Dáil Éireann - Volume 552 - 18 April, 2002

Ceisteanna – Questions. - National Beef Assurance Scheme.

  3. Mr. Dukes asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development if he will make arrangements for the certification required for the national beef assurance scheme and the dairy herd certificate to be carried out on each farm on the date of the annual herd test; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12110/02]

  Mr. Davern: I have stated on numerous occasions in the House and elsewhere that on-farm inspections under the national beef assurance scheme and the dairy herd certification scheme should be carried out at the time of the annual herd test or at a mutually convenient time for the farmer and the testing veterinary surgeon.

  As regards the beef assurance scheme, detailed discussions have taken place over a four-year period with Veterinary Ireland and its predecessor organisation and the farming bodies concerning the arrangements for inspection of farms. A protocol for the conduct of inspections has been agreed both with Veterinary Ireland and the farming representative bodies. There is also universal acceptance that farm inspections should be carried out by the testing veterinary surgeon at the time of the annual herd test. There remains some resistance to the implementation of this scheme because of the supposed costs involved.

  In this respect, the legislation passed by the Oireachtas establishing the scheme states unambiguously that any costs incurred in securing a certificate of approval are the responsibility of the applicant.

  Mr. Connaughton: What about Deputy Ned O'Keeffe?

  Mr. Davern: In any event, €43 million has been invested by the taxpayer in developing the cattle identification and tracing system which will underpin the beef assurance scheme.

  The national beef assurance scheme has been designed to assist the marketing of Irish beef by demonstrating strict implementation of high standards right through the production chain. It provides additional assurances to consumers of Irish beef and a marketing edge for our beef exports in the highly competitive and ever more discerning consumer markets in Europe. Ireland produces 500,000 tonnes of beef every year and the best return for farmers can only be gained if this prod[680] uct can be marketed in the higher value market segments, especially in the UK and continental Europe. To do so, the product must maintain a high level of consumer acceptance and confidence, particularly against a background of a sector recovering from serious difficulty.

  I am disappointed with the attitude of Veterinary Ireland which has continuously extolled the virtues of assurance schemes while at the same time undermining the implementation of the national beef assurance scheme. I call upon Veterinary Ireland to lend its support at this stage to the delivery of the scheme.

  As regards the dairy herd certification scheme, the position is that a round of farm inspections was carried out in 2000 to meet the requirements of the scheme. I understand that inspections were generally undertaken at the time of the annual herd test. There is no reason similar arrangements should not apply in respect of the inspections scheduled to be undertaken this year.

  Mr. Dukes: Listening to the Minister one would think the country is rife with agreement. If such agreement exists, however, why is there a problem now? Why have inspections not taken place in large parts of the country? Will the Minister confirm that the undertaking given in the PPF that this would proceed without any cost to farmers has been broken by the terms of the legislation? The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development reneged on a commitment on this matter, which was given to the House by the previous Minister of State.

  Mr. Davern: As the Deputy well knows, there is agreement on the quality of the scheme, the assurance it gives to consumers and, above all, the back-up guarantee it provides to farmers producing good quality beef. Taxpayers, however, have already paid €43 million for this scheme. Is the Deputy suggesting that taxpayers should pay for it again?

  Mr. Dukes: I am asking the Minister if he is still going to pretend that what the Government is doing with this scheme is in accordance with a solemn undertaking entered into under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. That undertaking has been thrown out and the Government has again shown the back of its hand to farmers. Will the Minister confirm that even though everybody is agreed on the objectives of the scheme, the Minister and the Department have been messing about thus preventing the scheme from being applied? As yet, there has been no agreement on how the scheme will be carried out on farms. I would like to know what the Minister of State proposes to do about that.

  Mr. Davern: I repeat that €43 million of taxpayers' money has gone into assuring this traceability system and to give a guarantee of traceability, particularly to consumers in Britain and on the Continent.

[681]   Mr. Dukes: So €43 million has been spent for nothing? The Minister has not got a result.

  Mr. Davern: No, we have spent €43 million on setting up the scheme.

  Mr. Dukes: It is not working.

  Mr. Davern: The dairy herd certification scheme was undertaken at the time of the herd test. There is no reason the beef assurance scheme cannot be undertaken at the same time. If one goes to the doctor for one complaint and pays a fee, is the Deputy suggesting that a second fee should be paid to check another complaint?

  Mr. Dukes: Why is that not happening?

  Mr. Davern: Because Veterinary Ireland will not implement it unless it receives a separate payment. Farmers do not see why they should pay either, so it comes back to the taxpayers again.

  Mr. Dukes: That is the PPF.

  Mr. Davern: I do not believe it should come back to the taxpayers. It should be carried out at the time of the annual herd test.

  Mr. Dukes: That is what happens when one goes back on a solemn commitment.

  Mr. Davern: The solemn commitment was to create the assurance scheme and implement it.

  Mr. Dukes: Without extra cost to farmers.

  Mr. Davern: I think the veterinary union should do it for the farmers who are its consumers.

  Mr. Dukes: No, it is the Government who should pay, not the farmers.

  Mr. Davern: In fairness, a lot of money has been spent, particularly last year, on dealing with foot and mouth disease. All that area has been dealt with.

  Mr. Dukes: It was the Government that entered into that undertaking under the PPF. The Government has reneged on it and it is responsible for the fact that the scheme is not working. I am asking the Minister of State what he is going to do about that now.

  Mr. Davern: We will continue talks with all sections to try to ensure that this is carried out not just in the interests of farmers who sell beef abroad, but also in the national interest.

  Mr. Dukes: The Minister of State is fine at talking, but that is about all.