Dáil Éireann - Volume 620 - 31 May, 2006
Adjournment Debate. - Animal Diseases.
Mr. Ferris Mr. Ferris
Mr. Ferris: At the outset, I commend the initial introduction of the 45 day retention period during a dangerous time in our economic history, the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. It was a commendable measure and I fully support its continuation in most instances.
That said, there are a number of problems emerging, particularly for small farmers or dealers, known as feeders, who buy cattle for a period, finish them and take them to be slaughtered for consumption. From a small farmer’s perspective, people who have cattle and are dependent on these feeders buying and finishing cattle for them over a period of eight, ten or 12 weeks have found that because of the shortage of foodstuff and the enormous amount of rain that has fallen, whatever surplus foodstuff they had was used and they had to sell at a reduced price. They were vulnerable and prey for people who were prepared to take advantage of that situation.
The small type feeder, people who buy in lots in cattle marts or buy from other farmers, might buy in ten or 12 cattle and, of those, two would probably be finished in three to four weeks, certainly much less than the 45 days. The retention period for which they are compelled to hold them is in excess of 45 days unless they have a dealer’s licence or the facilities whereby they can separate their cattle in their respective holdings. The knock-on effect is that they must feed them and, by the time they are slaughtered in the factory, the grade of that cattle has declined because they have gone beyond being finished, as we would call it. That is one aspect.
Another aspect is that most finishers or feeders, as we call them, are very susceptible to the meat industry in general. In the space of two or three weeks the price of finished cattle can drop in the factories and they are compelled to hold them if  they have bought them within the 45-day retention period. Taking all that into consideration, perhaps there is an argument, especially in regard to finishing off cattle — I am not talking about dealers because they are covered by licence and so forth — for beginning to address in a proactive way the problems of small farmers in the industry who work to maintain their holdings in what is a rapidly declining rural population, and especially a small farming population.
All Members of this House, especially rural Deputies, are aware of the situation in rural Ireland, particularly in regard to the viability of trying to maintain a holding, make a living and put one’s family through the education process and so forth. Perhaps an argument could be made in that regard as well. I ask the Minister of State to consider examining that in a positive way.
I have no problem with the retention period in most instances but where we are talking about finishing cattle, and cattle are tested after finishing — the meat is tested and so forth when they are killed — all that is taken care of in that regard. I ask the Minister of State to look favourably on this issue and perhaps over the next weeks and months she may come to a decision to address the points I make.
Ms M. Wallace Ms M. Wallace
Ms M. Wallace: I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. The Department of Agriculture and Food is responsible for implementing arrangements for the approval and registration of persons engaged in dealing in cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry under the Diseases of Animals (Amendment) Act 2001. As the Deputy said, that Act was introduced in the context of concerns that arose during the foot and mouth disease outbreak in 2001 and included, inter alia, a provision requiring dealers to be approved and registered to provide further assurances on the health status and traceability of our national herd.
The purpose of this legislation and the regulations adopted under it was to minimise the risks of disease outbreaks, reduce the spread of disease and ensure traceability of all movements to secure and preserve markets at home and abroad. It also implements aspects of EU legislation on dealers.
Under the legislation, a dealer is classified as a person who purchases cattle, sheep, pigs or poultry and supplies them to another person within a period of 45 days. The 45-day rule was introduced to facilitate farmer trade and reduce exposure of cattle to disease risks associated with frequent trading patterns. We have no evidence that this rule is acting as a significant barrier to trading in animals through the marts or otherwise.
The Deputy alluded to the definition of “dealer” in his remarks. The definition of “dealer” in the Act, and carried through to the regulations, extends to all individuals who sell or supply animals on a regular basis within 45 days of purchase. In principle, therefore, all those trading animals, including those supplying for slaughter within a 45 day period, must be registered as dealers.  However, the Department does not require those who engage in occasional trade on their own behalf or on behalf of others to apply for approval and registration.
The regulations introduced a number of obligations and responsibilities for dealers. In particular, if dealers are assembling or holding animals other than at an approved assembly point, they must have their premises approved for this purpose and the premises must meet certain minimum standards. Dealers must also comply with regulatory requirements regarding bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis and animal identification and registration rules. However, dealers are not obliged to have a premises. Those who buy or procure animals for other parties and supply the animals directly to those parties without assembling them or bringing them to an intermediate point do not need to have premises. Nevertheless, they must be registered and approved by the Department and are obliged to maintain records and comply with movement, disease testing rules etc.
All applicants for registration as dealers must undertake to comply with the regulations regarding the notification of animal movements, standard of facilities, disease control, record keeping etc. Each dealer is provided with an official identity card, with photograph, which should be presented in respect of animal and poultry transactions. Approved dealers and premises are subject to ongoing monitoring and inspection by officers of the Department.
The Department is reviewing the dealer legislation. The review will be comprehensive and will include an examination of the definition of a dealer. It will be completed soon.
Dáil Éireann 620 Adjournment Debate. Animal Diseases.