Dáil Éireann - Volume 665 - 30 October, 2008

Other Questions. - Beef Industry.

Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if his attention has been drawn to the report by the Food and Veterinary Office recording ongoing failures by Brazil to meet EU standards. [37461/08]

  Deputy Trevor Sargent: The Deputy asks if our attention has been drawn to the report by the Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office recording ongoing failures by Brazil to meet EU standards. I am aware of the report to which the Deputy refers. The Commission’s Food and Veterinary Office recently published its final report of a follow-up mission carried out between 25 February and 13 March 2008 to evaluate measures that the Brazilian authorities introduced to address serious shortcomings on cattle traceability with regard to exports to the EU.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Commission proposed severe restrictions on Brazilian imports with effect from February of this year. However, the former Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Coughlan, directed Department officials attending the standing committee to vote against the Commission’s proposal and to call for an outright ban on beef imports from Brazil. While a complete ban was not agreed, the effect of the Commission’s proposals was to limit exports of beef from Brazil to a relatively small number of herds. Based on this latest report, I have arranged for my Department to write to the Commission to have this matter urgently discussed at the European Commission’s standing committee on the food chain and animal health.

  Deputy Seán Sherlock: It is clear that there are still issues of concern relating to Brazilian beef. While I welcome the Minister of State’s reply and acknowledge that beef exports from Brazil are confined to a small number of herds, the amounts within those herds would probably far outweigh the Irish national herd. The numbers in question are still significant.

I welcome the Minister of State’s reply and accept that the Department has chosen the correct course of action in the circumstances.

  Deputy Trevor Sargent: It is important to provide as much information as possible to Deputies and, in that context, it is interesting to note the up to date figures for EU beef imports. Brazilian beef imports to the EU have gone down considerably and much of the imports that are now coming from that country are of cooked meat, which was not affected by the Commission’s decision. Last year, 5,123 tonnes of beef were imported into Ireland from Brazil, compared to 1,448 tonnes this year, which is quite a considerable drop in volume. It is important to bear in mind that Brazil’s misfortune is other countries’ opportunity. New Zealand beef imports have increased from a very low base to quite a significant amount of tonnage, at [608] 108 tonnes. Similarly, Uruguay has also gone up from a very small base of just over 13 tonnes to 1,954 tonnes. That is the kind of dynamic that is going on at present. In the meantime, we obviously have an opportunity here in Ireland because of the increase in beef prices.

It is important to state that an outright ban on Brazilian beef imports is by no means a foregone conclusion. The European Commission has been assisting with advice and training of officials in the Brazilian authorities to ensure that auditing and evaluation would extend to local officials. That is as they are required to do. If they have a problem, they are required to indicate the nature of that problem and also what needs to be done in order for trade to resume.

Brazil is marking time and getting its house in order. In the meantime, we will have a meeting at EU level. I hope the report will be on the agenda of the next meeting of the standing committee on the food chain and animal health but I am not sure if that is the case.