evidence of the diplomatic initiative we have been told about having been effective in the United Arab Emirates when they still do not know the difference between Irish and British beef? Where is the urgency? The Minister should go on a political mission to those markets to inform them there is nothing wrong with the Irish beef processing industry and stand over Irish beef as a pure and premium product. I cannot understand why the Taoiseach has not sent the Minister to do so as I am sure he would be willing to do it if he was asked. There seems to be an appalling complacency in some quarters of Government although I exclude the Minister from that because he seems to know what is going on. However, other members of Cabinet have no idea of the potential seriousness of the situation.
In the Irish beef industry we need a far more co-ordinated response than we have had to date. We have good news to tell. The Government's response in 1989 was more than adequate. It was over and above what was scientifically required to maintain trading status and consumer confidence at home and  abroad in this essential industry. Unfortunately, it has become the currency of political debate in recent times to have a swipe at the beef industry. We all realise now how important it is to defend and support it. It is also important to recognise that the professionalism of our Department in maintaining the disease free status of our herd has been exemplary. It has played a leadership role here and in Europe. Our standards have been adopted in Europe because the highest possible standards were and are maintained here by successive Governments, simply because of the dependence of the economy on the agri-food business.
We have no apologies to make to anybody about the purity and premium quality of our beef. However, we need to communicate that message more effectively and we have not been doing that. An integrated approach was started in 1987 when the Department of Agriculture and Food was established. We decided it was not only the producers who had to be involved in the agri-food business but that processors and consumers had to have confidence in the business if we were to develop the business at home and abroad. We know now the importance of that consumer confidence.
When this Government was formed it was a retrograde step not to give a Minister of State responsibility for the food section of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, whose job would be to look after the consumer. The Minister mainly looks to producer and processor interests although he may claim also to have consumer interests in hand. A sharp focus had been built since 1987 by successive Ministers of State with responsibility for food who were successful in dealing with the modernisation of the food business. That was forgotten about when the Government was formed. It was a retrograde step because it failed to keep the consumer focus in the Department as it had been since 1987.
With regard to domestic consumer confidence, when the Minister had the  chance to put two extra people on the board of An Bord Bia I asked him not to surrender to vested producer interests for the sake of it. However, he did. We need consumer interests as well as producer and industry interests represented in An Bord Bia. We need that credibility at home and abroad. The Minister should redress that situation and put a recognised consumer interest on the board of An Bord Bia.
We are all consumers. Farmers and their families are consumers like everyone else. The Minister should act to restore confidence and ensure what is happening elsewhere does not have an impact here. It may be unfair that events elsewhere affect us in this way but with modern means of communication and international media it is inevitable. A co-ordinated Government approach is vital as is the establishment of a Cabinet subcommittwe recognising the importance of this industry and the Minister and others must be prepared to take a political initiative to safeguard markets essential to our national interests. We need to examine our marketing strategy in the United Kingdom given that we do not have our own branding of beef there. Where will the resources be found to ensure that we have our own brand and what will we do now about pressing the argument for improved export refunds to non-European Union markets?
What are we doing about all of those initiatives in respect of which the Minister has been silent in the House today? I recognise the importance of not talking down the industry, but want to know what is the proposed programme of action to safeguard our essential national interests and the thousands of livelihoods at stake, the 70,000 exclusively beef farmers who know that their products are not banned from other markets but wonder what markets will continue to be available to us because of the collapse of consumer confidence, not just within the United Kingdom but within Europe?
We have already witnessed a decline in the consumption of red meat which  no doubt will continue to deepen but, if we want to increase our market share, we must take the necessary marketing initiatives, backed-up by the requisite resources and the co-operation of everybody in the industry. Those initiatives are not simply references thereto in this House or elsewhere.
Has the Minister called together all interests within the industry to discuss the present position as a matter of urgency, to ensure co-operation, and to ascertain where the requisite resources will be found to implement precautionary measures because they will not be implemented voluntarily. There are political heads of Government Departments to take such decisions, to make things happen before the industry is allowed to deteriorate to a condition from which it may not recover. These are issues on which the Minister should not be silent, as he has been to date.
Where has the food safety advisory committee been for the past two weeks, indeed for the past two years? All the Minister of State, Deputy O'Shea, could tell me was that that committee will report to him again shortly. We do not want that committee to report to the Minister but to the public. There is urgent need for an independent assessment, freely and publicly available, which would allow people to accept there is not a problem vis-à-vis Irish beef, which fact has been confirmed not merely by the Minister but by that regulatory committee.
Furthermore, does the Minister for Health not feel he has a role to play in these circumstances? I have watched debates in the House of Commons where it appears their Secretary of State for Health, Stephen Dorrell, is as central to this issue as is their Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Hogg. Yet there was not even a Cabinet decision taken here this morning on a co-ordinated approach, to resolve this problem.
We have already experienced bans imposed by North African markets. It took very intensive diplomatic initiatives by successive Fianna Fáil Ministers for Agriculture to have them lifted. We  all know how critical were those successful initiatives to the development of our beef industry, particularly the live trade. Much greater urgency must be injected into our present deliberations. While accepting the BSE epidemic cannot affect us, the problem is that insufficient numbers of people within our own or in international markets know or understand that. Our first responsibility must be to our citizens, to whom the issue must be explained much more thoroughly than it has been to date.
We cannot continue this laissez faire approach. This crisis has highlighted the need for us to be extremely careful in any deregulation of animal health issues which perhaps has been the rock on which the British authorities have perished. In the case of the changes the Minister implemented in the programme for eradication of TB from our national herd, we must be very careful, regardless of cost, that voluntaryism is not allowed at the expense of maintaining the disease-free status of our national herd. If we lose credibility on that issue, our peceived savings will prove very costly in the final analysis.
My party when in Government introduced an animal remedies Bill in 1994. Have any regulations been drawn up under it to assure people that the quality and safety of our meat products is maintained? Despite many fallacious perceptions, we cannot underestimate the economic consequences or potential dangers of any question mark being placed over the quality of our beef or beef products. In this age perceptions have become more important than reality, particularly when it comes to consumer choice. Therefore, we must attack such misconceptions more aggressively, in a much more co-ordinated, coherent fashion than we have. Too much is at stake. We have spent very many years building up this industry in which we appear to take some perverse pleasure in criticising. Yet, when we perceive our major national interest in jeopardy, we begin to wonder  about the perception problem and why it is not being solved.
The Minister can be assured that we on this side of the House will support any meaningful, effective measures the Government is prepared to take to safeguard our beef industry, its jobs and the market share for our products at home and abroad. We will be constructive in pressurising the Government to honour its responsibilities in this respect and bring forward precautionary proposals as a matter of urgency.
Likewise, should there be any complacency or inability in the Government to produce constructive political initiatives to resolve these matters, the Minister can be assured we will be the first to come in here and underline that such responsibility lies fairly and squarely on the shoulders of Government. If the Minister wants to be successful in his attempts, he must get cracking immediately, use all the authority at his command, and lobby in those countries where we have critical export interests, where his presence will have greatest effect. I have nothing but the utmost respect for the veterinary officers of the Minister's Department, who will afford him the necessary technical assistance.
What is now needed is to use the political muscle of this Government to ensure that Irish beef is saved from any further scare tactics. Many competitors will see in this crisis an opportunity to increase their market share, and will adopt whatever tactics they deem necessary to avail of any opportunities arising from the British difficulty. We need to market our premium quality beef, a grassland-based product more environmentally friendly than the product of any of our European or other competitors. Despite the fact that as of last week we exported beef to some 80 countries, some do not appear to be able to draw a distinction between Irish and British beef. What does that say about our marketing strategy and our ability to maintain customer loyalty at this critical time? These fundamental issues must be addressed with far more vehemence than has been the case to date.
Mr. B. Ahern Mr. B. Ahern
 Mr. B. Ahern: I support my party spokesperson, Deputy Cowen, and thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, and the Government for having allowed this debate on the crisis in the beef industry.
The BSE crisis has come as a shock to the consumer and a major challenge to producers. Our first duty is to provide the maximum, well-founded reassurance to our customers, the basis of which has been in place for many years. I applaud the prudent, far-sighted and radical policy of former Ministers for Agriculture, Senator Michael O'Kennedy and Deputy Joe Walsh, from 1989 onwards on the slaughtering of herds within which any infected animal was found and banning the importation of suspect foodstuffs from Britain. We are greatly in their debt, since they took the right action to protect consumers and producers. People who advised them at that time can share in that commendation, even if it was the more expensive, inconvenient policy option then available to them.
Fianna Fáil always recognised the importance of a pure, green food industry and was ready to take action in its defence. Many people have been all too ready to denigrate the management and integrity of our beef industry, and talk of scandals. Perhaps they will now recognise that, on this bigger issue — on which the overall survival of the industry depends — former Fianna Fáil Ministers and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry got it right, whereas their British counterparts took the easy option resulting in a strategic blunder of catastrophic proportions. The lesson is all the more clear for us, that our food industry must be consumer rather than producer led; that, if we give priority to the safety and quality concerns of our consumers, we cannot go far wrong. That approach is, equally, in the longer term interests of the producer. The consumer demands guaranteed certainty but Government scientists who talk about there not being any established links perpetuate doubt and uncertainty; we must do everything to actively create greater certainty.
 While our basic policy is right — and the French followed our example by slaughtering a whole herd with one BSE cow in Brittany in the past few days — we must ensure we can provide the watertight assurance the consumer needs. The Minister correctly, but perhaps belatedly, instructed that all meat from an infected herd, not just from the infected animal, be destroyed.
We need more information about the incubation period of the disease, the feasibility and reliability of systematic tests on all carcases, guarantees that the infection might not be harboured in meat tissues and whether any form of heat treatment could be effective in excluding that possibility. We also need to know whether the type of feedstuff now barred for cattle is being fed to other types of farmed animals, such as pigs or poultry, and if there is a danger of problems arising there. Are we actively promoting our own medical and veterinary research into BSE and CJD and possible links between the two?
The Minister has a duty, for the time being at least, to ensure that no cattle are smuggled across the Border from Northern Ireland. That will be a difficult but essential task. This is a deeply regrettable situation as we have always tried, where possible, to allow Northern Ireland farmers share in the advantages enjoyed by Irish agriculture under the CAP and to share in joint food promotions abroad. I sympathise with their plight but, unfortunately, Northern Ireland has a higher incidence of BSE than ourselves, though much lower than in Britain. The main problem is that at present they are wide open to imports from Great Britain.
The present situation should underline for everybody concerned the advantages, particularly in relation to agriculture, of the approach recommended in the Joint Framework Document which recommends that North and South should adopt a joint or harmonised approach in sectors involving a natural or physical all-Ireland framework and in areas such as animal welfare, as well as an integrated approach  to other EU-related issues. It is clear that integration with the rest of UK agriculture at this time is a disaster for Northern farmers. If the approach in the framework document were in place in relation to animal health, Northern Ireland farmers would be in a strong position to seek an exemption from the ban on the rest of the UK.
I urge the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, in the spirit of friendship and good neighbourliness, to explore with the Northern authorities and farm bodies in the days and weeks ahead the means by which this approach could be put in place with the appropriate safeguards to protect our own consumers and the beef industry. I fully accept that until something is worked out, the Border must be closed to all cattle imports, the reputation and credibility of our food industry may depend on this being done effectively.
We have a £1 billion beef industry. The current situation presents both challenges and opportunities. A vigorous diplomatic effort will be required, led by the Taoiseach, to ensure the lucrative Middle East market remains open to us. As of now there is a great danger that the markets, which we made strenuous efforts to reopen with eventual success, as outlined by Deputy Cowen, will again be closed, with a depressing effect on Irish cattle prices. We must ensure that all continental markets are fully aware of the difference between Irish and British beef. I accept there are important variations in market needs, and places where it will be advantageous to have Irish beef branded as such, and others where it may not, but there is potentially a great opportunity to make a breakthrough in the emergence of a distinctive brand of Irish beef, not least on the British market, and to associate the highest standards of quality, hygiene and natural grass-based production with Irish meat. We have long been seeking to do that in this country and it is time for the Minister, and everybody else concerned  in politics and the media, to stop denigrating the Irish beef industry and to recognise it as one of our most important and valuable assets. Our future welfare and prosperity as a nation depends on our being able to come through this crisis with our heads high and our reputation for quality enhanced.
The key issue for the Minister is to gain the confidence of consumers. By doing that he serves all purposes because it saves the industry, agriculture and the difficulties of those involved in exports, and it will change the way people look at us. In wishing the Minister well, those of us on this side of the House would like the focus of the Government to be put on this issue. As I came into Leinster House today, I was almost knocked down by Ministers taking off to the four corners of Dublin West when they should have been here to support their colleague. That is the wrong way to deal with a crisis of this degree. The Taoiseach and other key Ministers, who have more contacts than the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry through our embassies, etc., should be here focusing on this matter. They would have the support of this side of the House for positive constructive action but if Ministers are not showing an interest in the issue, consumers will believe we do not have a policy in this regard. That is the danger and it is a matter for the Minister to articulate those policies in the House tonight.
Mr. O'Malley Mr. O'Malley
Mr. O'Malley: I was in the Far East over the weekend and last week and, to my amazement, this issue was the lead story in much of the international media. It was the lead story on CNN for several days as well as on the BBC World Service. It is difficult to believe that an issue as important as this evinces so little interest in this House, that there is such a degree of complacency about it and, in particular, that there is a strong concentration on the potential financial losses to this country rather than on the potential serious risk to public health.
There is an interesting letter in  today's edition of The Cork Examiner, written by Dr. Norman McMillan of the Regional Technical College, Carlow, in which he refers to a summer school on scientific topics which he and the regional technical college in Carlow organised in 1992. The keynote speaker at the conference was Professor Rechard Lacey, a microbiologist, who has been dealing with some of the potential medical problems arising from what has now come to light in Britain. It is frightening to realise he forecast that the British Government would be forced into the position it found itself in last week, that he was pooh-poohed by the veterinary and medical establishments on both sides of the Irish Sea, that he was marginalised, as he put it, and that it was sought to convey to the public that this man was talking rubbish. It is quite clear now that he was not. He forecast what has come to light four years later and it is interesting that in debates in the past few days on British radio and television between himself and the chairman of the British Government's advisory committee on this matter, Professor John Pattison, they spoke about the possibility of more than 5,000 deaths per annum from the year 2005 onwards. These are extraordinarily serious matters and their consequences will not be put right simply by the introduction of more administrative or veterinary controls. Even if everything was properly done for a change, and it certainly has not been, in respect of this and other matters the public perception, not only in Britain and in this country but throughout the entire world, is such that if it cannot be changed the outlook for beef consumption must be a cause of great concern to producers here, in Britain and in many other places.
One of the curious ironies of this latest crisis in Britian is that it opens up a unique marketing opportunity for the Irish beef industry. Consumer confidence in the British beef industry has collapsed right across Europe. British beef has been removed from supermarket shelves and denied entry to continental markets. Exports markets that  have taken years to develop have evaporated almost overnight.
Meanwhile in Britain retail chains and fast food chains are competing with one another to delist British beef and to assure their customers that it will not be served. The next 12 months will tell us whether Irish exporters are able to exploit the tremendous opportunity with which they have been presented. The key to success for the Irish beef industry lies in quality assurance and customer assurance. As long as market confidence can be maintained in the Irish product all doors will be open to it. We take great pride in the clean and green image which our beef enjoys, but this favourable image will rapidly disappear without proper verification standards. We have an advantage but we are throwing it away because of our inability to convince international consumers of how good and safe our product is.
The organisation charged with responsibility for maintaining public confidence in Irish beef is the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. It is fair to say that the Department's record in policing that industry over the last decade has left much to be desired. Taxpayers will this year face a bill of up to £100 million in EU fines because of the Department's maladministration and its total failure to control widespread abuse and systematic fraud throughout the beef processing industry. Taxpayers and consumers might have hoped the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry had put that era behind it. Revelations during the past week are hardly encouraging.
First, we learn that a senior veterinary officer in the Department is facing criminal proceedings. I am surprised the Minister did not advert to that well publicised fact in his contribution. Very serious allegations are made against this man. Apparently it became known to the Department in January and he was suspended at that time. The potential damage that can be caused to Irish beef by his alleged actions is immense because the whole disease-free status of  Irish beef is put at risk by his actions and by the publicity which, apparently, they have got.
Second, we learn that Irish beef from BSE infected herds has been sold for human consumption. The reaction of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry to that revelation was extraordinary. He tried to explain it away by saying this beef was exported. Is the Minister not aware that the Irish beef industry is export driven and that its ability to sell on foreign markets is crucial to its survival? We have prided ourselves greatly in recent years on the tough slaughter-out policy which we have adopted in relation to herds in which an animal was found to be infected. The whole purpose of the slaughter-out policy surely was to prevent beef from infected herds finding its way into the human food chain. This point was made clearly at the weekend by the expert group of European Commission officials who were asked to look into the BSE problem. Neither of these cases casts a particularly favourable light on the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Both call fundamentally into serious question the Department's ability to police the beef processing industry in a proper manner.
Our beef industry is now at a crossroads. If it can command consumer respect and allay any possible fears on the part of international customers the industry could be on the verge of unrivalled prosperity. Ireland could become the major export supplier of beef to the markets of continental Europe. A stable high quality business could be developed to the advantage of producers, processors and all those who work in the beef plants. The net result would be higher returns for producers, higher profits for processors, higher and better paid employment in the factories.
If the Irish beef industry fails to command consumer respect, then the future is bleak. Irish beef would be tarred unfairly with the same brush as its British counterpart. Our exports would plummet with drastic consequences for  all sections of the industry — producers, processors and factory workers. Sales on the home market would also be affected, posing a threat to the livelihoods of many in family businesses in the retail butchery trade.
The onus on the Government is great. It has to show that our beef industry is being properly and vigilantly policed. It has to ensure that Ireland's reputation as a producer of natural and wholesome high quality meat is protected and verified. There has to be a major question as to whether the current arrangements in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry are satisfactory and capable of satisfying these objectives. I think not. We need to look afresh at the whole question of quality assurance, product traceability and customer confidence in the food industry as a whole. The present set up is heavily biased in favour of the producers and processors. This might seem a cosy enough arrangement when things are going well. Now that the industry is facing a major crisis, transparency and credibility will have to take precedence. If foreign buyers cannot have confidence in our policing of the beef industry they will not buy our product.
It is in the interests of all those involved in the beef industry, including producers and processors, that a new system is put in place. In the free market, post intervention era, producers and processors must recognise that unless they are seen to put the interests of the consumer first their industry has no long-term future. In the context of public service reform my party recently put forward proposals for the devolution of departmental responsibilities in many areas of Government to newly created executive agencies. An agricultural and food inspectorate was one such area which we identified.
There is now a strong argument for the creation of a national agency, independent of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, to oversee the whole area of food hygiene and quality. Producers and processors could be represented on the board of such an  agency but so also would people from the retail trade and consumer interests. The consumer is supposed to be sovereign in a market economy. If that is the case, then it should be reflected in our policies for policing the food industry.
The creation of the new agency need involve no increase in the overall size of the Government's bureaucracy. It would simply involve a transfer of functions from one area of Government to another but in such a way that efficiency, effectiveness, reliability, independence and accountability were drastically improved. A new agency reporting to the Minister for Health or to the Minister for Enterprise and Employment would command more respect and credibility internationally than the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, whose reputation has been badly tarnished by a succession of regrettable scandals.
New arrangements of the type I have outlined here, though urgent, would take some little time to put in place. In the meantime there are more immediate questions facing the Minister to which he should address himself. First there is the question of bonemeal. In 1990 the feeding of animal-based bonemeal to cattle was banned because of the fear that this was the route through which the BSE agent was transmitted from sheep to cattle. Since then, I understand the practice of feeding bonemeal to pigs and poultry has continued. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry should assure consumers that this poses no threat to human health and that the meat products involved are safe to eat. Is it wise to allow bonemeal to be fed to any animal which will be consumed by humans?
There is also the question of Border security. Consumers of Irish beef, at home and abroad, must be assured that the product they are eating comes from disease-free herds. We are in the somewhat unfortunate position of being the only European country sharing a land frontier with the United Kingdom. While Northern Ireland appears to have a relatively low incidence of BSE, Irish  Border security is essential to prevent infected herds from Great Britain being brought into this State via the North. If we are not vigilant in this area, we could allow a few unscrupulous people to smuggle in infected cattle, destroying the positive image of the entire beef industry in the process. It is suggested that this may have already happened.
The Minister should also take action in the area of food labelling. Customers are entitled to know what they are eating but the complexity and technological advancement of the modern food processing industry means that this is not always the case. It should be possible, without imposing huge cost burdens on manufacturers, to devise a clear and simple labelling system so that people know what types of meat were included as ingredients in particular products.
I spoke earlier of the great marketing opportunity which has now presented itself to the Irish beef industry. The magnitude of that opportunity should not be under-estimated. Britain exports over 190,000 tonnes of beef every year to continental European markets and this trade is worth almost £500 million sterling. The British product now faces an indefinite ban from these markets and even if the ban was lifted, consumers would be slow to return to the British product if a better alternative was available. There is no reason Irish exporters should not be able to fill the gap left by their British counterparts. We already sell almost 160,000 tonnes of beef into continental markets and now have considerable scope to increase that.
Britain's main markets in Europe are ones where Irish beef exporters have already established a solid presence. For example, the British sell about 85,000 tonnes per year to France, 42,000 tonnes per year to Italy and 17,000 tonnes per year to the Netherlands. Irish exporters have good links with supermarket chains and wholesalers in all those countries. In Italy, CBF, the forerunner of the present Bord Bia, made major strides in promoting the image of the  Irish product, and Irish beef is the only beef identified on a country-of-origin basis in Italian supermarkets.
An even bigger opportunity will open in Britain itself. This is already Ireland's biggest export market, taking over 100,000 tonnes of product every year. With the British industry in disarray, Irish processors now have a chance to capitalise on the disease-free status of the Irish herd and move in to fill the gap. Market dynamics are working in their favour. In the British market the trend is for butchery to move back up the line from the retailer towards the processor. Supermarkets want the product to be delivered direct to their outlets in ready-for-sale form, or nearly ready for sale. This provides processors with new opportunities for adding value and could lead to a substantial increase in employment in the processing industry in Ireland.
Irish exporters have fared best on export markets where retailer power is strong, particularly in Britain. This trade has been built on developing long-term relationships with major customers such as Tesco, Sainsbury and other supermarket chains. The development of this type of stable, high quality trade in added-value product is in the long-term interest of the Irish beef industry. For one thing, it would help to reduce our dependence on the volatile third country trade. This trade, in both live animals and carcase beef, is conducted mainly with middle eastern and north African countries and is highly artificial, being driven by export refunds — without these subsidies from Brussels it simply would not exist. For instance, the average cash price of each live animal sold to Egypt last year was only just over £300.
The disappearance of intervention over the last few years has given the impression that we now have a truly market-driven beef industry but this is not the case. The beef industry might be export-oriented but it is not market-oriented. It is important that we avoid  deluding ourselves into believing otherwise. Intervention has been largely replaced by the subsidised export of live and carcase beef to the Middle East. This trade is very volatile, low in added value, and involves no long-term relationships with retail customers. The third country trade, both live and carcase, represents a convenient mechanism by which the bureaucrats in Brussels can flush Ireland's seasonal surplus out of the European beef market every autumn.
The future of this trade is not secure. The Common Agriculture Policy will come up for review at the end of the decade. With enlargement of the European Union imminent, the costs of maintaining the CAP as it stands at present may prove prohibitive for the taxpayers of Germany, who pick up most of the tab. The cost of extending the benefits of the present CAP to the five aspirant member states — the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia — is estimated at £10 billion per year. This bill may prove too high for the Germans and if it does, something has to give. We will probably see a complete overhaul of the CAP and major movement in the direction of a free market in food. We will not see entirely free trade but we are likely to see the dismantling of some of the more expensive subsidy programmes. The general world trend towards free trade will also nudge Europe in this direction.
The Irish beef industry as structured at present would be singularly ill-equipped to cope with the challenges posed by a substantial reduction in or withdrawal of export refunds. Last year, about 50 per cent of total beef cattle disposals for export, including both live trade and carcase, went down the subsidised third country route. We must reduce our dependence on this artificial market and concentrate instead on the development of real commercial markets in Britain and continental Europe. Otherwise, we will have failed completely to capitalise on the opportunity presented by our original entry to the Common Market 25 years ago. We will  go into the next millennium with a beef industry that still has a fatal weakness in marketing terms, apart from its image problems and the failures of its supervision.
We should be willing to confront this issue now and recognise that, in the context of GATT and CAP reform, the long-term prosperity of the Irish beef industry will ultimately depend on its ability to sell into commercial markets on the basis of price and quality, and without subsidies. Farmers, therefore, have a strong vested interest in ensuring that we develop a market-driven beef industry and they must recognise that, in our current heavy reliance on third country markets, we might be storing up trouble for ourselves down the road. The clear strategic objective of the Irish beef industry should be to achieve maximum penetration of the British and European markets, aiming as far as possible to sell added-value products through stable trading relationships with the main supermarket chains.
Ireland produces about 500,000 tonnes of beef per year in excess of the requirements of the domestic market. We must not continue to view this as a surplus to be flushed out of the system by whatever means possible but as a valuable resource from which the national economy should seek to derive maximum benefit. There has been no shortage of reports, committees and expert groups over the last ten years stressing the need for a market-oriented approach to the development of the beef industry. Thanks to the latest BSE disaster in Britain, we now have a tremendous opportunity to put all that theory into practice. An Bord Bia must convince consumers, retailers and wholesalers in our major British and European markets that Irish beef is clean and wholesome, a product that is safe to eat.
Consumers should be involved in this process. For that reason, when the An Bord Bia Act was going through the House, the Progressive Democrats proposed that a person should be appointed  to the board to represent consumers' views. We suggested that such a move would strengthen the focus of the board and assist it to market effectively. Unfortunately, the amendment was not accepted by the then Government, even though I heard some of its representatives refer today to the appropriateness of such a provision.
If An Bord Bia succeeds in marketing Irish beef effectively on this basis it will have more than justified its existence. The country will reap the reward in increased exports to high quality, high value markets. If it fails to do so, it will be due in no small part to our failure to put in place satisfactory arrangements for the policing of the beef industry that would command the confidence of consumers across Europe.
Last week when this matter of national importance was debated in the Seanad neither the Minister, Deputy Yates, nor the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, was available. I impress on the Minister the importance of treating this issue with somewhat more urgency from now on and of realising that it is of fundamental concern from the point of view of public health and the future welfare of beef producers and processors and their employees.
The problem will not go away. It is pointless to hope that public concerns can be assuaged by expert veterinary or medical opinion. The widely advertised elimination of British beef from McDonalds and Burger King will have serious consequences for all of us if it causes a lack of confidence in beef and a fear on the part of consumers — irrespective of whether it is justified — that they stand in danger.
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment (Mr. Rabbitte) Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment (Mr. Rabbitte)
Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment (Mr. Rabbitte): I wish to share time with the Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Deenihan.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Joe Jacob
 An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: I am sure that is satisfactory and agreed.
Mr. Rabbitte Mr. Rabbitte
Mr. Rabbitte: The beef industry and the food industry more widely are essential parts of the Irish economy. They are a source of employment on farms and in processing plants. They are also a key part of our exporting economy and the products of our food industry have a very high international standing. The industry has secured very substantial support from the Irish taxpayer over the years. It is therefore central to the success of the food industry and of our economy that the customer is satisfied, whether the customer is at home or abroad.
The very basis for the success of the Irish beef and food industry generally is consumer confidence. Respecting consumers and retaining their faith and trust must be fundamental among the concerns of Government and industry. The consumer is not a passive entity at the end of a chain.
The word “consumer” hardly captures the essence of the inter-dependent cyclical relationship which exists between producer and consumer. Today's consumer is a discerning one. Consumers have rights. Our home consumers are also citizens and taxpayers and while our international consumers may not be our citizens they also place a trust in us as regulators and Government. We are all consumers. It is the business of Government to act in the public interest and, in an industry like food, the public interest and the consumer interest are one and the same thing.
I am totally committed, as Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs, to ensuring that the consumer interest is recognised at industry and Government level. The Consumers' Association of Ireland has highlighted this important dimension in recent days. Essentially it has advanced two central arguments: the need for a separation between producers and the regulatory-promotional agency for the food industry; and the  need for a distinctly consumer representation on An Bord Bia.
There is merit in both those arguments apart entirely from the context in which they have been advocated by the Consumers' Association of Ireland. I have never been slow in impressing upon and reminding my colleagues in Government of the need to measure the effects of all Government policies on consumers and to ensure that in framing such policies the interests of consumers are adequately taken into account.
It is important in offering reassurance to consumers on the safety of Irish beef to refer to the range of existing measures which provide extensive protections. There is no information available to me as Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs to suggest other than that consumers can have full confidence in Irish beef.
While not applying exclusively to beef or meat products, the accompanying labels on all prepacked goods must give the name of the food, the list of ingredients, the net quantity by number, weight or volume, the date of minimum durability or “use-by” date, any special storage instructions, name and address of packer, manufacturer etc., country of origin, but only if its absence is likely to mislead consumers, instructions for use, where necessary; and indication of irradiation or treatment with ionising radiation.
These requirements are stipulated in a number of food labelling regulations which are enforced with constancy and rigour by the office of the Director of Consumer Affairs. I am happy to tell the House that the director's work has not revealed or disclosed any breaches or violations of the regulations in the case of Irish beef. Labelling is an important measure to enable the consumer to make an informed choice with certainty and confidence.
As a further safeguard, the Consumer Information Act, 1978, combined with the Misleading Advertising Regulations of 1988, makes it an offence to advertise or indicate a product, including beef, as being of Irish origin when in fact it is  not. The Director of Consumer Affairs is also very active in enforcing and policing this legislation.
Protections do not end here. In 1991 the Houses of the Oireachtas passed into law Directive No. 85/374 of the European Economic Community. The Liability for Defective Products Act, 1991, entered into force in December of that year. The Act, which represented a significant milestone in the advancement of consumer rights, introduced into Irish law the remedy of damages for negligence based on the principle of strict or no-fault liability. The legislation imposes liability on a producer for damages caused wholly or partly by a defect in his or her product irrespective of whether the producer was negligent. Damage as defined in the Act relates to personal injury and damage to personal property. The Product Liability Act supplements in a very substantial way the existing remedies available under civil law on product liability in tort and contract law. In tort where damage is caused to a person because of a defective product the manufacturer or supplier can be sued for negligence, but negligence must be proven. Thus, under tort the burden of proof resided with the consumer.
In contract law, as enshrined in the Sale of Goods and Services Act, 1980, there are two main implied conditions in every sales contract. The goods or product must be of merchantable quality and must be reasonably fit for the purposes for which they are intended.
Under the Product Liability Act the plaintiff is required only to prove that the damage caused is the result of a faulty or defective product. These protections apply not only to finished products but also to the producers of raw materials used in the manufacture of or incorporated in the finished products. Thus, producers of beef products which have undergone any form of initial processing would leave themselves open to challenge, without limitation as regards liability, if defects in their products result in damage or personal injury to consumers. The same structures apply  for other finished products incorporating beef by-products or extracts.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Deenihan) Jimmy Deenihan
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. Deenihan): This debate on the recent BSE controversy is necessary and important if we are to alleviate consumer concerns and minimise the potential impact on our cattle and beef exports which were valued at approximately £1.7 billion last year.
Last week's announcement by the House of Commons has given rise to much comment, some of it hysterical, which must be looked at in context. The scientific evidence and information have been examined by independent scientists from the 15 member states who have concluded that there is no evidence of a direct link between BSE disease in animals and CJD in humans. However, to allay the concerns which have arisen and to allow further time to study the information, the Scientific and Veterinary Committee recommended that certain measures should be adopted in the short-term. The Standing Veterinary Committee subsequently voted 14 to one to ban the export of UK live animals, beef and veal products, including products used in veterinary medicinal products, pharmaceuticals, etc. These measures are necessary if the problem is to be confined to the UK and consumer confidence in beef and beef products is to be restored.
The Minister outlined the differences between the situation in Ireland and the UK and gave details of the measures in place to deal with BSE, including the steps taken in recent days to prevent smuggling along the Border. These measures will ensure the restoration of consumer confidence in the beef industry. The Department, with An Bord Bia, will carry out an intensive promotional campaign in the coming weeks to ensure that consumer confidence in beef is restored. This campaign will be carried out not only in Ireland but in our foreign markets. The Minister and I will devote all our energies to the restoration of this confidence.
 Deputy Cowen referred to the need for a co-ordinated approach to the problem. There has been a co-ordinated approach to this problem since it arose six days ago and continuous meetings have taken place with the trade and An Bord Bia and between the trade and An Bord Bia. They have also been working with the Departments of Health, Foreign Affairs and Justice and there has been considerable interaction between the various Departments. It is important to realise that there are different problems in the various markets and we must adopt different strategies and give the necessary assurances. Subcommittees have been set up to consider the different aspects of the problem and the approaches which need to be taken. I stress the importance of the Standing Veterinary Committee's meeting yesterday.
We have set clear goals for ourselves in dealing with this problem. To protect our market we must reassure consumers. Much information has already been given out by An Bord Bia while spokespersons for the industry and Departments have assured consumers that they can have every confidence in Irish beef. We must also secure our markets in Europe. This is being done and special trade promotions will follow, including back-up by the Minister and me in the coming weeks. We must also defend our position in third countries. Action is being taken at present in countries where there are problems, and the Minister outlined the initiatives he has taken in relation to Iran.
I wish to point out to Deputy O'Malley that there is no such thing as a BSE infected herd and no scientific or veterinary organisation has recommended that herds should be depopulated. We decided to introduce this policy of our own volition and it was the right one at the time. The extension of this policy by the Minister will strengthen our position at home and abroad. Work on the regulations on animal remedies is well advanced and should be finalised in the coming weeks. Deputy O'Malley  referred to feed products for species other than cattle. Meat and bonemeal are permitted for species other than cattle and the scientific view is that these present no risk. Nevertheless, the issue is being kept under ongoing review and if there is any threat to the poultry or pig industries action will be taken. There is no scientific evidence available to justify taking action at this stage.
Deputy O'Malley referred to the irregularities by a senior veterinary inspector in the Department. The Minister expressed his outrage at the action taken by this officer and I support his view. This man was in a position of responsibility and should not have taken this action. I assure the House that all the appropriate judicial and disciplinary action will be taken in this and any other cases uncovered. We are unable to give details of the case at this stage at it might prejudice the outcome.
I agree with the points made by Deputy O'Malley about our dependence on export refunds. We tend to hold whatever surplus Europe has and are very dependent on refunds. However, we need to reduce this dependence and build up a presence in the valuable retail outlets in the European consumer market. This is a slow process but progress is being made. As Deputy O'Malley correctly stated, the problems in the English market present us with a great opportunity to win a greater share of the £600 million European market. However, to do this we will have to convince our markets that we have a credible product which we can stand over. Virtually all the major beef processors have a strong focus on European markets and, with An Bord Bia, are devoting much time and effort in trying to cultivate the multiple retail outlets and develop these niche markets.
This debate is very important in terms of reassuring consumers that we can stand over the Irish beef product. The message we should send out to the home and foreign markets is that we can stand over the quality and credibility of Irish beef.
Mr. Davern Mr. Davern
 Mr. Davern: I wish to share my time with Deputy Tom Kitt. I am frightened for our beef industry. This is not just a question of beef but of the livelihood and culture of a whole rural community. There has been a shock reaction to the British announcement last week but we have heard little from our Government. What Government Ministers from city areas said did not reassure people. It is unacceptable that neither the Minister nor Minister of State attended the Seanad last week to hear the initial reaction.
Yesterday we read in the newspapers that the Taoiseach was thinking of making a telephone call to Mr. Mubarak and that the Cabinet would discuss the beef crisis this morning. If the Government does not have the money for a phone call the Opposition will provide it. What is happening is a far cry from the action taken by the former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, in travelling to Libya to secure a market for our beef.
A fax from Dubai this evening reveals that Irish cattle may be banned there. The Minister should use his political influence to ensure that consumer confidence is not further damaged by the refusal of more countries to accept Irish beef because they do not know the difference between it and English beef. There is no reason the Minister should not fly immediately to Egypt, Jordan and the Arab Emirates to give those countries his personal assurance that our beef is safe. If the Minister can get the Government jet from the Tánaiste for a while, he should use it because if other countries see that the countries I mentioned are accepting Irish beef they will realise it is safe and is distinct from British beef.
The Minister has the full support of this side of the House in dealing with what is potentially the greatest crisis in Irish agriculture. The industry is still reeling from the effects of a long hard winter and there is a state of absolute depression among farmers. At marts last Friday not 25 per cent of the usual number of cattle was for sale; farmers knew they would not get a good price  because of the reaction to the BSE revelations. Carriage and haulage contracts have been cancelled. All those involved, including consumers, are worried and need reassurance from all Ministers that Irish beef is clean, good and fit to be eaten. If that is not done the effect on the rural population, workers in meat factories, butchers and staff in butchers' shops will be devastating in a short time.
The banks are never exactly liberal in time of crises and tend to close shop. I hope the Minister will encourage his colleagues in Government, particularly those who come from the cities, to reassure people that our beef is fit for human consumption. There is a need for urgent action. A campaign should be started immediately. People with an international reputation should go on radio and television, take part in promotions outside the country and link their names with the good name of Irish beef. If we nip this crisis in the bud and advertise the distinction between British and Irish beef we can overcome the problem. The already depressed meat market will be further hit if immediate action is not taken. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of the Minister taking action as should the Taoiseach and the Department of Foreign Affairs. I am not referring to officials who do their job. Political relationships that have built up over the years should be used as there is nobody in this country who will not be affected if we take the same tumble that the English are taking.
Mr. T. Kitt Mr. T. Kitt
Mr. T. Kitt: I am most unhappy with the way this matter is being dealt with. We have heard the views of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry and other Ministers, but I am not convinced that this issue is being dealt with as it should be, as a public health issue. The Minister for Health has not participated in this debate. The Government is failing on two fronts, on the health front, and on getting the message across about the safety of Irish beef. The news from Dubai indicates that our diplomats are not doing their job in promoting the quality of Irish beef.
 Now that the ban on British beef has been reaffirmed by the EU veterinary committee, another related matter must be addressed, that is, the question of beef-based gelatine sourced in the UK. Will the Government seek the removal from the supermarket shelves of products such as confectionery and medicinal products that contain beef-based gelatine sourced in the UK. When we talk about beef-based gelatine we are talking about a product that is used in Easter eggs, wine gums, vitamin capsules and so on. We are talking about products that have serious implications for the health of consumers young and old. Which Minister is responsible for this?
Will the Government ensure there is proper labelling of food products to clarify beyond doubt the source of products, and even get into the area of quality control on farms or at factory level? Will the relevant Minister confirm that this will be dealt with on a national basis and that the Minister involved will not use the argument used by the British Government, that the question of labelling is an EU responsibility? That is a most irresponsible attitude and it amounts to hiding behind EU bureaucracy. Will the relevant Minister reassure this House that the Government will introduce a strict labelling system for our food products that will allay the fears of consumers?
This debate presents a challenge and opportunities. The challenge is to finally face up to the concerns of consumers. I do not need to repeat what my colleagues said about how a Fianna Fáil Government dealt with similar problems in the past. We can stand over what was done. The Minister responsible should respond to the challenge he faces on consumers' rights and take the opportunity to advertise Irish beef abroad as a good product. He should use every diplomatic channel possible. That is not being done if we are hearing worrying messages from countries like Dubai where there is utter confusion about the Irish and British beef markets.
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle Joe Jacob
 An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: The order of the House deems that we now embark on a question and answer session which shall not exceed 30 minutes.
Mr. Cowen Mr. Cowen
Mr. Cowen: Did the food safety advisory board meet in the past seven days, what was on its agenda and what decisions were taken?
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: The Food Advisory Board reports to the Minister for Health. I am aware from discussions with my colleague the Minister for Health that the question of BSE has been on the Department's agenda for some time. The Department is due to make an interim report on Tuesday next, 2 April. Arising from today's Cabinet discussions I understand there is a prospect of it bringing forward some deliberations to the end of this week or some time this week.
Mr. Cowen Mr. Cowen
Mr. Cowen: I will address a number of specific questions and will not take up issues that have come up in the debate. I take it from the Minister's speech that a decision was not taken at this morning's Cabinet meeting to set up a Cabinet subcommittee to co-ordinate the approach to the problem, with an information campaign at home, and a political initiative on markets abroad? Is that correct?
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: This matter was discussed at Cabinet. Prior to that my Department liased intensively with the Department of Foreign Affairs' diplomatic corps, in particular embassies, with the Department of Justice on extra surveillance at the Border and with the Department of Defence on the involvement of the Army in treating animal movement across the Border as suspicious. The Department of Health has been in contact with my Department since last Wednesday and has co-ordinated a panel of people with technical expertise to be available to the media to give reassurance in terms of the safety of Irish food, particularly Irish beef. A decision was taken at Cabinet to set up  an interdepartmental structure at senior officer level to provide an ongoing integrated response, and the key people who have been involved during the past six days will continue to be involved.
Mr. T. Foxe Mr. T. Foxe
Mr. T. Foxe: The disease has been caused by feeding animals with imported meat and bonemeal or by imported cattle. Meat and bonemeal is no longer fed to bovines but I understand it is being fed to pigs and chickens. Are pigs and chickens not susceptible to this disease? Has research been carried out that shows they are not, and if not, does the Minister intend to prohibit feeding those animals meat and bonemeal products?
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: In all cases we will adhere strictly to the EU scientific veterinary regulations and advice and in many cases we have surpassed them. Meat and bonemeal is permitted in feeds for species other than ruminants. The scientific view is that this presents no risk to those species. Individual tests have been carried out using very strong dosages on pigmeat in particular and my understanding is that this does not pose a risk.
Mr. T. Foxe Mr. T. Foxe
Mr. T. Foxe: Has the Department carried out research on this?
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: We co-ordinate with international research on this matter and, of course, there are transfers of research information.
I have an open mind on the question of specified offal. I understand in recent days, Britain has tightened its own procedures in this regard. It is important that we do not react in a knee jerk manner. If the EU veterinary and scientific committee recommend either the extension of the specified offal ban beyond the spinal cord and brain tissue and so on or the extension of the species ban based on new scientific evidence, then we will be happy to implement it. As of now all the scientific evidence is that this poses no risk to pigmeat and poultry meat.
Dr. Upton Dr. Upton
 Dr. Upton: Am I correct in suggesting that a marketing campaign to communicate the high health status of Irish beef in the European and Asean countries into which Irish beef is sold would run to hundreds of millions of pounds? Is it not time to establish in the Department a strategy to deal with the recurring series of food scares?
What is the herd slaughter policy in the case of an animal sold from a herd in the 12 months or less prior to the diagnosis of BSE in that herd? Is it planned to follow the animal to its new destination, pick it out and slaughter it or will the Minister authorise the full slaughter of the herd into which the animal was sold or the number of herds through which the animal has passed since it left the herd where BSE occurred?
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: It is true that a very effective marketing, advertising and promotion campaign in Europe would cost tens of millions of pounds? The advertising campaigns we are running in Europe as I speak cost in the order of £250,000 each day. I advised An Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board which is involved in this, that I am prepared to give it the extra resources necessary to reassure the general public in our key European markets. The Deputy is correct in saying this is an extremely costly exercise. We will follow up this campaign by meeting the key buyers. A strategy has been finalised and itineraries drawn up whereby there will be a ministerial and diplomatic trade presence to meet the key buyers in our important European markets, France, Britain, Italy, Spain, Germany and Sweden in particular and that is separate from the campaign in the non-EU states.
The Deputy raised the issue of food scares. I agree this is a constant feature of the high level of consumer and media interest in all elements of food safety and there will have to be an ongoing plan to deal with these issues. I raised this matter in the Council of Ministers  in Brussels and sought the establishment of a promotional fund for red meat and a panel of experts to be available. In Ireland, in conjunction with the Department of Health medical personnel and my Department's veterinary officials, we have a panel of people available on demand for radio and television to try to answer the public's queries.
The Deputy asked what would happen when it became know that the herd from which an animal had been sold subsequently had a case of BSE. BSE is a disease of animals, not herds. Animals can exist side by side for many years, eating and bedding down together and there is not a scintilla of a suggestion in any body of veterinary science that the disease is laterally transmissible. The origins of the disease go back to the consumption of infected meat and bonemeal product. It would be a waste of resources and time to try to extend beyond clincial surveillance for the symptoms of BSE and subsequent testing and kill out of those animals. That is the best way to track down disease. It would be wasteful and irrelevant in terms of assurances for food safety to pursue a policy of what would be fairly indiscriminate culling of healthy animals.
Mr. O'Malley Mr. O'Malley
Mr. O'Malley: The Minister told me in reply to a question I tabled on 30 January that the Department had at that time paid out a sum of approximately £11.5 million to herd owners for herds that were, to use the trade cliché, depopulated, which means killed. According to official figures only 124 cattle were found to have BSE. However, other animals identified as not directly affected in those herds were put back into the food chain, released for human consumption and processed by the factories involved. Given that the Department paid for those 7,000 or 8,000 cattle, did it recover that money in full from the factories or did the factories benefit from it? If the money has not been recovered in full, will the Minister  take steps to do so? Will he confirm that cattle not identified as suffering from the disease will be destroyed and disposed of in the same way as those identified as suffering from it? Public confidence will be eroded if the majority of animals in an herd that is slaughtered are put back into the food chain.
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: The depopulation policy has been in place since 1989 and it has served us well. It is important to explain the rationale behind it. For export certification purposes we guarantee that our herds are BSE free. We can give that assurance because we extinguished the herds within which BSE was found. Therefore, the value of the policy is not that we took animals at risk in depopulated herds out of the food chain, but that herds are free of BSE. That is the important distinction. In January the matter became a cause of public concern. I said we would extend the skull tests to any elderly cows in herds affected. This matter is about perception being more important than reality. Over the weekend I decided to go further and ensure that such animals will be taken out of the food chain and the entire herd will be denatured.
Some 16,485 cattle have been slaughtered under the depopulation policy since 1989 at a cost of £11.569 million. Many of these were young animals including calves, weanlings and so on. The meat factories paid the salvage value of them. I understand that meat did not end up in the food chain in Ireland. The salvage value paid by the factories since 1989 is some £3.6 million.
Mr. O'Malley Mr. O'Malley
Mr. O'Malley: If that meat did not end up in the food chain in Ireland, where did it end up?
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: It was exported.
Mr. O'Malley Mr. O'Malley
Mr. O'Malley: To where?
Mr. Cowen Mr. Cowen
 Mr. Cowen: To France and other markets.
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: That is correct.
Mr. O'Malley Mr. O'Malley
Mr. O'Malley: Was that wise?
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: The results of skull tests carried out on animals at risk showed that they were free of BSE. I do not have any evidence to suggest that the meat from those depopulated herds was in any way infected. The reason we are taking matters further is not science but to give greater reassurance. In a consumer society matters can be explained only in a sound bite and, therefore, depopulation is being explained now in the context of extracting herds entirely from the food chain. In my view, there was and is no risk from that meat.
Mr. T. Kitt Mr. T. Kitt
Mr. T. Kitt: I wish to put two questions to the Minister that I raised in my brief contribution. In light of the current situation, will he ensure that confectionery and medicine products, containing beef-based gelatine sourced in the UK, are removed from supermarket shelves? I remind the Minister that British beef derivatives are used in Easter eggs, wine gums and vitamin capsules. Will the Government address the labelling issue on a national basis and ensure food products are properly labelled to clarify beyond doubt the source of a product and quality of control on farms and in factories? I remind the Minister that the British in addressing this problem have hidden behind the EU. They claim it is an EU problem that should be dealt with at that level. Will the Minister reassure Members and allay the fears of consumers that the Government will properly address the issue of labelling now to ensure that consumers will know precisely what they are buying?
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: There is such a level of confusion about a wide range of products allegedly infected or contaminated that, to some extent, a stable argument no longer surrounds the issue. We should not contribute to the confusion  by suggesting that a number of products, which have an extremely tenuous link with the beef industry, should be regarded as suspicious. That is my personal observation.
Legislation on labelling is clear. The legal and statutory requirement for labelling necessitates the name of the food, the list of ingredients, the net quantity by number, weight or volume, the date of minimum durability or “use by” date, any special storage instructions, name and address of packer or manufacturer, county of origin only if its absence is likely to mislead consumers, instructions for use where necessary and indication of irradiation or treatment with ionising radiation. I am sure my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for consumer affairs, Deputy Rabbitte, will be pleased to review that legislation and expand on its detail.
Mr. Cowen Mr. Cowen
Mr. Cowen: If he is the Minister's best ally, he is in trouble.
Mr. T. Kitt Mr. T. Kitt
Mr. T. Kitt: Would the Minister of State like to comment on this when the Minister completes his reply?
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: I have every confidence in his ability to protect the consumer. Regarding the Deputy's question about what is or is not banned, like my European counterparts I signed an order today to ban UK beef, beef products or materials from beef which could be used in the human or animal food chains or in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and medical products. Products imported before the ban are legal, but I understand those in the trade, principally fast food outlets, supermarkets and retail chains, have already taken their de facto decisions from a marketing position, and the Deputy will be aware of their announcements.
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: Statements and questions thereon will conclude at 7 p.m. I understand some four Deputies are anxious to put questions. I know the House will be glad to facilitate them  and, therefore, I appeal for brevity from the Deputies whom I hope to call.
Dr. Woods Dr. Woods
Dr. Woods: I agree with the Minister that in general we have been to the forefront in handling this matter for the past number of years. The quality of Irish beef is recognised internationally as of the very highest order. It is particularly important to give every assurance in that regard. As the Minister stated, there is a great deal of difficulty with people's perceptions and it is important that the Government acts swiftly and decisively.
I was disappointed that the Minister of State at the Department of Health made the sole contribution in relation to public health. He stated that his Department was fully satisfied that the controls operated in Ireland are satisfactory to meet the consumers' concerns. Will the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry request a more definitive statement from the Minister for Health in this regard as it is disappointing he did not provide reassurance? Members may be aware of the scientific facts and the way in which the authorities are dealing with this situation, but it is particularly important that the Minister for Health provide direct and immediate reassurance to consumers.
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: I am not certain regarding the matter to which Deputy Woods alluded. I do not believe there is any ambiguity about the comments of Deputy O'Shea, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, who stated that no evidence has emerged which suggests any unusual developments in the pattern of CJD in Ireland. The Minister of State referred to statements made by the chief medical officer and stated there is no proven scientific link between CJD and BSE.
At all stages of this matter, the Department of Health has been very closely involved in seeking a solution. It must be remembered that the Food Safety Advisory Board reports to the  Minister for Health. Staff from neurology departments in hospitals and other doctors have appeared on media and radio programmes and forcefully defended the food safety of Irish beef. People should not believe their is any ambiguity about the messages emanating from our health authorities.
An Cheann Comhairle An Cheann Comhairle
An Cheann Comhairle: I wish to call upon Deputies Leonard, Kirk and Ned O'Keeffe to contribute if they can be facilitated. Will the Minister deal with their questions?
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: Yes.
Mr. Kirk Mr. Kirk
Mr. Kirk: I will be brief because I am aware of the time constraints. What arrangements are being put in place to harmonise veterinary controls, North and South, given the importance of maintaining the very good image of the beef industry in Ireland? We live on one island and there appears to be an urgency and importance about harmonising such controls.
Mr. Leonard Mr. Leonard
Mr. Leonard: At present, customs control posts on roads in Border areas are open. Will the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry be able to develop a programme which will not interfere with current peace initiatives? Will he also put in place all possible measures to ensure there is no danger that animals can be imported to Irish slaughter factories from outside the State?
Mr. E. O'Keeffe Mr. E. O'Keeffe
Mr. E. O'Keeffe: What plans are in place to nationally brand Irish beef for export? If the Minister is not receiving the necessary co-operation from the organisations involved, does he have the statutory right to enforce a brand image on Irish beef? Members are aware that Irish beef is being sold in 80 foreign countries, some of whom sell it as their native beef. Our national herd is under continuous threat from the importation of live animals. The roll-on/roll-off ferry system means that there is no mechanism in place to protect our herd. Will  the Minister seek a derogation from the European Union to prohibit the import of all livestock? One such importation in the past brought this scourge upon our cattle herd and the economy. It is vitally important to establish safeguards to protect the national herd. Ireland has the best derogation possible in that it is surrounded by water which makes it practically impossible to import livestock without permission.
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: There is ongoing dialogue between the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and DANI in relation to closer liaison between the veterinary and agricultural authorities, North and South. In many cases my Department has received windfall gains from Brussels which DANI has not. However, the incidence of BSE in Northern Ireland is 40 times greater than that in the Republic. I would not favour a situation of harmonisation when DANI has access to animal movements from the UK to Northern Ireland.
While Ireland will always comply with EU harmonisation, I wish to make it clear that — in association with the Garda, army and customs authorities — we are upgrading surveillance of suspicious movement of animals. A total of 70 animals with Northern Ireland identification markings were discovered in Counties Donegal and Louth. I wish to inform the rogues who smuggled those animals into the Republic that they will be destroyed at a loss to the owners, who cannot be traced. We will not permit the reputation of our beef industry and the high quality of animal health in Ireland to be jeopardised in this way.
With regard to branding, it is illegal to nationally brand Irish beef at present. The Deputy is aware that there is a “Q” mark containing a shamrock which identifies quality assurance in relation to pigmeat and beef and denotes traceability, infra-testing, no residues, etc. We are considering an extension of that system because consumers throughout Europe will demand greater country of  origin and traceability requirements in the future.
Different strategies will be invoked to deal with individual markets. The multiples in Britain have a major grip on the market and it is unthinkable they will abandon British beef. Therefore, we will work in conjunction with them. We cannot work any other way than with the trade. The British multiples will obviously be supportive of the indigenous situation. In other countries such as Germany and Sweden it will be the norm that there will be branding by virtue of country of origin. In France there is effectively a trade ban by the French trade which prevents any other meat from entering the country. This quite nationalistic attitude is not helpful. Different strategic approaches are necessary for different markets. For example, trade buyers from Sweden were involved in discussions with senior officials from my Department this afternoon. A tailor-made strategy is being put in place for individual markets which will be aggressively pursued by myself, the Department and An Bord Bia.
Mr. E. O'Keeffe Mr. E. O'Keeffe
Mr. E. O'Keeffe: What about the derogation?
Mr. Cowen Mr. Cowen
Mr. Cowen: It is interesting to note the change in terms of asking constructive and responsible questions. Many unnecessary questions were tabled in the past and it is ironic that those now defending the beef industry were previously quite good at undermining consumer confidence in it.
At present there are four shiploads of live cattle on the high seas. During the past 24 hours, the Taoiseach was asked to intervene by the exporter on the basis that the feed provided for the cattle will run out on 27 March. Has the Taoiseach contacted President Mubarak to resolve this issue? If not, can the Minister explain the delay? Will the Taoiseach contact Jordanian officials to resolve difficulties there?
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
 An Ceann Comhairle: We must not forget the time factor.
Mr. Cowen Mr. Cowen
Mr. Cowen: The Ceann Comhairle is aware that I have not yet asked the question.
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: I apologise but I am merely administering the affairs of this House in accordance with its decisions.
Mr. Cowen Mr. Cowen
Mr. Cowen: I am aware of that fact and I will conclude in one moment. When will the investigation into the senior veterinary officer of the Department be concluded, given that this has further undermined consumer confidence? Will he say when that matter will be concluded by the Department and others whose responsibility it is to address the issue?
Dr. Upton Dr. Upton
Dr. Upton: Will the Minister accept that BSE can be vertically transmitted, that is from mother to offspring? Is there a policy to slaughter the offspring of cows found to have the disease?
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: On Deputy Cowen's questions, I am acutely aware of the difficulties with regard to live shipments to Egypt and Libya. We have reached a satisfactory solution in Libya where boats can be unloaded. In Egypt the importers are sympathetic and anxious to facilitate the unloading of cattle, but neither the technical officials nor the Minister for Agriculture Food and Forestry have made a statement in that regard. President Mubarak made a presidential decree stating that all European beef and dairy produce was to be banned, despite the fact that the Scientific Veterinary Committee in the UK and Europe specifically stated there is no threat to dairy produce. In a public declaration, he said he does not eat red meat and encouraged his people not to eat it. I and my Department have been constantly updated on the position in Port Alexandria through the diplomatic services in Cairo.
This afternoon I spoke to the  exporter referred to by the Deputy. It is intended that there will be the earliest possible contact at the highest level. Egypt is two hours ahead of us. That is as much information as I have because I have been in the House for the past two and a half hours.
Mr. Cowen Mr. Cowen
Mr. Cowen: Is the Minister saying he does not know whether contact has been made yet?
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: I have no assurance that, should contact be made, it will be successful and I do not wish to raise expectations. Obviously these matters will become apparent in a very short period and I ask the Deputy to exercise some patience.
On the Deputy's question about the senior veterinary officer. I pay tribute to the officers of my Department and the Garda, as a result of whose involvement in extremely elaborate investigations, this matter was brought to light. Were it not for their efforts the subsequent possible criminal and certainly disciplinary proceedings, which I do not wish to prejudice, could not take place. I am satisfied that false certification of what are effectively young calves going to Europe, which in no way affects our Third Country export market, has been stopped. We will certainly deal ruthlessly with any such activity.
Mr. Cowen Mr. Cowen
Mr. Cowen: How long has it been going on?
An Ceann Comhairle Seán Treacy
An Ceann Comhairle: I am concerned that we are now encroaching by almost five minutes on Private Members' time.
Mr. Yates Mr. Yates
Mr. Yates: On Deputy Upton's question, I am not aware of any international scientific evidence of the vertical transmission of BSE. There is no information, genetic or otherwise, to show that it is transmitted in that way and therefore no action needs to be taken in that regard — the generally acknowledged method of transmission is the  consumption of infected meat and bonemeal.
Dáil Éireann 463 Revised Estimates for Public Services, 1996. Developments in BSE and Implications for Beef Industry: Statements.