Seanad Éireann - Volume 135 - 29 April, 1993

Bovine Diseases (Levies) Regulation, 1993: Motion.

[1786] Mr. Mullooly: I move:

That Seanad Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:

Bovine Diseases (Levies) Regulations, 1993,

copies of which were laid in draft before Seanad Éireann on 28 April, 1993.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. O'Shea): Copies of the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Regulations, 1993, were laid in draft form before the Seanad on 27 April 1993. The proposed regulations are being made under the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Act, 1979, and their purpose is to reduce the financial contribution by the farming community towards the cost of the bovine TB and brucellosis eradication schemes by a sum of £2 million. It is proposed that this sum will be saved on the estimated running costs of this year's programme.

A scheme for the eradication of bovine tuberculosis in cattle was first introduced in Ireland in 1954. The scheme was successful by the mid-1970s in reducing the endemic levels of disease in the national herd to an animal incidence of approximately 0.5 per cent. However, the real difficulty is that progress towards final eradication slowed at that level and persistent difficulties were encountered in achieving further sustained reductions in disease levels. Clearing residual levels of any infectious disease is difficult but it is surprising that achieving further reductions in the level of TB has proved so difficult.

In 1988 a new initiative, ERAD — the Eradication of Animal Disease Board — was established by the Government as a specialised agency to implement a vigorous four year bovine TB eradication programme. The main conclusions to be drawn from the ERAD experience is that eradication is more difficult than had originally been envisaged; that high volume of testing per se is not the answer; [1787] and that special emphasis needs to be placed on related issues, such as the development of technological tools, including a computerised movement permit system and a blood based diagnostic test to supplement the existing skin test together with a possible vaccine for cattle and wildlife. Consideration is currently being given to the type of arrangements appropriate for the next four years of the programme and a wide range of consultations have been held with farming and veterinary organisations. In the meantime, however, it is necessary to continue the effort to systematically and progressively reduce the existing levels of the disease.

When ERAD was established the Government undertook that, in addition to meeting the administrative costs of the scheme, which this year will come to about £18 million, it would maintain a financial commitment to the running costs of the schemes. The current running costs are shared by the Exchequer and the farming community. The farmers' contribution is provided through levies collected under the 1979 Bovine Disease Levies Act. In 1992 farmers contributed £29 million by way of levy. For 1993 the amount now proposed for collection will be approximately £27 million while the estimated running costs of the schemes for 1993 will be reduced from £43.5 million to £41.5 million.

The background to the proposed new financial arrangements related to the establishment of the EC veterinary fund under which member states can seek funding for disease eradication measures in the context of reaching a common animal health status to facilitate animal movement in the Single Market. Ireland has made an application to the Commission for EC funding for part recoupment of bovine TB reactor compensation and testing costs amounting to a potential draw down of some £20 million per year. While the application is technically acceptable to the Commission Services it has not yet been approved as the veterinary fund budget is fully taken up for 1993 and cannot, for the present, fund [1788] a number of member state programmes including Ireland's bovine TB programme. However, I am continuing to press that the money be made available at the earliest possible date. The availability of EC funding is central to the provision of the amplified resources needed to push for a sustained reduction in the residual incidence of bovine TB. Securing of that funding remains a priority and is being pursued at every opportunity.

Draw down of this level of EC funding will, of course, allow for the possibility of a significant reduction in the financial burden of the eradication schemes on both the Exchequer and the farming community. However, pending the draw down of the EC funding it is necessary for trading and veterinary reasons to proceed with a full monitor of the national herd and this year's TB testing programme commenced this week. It is intended that a full round of TB testing will be completed before the end of the year. This will involve a test for every herd together with any necessary consequential testing arising from reactor disclosure. In addition, the national herd will continue to be monitored for brucellosis though a combination of milk testing of the dairy herds and blood testing of the non-dairy and suckler enterprises.

Following discussions with the farming organisations it has been possible to identify agreed savings of £2 million through an adjustment in reactor compensation and a slight reduction in the amount of testing originally planned for this year's programme. These savings will allow for a reduction in the bovine disease levies of the order of 0.1p per gallon of milk processed and 60p per animal slaughtered or exported live. It is proposed to pass back the full amount of the savings to the farming community. The savings, while relatively modest, have been accepted by the farming organisations as a recognition of the significant cost to herd owners in the context of tightening enterprise margins.

I am sure that the House will appreciate that given the overriding requirement to reduce the incidence of bovine TB, a thorough analysis of all the factors [1789] involved in disease transmission must be a key element of any eradication programme.

On the overall question of research, the TB investigation unit has been in existence for four years and has carried out a variety of projects in relation to factors which militate against eradication. It has carried out a considerable amount of analytical work on statistical data. A total of 19 projects were completed in 1992 and an extensive programme of work has been mapped out for 1993. Valuable work is also being done by my Department's veterinary research laboratory especially on culturing post-mortem samples and on the evaluation of blood tests. Work is continuing on the development of a blood test which has been identified as a major research priority not just in this country but in others having a bovine TB problem. My Department is participating in EC funded trials and we are also carrying out our own research projects and collaborating with research elsewhere in this area. Although the project is as yet very much at the experimental stage and progress is slow, the objective is to get to a stage where the blood test would be reliable under practical field conditions and could augment and back-up the tuberculin test in certain situations.

Work on the computerised movement permit system is progressing well and, when completed, will be of enormous benefit to the administration of the eradication programme. The system will be extensive and complex and will form part of the current overall computerisation of my Department. In the meantime herd owners should consider the benefit of keeping their own records of the movements of cattle into and out of their holdings. In any event, such record keeping will shortly be a requirement arising from the introduction of the Single Market.

The experience of ERAD would indicate that the goal of eradication is more difficult than originally envisaged. However, I believe that with the full co-operation of all concerned it will be possible to break the back of this disease once and for all.

[1790] Mr. D'Arcy: I welcome a debate, no matter how short, on this issue and this regulation affords us the opportunity for such debate. Disease eradication has been an ongoing saga for many years in this country. I have always argued, and continue to argue, that unless we secure the confidence, support and co-operation of farmers we will never eradicate these diseases. It is as simple as that. We have been criticised for not eradicating TB in particular and brucellosis to a lesser extent.

I describe the present Government policy as one of containment rather than eradication. More resources will have to be made available, no matter from where they come, if the incidence of TB in cattle is to be brought down to an acceptable level. In the last four years the incidence of bovine TB has varied between 3 per cent and 4 per cent, but we have difficulty reducing it below these levels. Different Ministers have made statements to the effect that we are making progress. However, 12 months later we seem to have the same level of disease.

I speak as a practising farmer. There is no one more afraid of disease in his herd than the farmer. The vets are paid, the departmental officials are paid and the Minister is paid but if a farmer is unfortunate enough to detect disease in his herd he must inevitably lock up or depopulate the herd. This has serious consequences for any farmer. I have seen many farms where herds contracted the disease and depopulation began and the farmers never recovered financially from the losses they suffered.

The question of funding has always been difficult. The Minister said that the contribution from farmers in the form of levies was £29 million last year and £27 million this year. The levy has been reduced by .1p per gallon of milk, and by 60p per head of cattle slaughtered. I cannot understand why the Department did not wait until we found out exactly what use will be made of the promised £80 million from the EC for the four years of the programme. The Minister did not tell us when and in what form this money will be forthcoming. Will it be in the form [1791] of a grant towards the overall costs of the scheme — £20 million a year over four years — or in some other form? The Minister can take it from me that profit margins are so tight that farmers can no longer afford to fund this scheme.

Compensation paid to farmers amounts to approximately £18 million. After farmers have contributed enough to cover the full cost of compensation paid, £11 million is available to cover the overall cost of the scheme. That is a substantial contribution from the farming community. The overall cost of the scheme is in the region of £41 million to £42 million, while the shortfall, caused by administrative costs, is £11 million or £12 million. The Minister must accept that the farmers are making a significant contribution towards the eradication of these diseases.

I have criticised the Department of Agriculture and Food on many occasions and I am going to criticise them again today. I will ask the Minister some questions and I presume he will have a chance to reply. These are questions farmers are asking public representatives, including myself and the Minister. What form will the £80 million from the EC take? Will the farmers be able to reduce their contribution to £20 million? Is the Department prepared to carry the same share as the farmers?

Many farmers have disease-free herds. They are very careful and spent a lot of money disinfecting their premises to make sure their herds do not contract TB. They said they did not mind contributing to these levies over a short period but they are being asked to contribute over a long period. These levies have been in operation for four or five years. Can the Minister guarantee today that over the next four or five years the incidence of bovine TB will have reached an acceptable level? I am not talking about brucellosis. That is a different disease and more easily contained than TB.

As far as the eradication of bovine TB is concerned, we have made little or no progress over 25 years. I believe there is something wrong when it comes to [1792] identifying the source of the disease. I welcome the Ministers' statement, and I quote:

On the overall question of research the TB investigation unit has been in existence for four years and has carried out a variety of projects in relation to factors which militate against eradication.

I am asking him a simple question. If I have disease in my herd can that unit identify the source of that disease? The answer is no. Despite all the technology, laboratories and staff, we do not seem to be able to identify the source of the disease.

Let it be clearly understood that there are pockets in every county where the disease exists. County Wexford is the same as anywhere else. I know areas where the disease exists and a farmer is very careful when purchasing cattle from those areas.

The farmers want to hear how this unit is working. If there is a breakout of disease in my herd, will the Department carry out the research on my farm and tell me the source of the disease? We do not seem to be able to do that and I am not sure if that can be done in other countries either. In Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia 15 years ago, they almost depopulated every herd that had the disease but they cleared it. Although I do not have documentation to back it, I believe they had a research unit which could identify the source of the disease. Although there are awful problems in those two countries unrelated to disease, I have been told the herds are disease free although I cannot confirm this. Will the Minister deal with the questions in relation to the research unit? What type of programme is it undertaking and will research be carried out on farms? Laboratory research is not enough, the programme must take place where the disease is, on the farms.

I understand that instances of brucellosis here may have doubled over a 12 month period but I am not sure whether that is true. When I telephoned the Department of Agriculture this morning [1793] no one could supply me with the information. In 1991 approximately 150 herds contracted brucellosis while in 1992 the figure was 300 herds, a very worrying trend. Having dealt with TB and brucellosis on my own farm I accept that it is easier to contain brucellosis even though it is a contagious disease and does great damage to a herd. If there can be that type of increase in the space of 12 months then something is seriously wrong. I understand that the milk round test identifies brucellosis in herds. Every dairy farmer has a milk round test at least twice a month, and some of them have the test four times a month. Therefore, the detection of brucellosis in herds seems to be easy as far as the Department is concerned because it is being notified of the situation by the creameries. What is the position in regard to brucellosis? Was there an increase of 100 per cent over 12 months?

The Minister did not spell out future policy and I would be interested in finding out what is happening in regard to the research unit. We have heard arguments about the source of the disease and how it is carried from one farm to another. Am I correct in saying that there is testing of deer, goats and badgers? There are many deer herds across the country and they are expanding rapidly. Heretofore they have not been tested but they are carriers of TB. Will the Minister state whether all deers will be tested under the 1993 test rounds? It should be done and the same should apply to goats. Since the national goat herd is small, the Department should include all herds of goats in the 1993 test rounds.

We have had a long running argument with the Department and wildlife officials about badgers. I have always believed, and no one will convince me otherwise, that the badger is a source of TB infection. It would take me half an hour to go through figures proving that when badgers were plentiful in areas TB broke out. Inevitably, in most of those areas, designated by the Department as blackspots, there were some badgers. I know badgers are a protected species but the Minister will have to test and identify those carrying [1794] TB. We cannot allow this situation to continue. While the Minister says there is a 1 per cent reduction, that cannot be assessed until the end of testing this year because we will not know until then where we stand in regard to TB.

The question of disinfecting also arises. Unfortunately, nearly every beast in the country will be transported about five times before slaughter and these are acceptable figures. The disinfecting of lorries does not seem to be a priority with the Department. The disinfecting of premises is a priority but farmers are no longer allowed to disinfect their own premises when they have an infected herd. I disagree with that. The vast majority of farmers will do everything in their power to keep their herds free of disease because they know the cost to their families and farms. The Minister stated that farmers must use the milk relief service to disinfect but this will place further expense on farmers. A locked up herd is a very serious matter and costs the farmer a lot of money even though compensation has improved. Substantial fees are being charged for disinfection work by the milk relief service.

The movement of saleable cattle, not cows, from infected areas is spreading the disease. The Minister says every beast will have to be identified but identification alone is not enough. How do you guarantee that lorries in which cattle have been transported are properly disinfected? It is no good just using a spray can. There are high-powered hoses that can do the job in five minutes and they should be used to disinfect cattle lorries. In the UK, cattle are transported on average one and a half times per year, and only once on the Continent.

The levy reduction in this area is so small that it will have no effect on profits. It amounts to knocking £2 million off £29 million. I appeal to the research unit, which has operated in the Department for four years, to visit the blackspots and identify the source of the disease. If we are ever to stop it this must be done.

I served in the Department of Agriculture and Food for a short period in [1795] 1981 and I said to their inspectors at the time that they must try to identify the source of the disease. However, we do not seem to be able to do that. Perhaps the Minister has information that I do not have and if so I would welcome it, so would the farmers. We cannot go on forever with a disease rate of 3.5 per cent. The research unit should have acquired a lot of knowledge by now and a good basis on which to operate. If disease breaks out in my herd I hope I will be able to ring the Department and that the research unit will come to my farm to identify the source of the disease. I support the reduction in the levies.

Mr. R. Kiely: Bovine disease eradication has been continuing for a long time. It was first introduced in 1954 and after all these years we have still not fully eradicated it. The levies were introduced in 1979 and have been essential in funding the eradication of disease. This year there has been a slight reduction in the levies. The last time such regulations came before the House was in 1990 when there was an increase. ERAD was in operation at that time and some people were dissatisfied with it. Members withdrew from ERAD because they did not think progress was being made.

The Minister's speech outlined the difficulty of eradicating bovine TB. I listened attentively to Senator D'Arcy as he discussed its source. My neighbours and I can often identify the source of a break out. It may be because someone brought in an animal from an infected area or that farmers might not have been careful enough. The source to which Senator D'Arcy referred is the original source. It is difficult for the Department to find the source of this problem but I am sure that, eventually, they will be successful.

I am concerned about the depopulation of herds. If a herd is infected and needs to be depopulated, it should be done immediately. This is not happening and the Department is not doing its job in this area. Farmers are anxious to get adequate compensation. I agree with [1796] Senator D'Arcy that the compensation received after a herd has been depopulated is inadequate to bring the herd back to its original standard. I would like to see stricter and better discipline when depopulating herds. I know of a herd infected with a disease — I will not mention its name — and there were ongoing discussions with the Department for 12 months before the herd was depopulated. That is not good enough.

The Minister said that, following discussions with farming organisations, an agreed saving of £2 million has been identified through an investment in reactor compensation and a slight reduction in the amount of testing originally planned for this year's programme. I would prefer to maintain the system of levies. Although I welcome the decrease in levies, I would not mind paying them as long as I would not have TB in my herd or on my premises. When a herd becomes infected, there should be adequate compensation and despite any sacrifices that have to be made, people with infected herds must be adequately compensated. The compensation available to those with pedigree herds and to pedigree breeders who go to much expense to improve their herds is inadequate. There should be an improvement and infected herds should be depopulated as soon as possible.

Every week the Irish Farmers' Journal carries advertisements for Dutch imported and Friesian calving heifers. This activity presents a danger to disease eradication. I do not know what regulations or conditions are imposed on such imports but the practice should be seriously examined. Today, the farming supplement of The Cork Examiner carries an article, on mad cow disease which definitely came to this country through the importation of cattle. Another one — Johnes disease — is mentioned in the article which states that it has been linked recently with the increase of imports of dairy breeding stock from the Continent. We will definitely have to examine the importation of dairy breeding stock from the Continent. There is enough breeding stock in this country to adequately meet replacement needs. [1797] Such importation was not allowed previously and should be again restricted. It concerns me and many others, especially if an outbreak of disease occurs following the importation of cattle. We are trying to eliminate disease, we should do our best to eliminate it and not damage or interfere with the eradication programme. The Minister stated that the EC funding for compensation is £20 million. I would like to see that money going towards adequately compensation for people with depopulated herds. If that was done maybe disease would be eradicated within a few years.

I telephoned the Department today to refresh my memory about the pre-movement regulations. I remember speaking when this regulation was introduced in the House, at that time ERAD changed the 120 day test to a 60 day test and under the rules of the 50 day test, cattle could only be moved twice. I understand that was changed and I telephoned the Department today but there was no one there to tell me whether one could move cattle as often as one liked after the 60 day test or if it is restricted to a certain number of movements. I am engaged in farming and when I take out cattle, I try to sell them immediately, one or two movements are sufficient. I wonder if it is still restricted to one or two movements.

I am also concerned about the agricultural shows which are the show piece of agricultural products, especially dairy and show cattle. The shows organised in Limerick are great occasions when urban and rural people mix. They are wonderful events and the people organising them should get all available help. The 60 day movement regulation is not helping the shows. In the case of one or two day shows, in which the majority of cattle arrive in the morning and home that evening the 60 day movement could be extended to 90 days. Delegations from shows and committees would like to see that changed and an exception made for show cattle. The shows start in May and finish in September, some people are restricted from showing cattle, especially good prize cattle, and something should be done in this regard.

[1798] The draft regulations are before us and the reduction in levies is welcome. I see the regulation as a step towards the eradication of bovine disease.

Mr. O'Toole: On the last two occasions when a similar order came before the House I made my views clear. We have spent £1.1 billion on the TB eradication scheme since its inception in 1954. It has been a disaster and we are still looking at an incidence of the disease in 3 to 5 per cent of the national herd even at a time when the herd has been reduced.

Everybody blames everybody else. I have seen the reception a vet gets from the owner when he brings news of a reactor in the herd. I have seen vets losing business because farmers “shoot the messenger” when they are told of a reactor in the herd and they may decide to take their business elsewhere.

City people say the vets have a vested interest in maintaining the scheme because it means a lot of money for them. The farmers have a vested interest in ensuring they do not lose their herds because the compensation is not adequate. Vets tell me they have a problem at every stage. One veterinary surgeon told me he had to fill in 13 different forms on diagnosing a reactor in a herd. I do not know how true that is but he said trying to do that in the back of a car in a muddy farm yard is not easy. He also complained that the level of follow up was neither quick nor comprehensive enough. I acknowledge that this is a case of dúirt bean liom agus dúirt bean léi but vets feel they are on the receiving end of public odium and the farming communities think likewise.

There is a constant row about how to get results in this scheme. I do not envy any Minister taking responsibility for such an area, and trying to get a satisfactory result. The vets are the professionals who are involved at every point in the scheme and they argue with the Departments. As the professionals, they should be asked for their views on how bovine TB can be eradicated. Let us try their proposals for a time.

[1799] The present system will never eradicate TB. At the moment cattle are tested once a year. Movement from farm to farm, from one herd to another, sale and resale, means often an animal can have moved up to nine times before being diagnosed as a reactor. This means the animals movements may have to be traced over a period of years. One checks all the herds the animal came from, and all the farms and, in the meantime, other animals have left those contaminated herds. The area affected keeps getting wider.

Everybody is looking for someone to blame, whether it be the vets, the farmers, or the badgers. There is always someone to blame but nobody to take responsibility. Meanwhile, a huge amount of money is being spent. I am not an expert in this area, but in my view a two stage approach must be taken. The first part is a test every time an animal is moved. That would create chaos at the beginning but there must be a period when we stop the movement of animals until we are sure they are clear. We can then proceed from that position.

Other European countries have managed to eradicate TB. We have failed because the movement of cattle has meant we cannot identify contaminated animals early enough. The only way to ensure that does not happen is to test. Annual tests with animals moving in the meantime will never resolve the problem or get the results the taxpayers, the farmers and the vets want.

In Ireland we now have an extraordinary opportunity to become the clean food centre of Europe, and I know the Minister shares that objective. It is one of the few advantages of being an island community. However, problems will arise from that over the next 18 months. There are European directives on the free movement of animals between member states of the European Community. I do not envy the Minister trying to deal with that. It is not clear how we can stop diseases like rabies coming into our country. Nonetheless, I believe that we can be a clean food area. This week [1800] I was talking to two vets and they told me they would not advise people to eat red meat because of surplus contaminants.

However, I am straying from the issue which is TB eradication. Something radical needs to be done in this area. We must stop movement until we are certain the animal is clear. This has to be done over a period of time. We will then have the disease under control and can look forward to a clear national herd.

Nobody has a difference of opinion about what the objective is here, but everyone has a view about how it might be done. I speak as somebody uneducated in this area, relaying stories I hear. I live in a farming community and I hear farmers, vets and taxpayers talking about the amount of money spent. Everybody is supposed to be making a fortune from the scheme but neither vets nor farmers are, although money goes to both those groups. We need radical action quickly.

Ms O'Sullivan: On 4 July 1990 when this issue was last debated in the Seanad, the then Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy O'Kennedy, said:

In 1988 the Government embarked on a new initiative. ERAD was established by the Government with the objective of planning and implementing a vigorous four year programme to accelerate the eradication of bovine TB and brucellosis

The Minister said today the goal of eradication is more difficult than originally envisaged; he can say that again. In 1990 it was hoped the process could be accelerated but that has not been the case. Senator O'Toole mentioned the figure of £1.1 billion spent over nearly 40 years and we have not got much closer to eradicating bovine TB. I quote from a poem, “The Brook”:

Men may come and men may go

But I go on forever.

It was about a river but it seems to apply to bovine TB. I sincerely hope it will not go on forever. There were indications in the Minister's contribution that new [1801] radical measures are being considered — Senator O'Toole has suggested that is what we need — and that it is intended to at least look at such measures for the future.

Senator Kiely referred to the need for depopulation immediately infection is detected. That is an important point and I support it. Senator D'Arcy said the Department should concentrate on black spots and directly approach farmers. Farmers should have comprehensive advice if they have a particular problem. There are black spots in every county. County Limerick would not be considered a black spot because movement from that area tends to be outward rather than inward.

The Minister indicated that there was the possibility of radical action in relation to the computerised movement permit system. That relates to another point made by Senator O'Toole — that the movement of animals needs to be properly controlled. I would like the Minister to elaborate on the computerised movement permit system, what does it entail, and would it go as far as the Senator wishes. The question of movement is crucial. Animals being moved around the country is the biggest factor in spreading the disease.

The Minister also referred to a suggestion that blood tests be taken. I would also like him to elaborate that. Mention was made of the proposal to vaccinate wildlife as well as farm animals. Senator D'Arcy referred not just to badgers but to deer and goats. That problem must be tackled. Obviously blame is attributed according to whether you defend the wildlife or the farmers. We need a balanced approach to the problem and more research.

The national herd numbers about seven million and it is important, for the sake of the farmers, vets and taxpayers, that we achieve a proper level of spending on this programme and eradicate the disease. A sum of £18 million from the taxpayers and £27 million from the farmers is spent on the eradication progamme so this is not just an issue for farmers. It is an issue for everybody. The nation's [1802] wealth depends, to some extent, on upholding our reputation as a producer of healthy food.

We welcome a reduction in expenditure for any section of the population and the farmers will welcome this, even if it is a relatively small reduction. I would also welcome any radical initiative to solve this problem which we have had for about 40 years.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry (Mr. O'Shea): I thank the Senators for their knowledgeable and positive contributions during an excellent debate. It is not possible to respond, in the time available, to all the points that were raised.

Senator O'Sullivan discussed the role of badgers in the transmission of tuberculosis to cattle. My advice from the senior veterinary people in the Department is that there is more scientific evidence to support the theory that badgers do play a role in transmitting the disease. It is alleged at times, although not during today's debate, that my Department encourages the slaughter of badgers. That is not the case. Our badger population is about 0.25 million which would be almost equal to the badger population in Sweden. In a single year between 1,500 and 1,800 badgers are humanely removed, for post-mortem examination, from land where there has been an identifiable problem with tuberculosis reactors and the source of the disease has not been identified by some other means. The Department also examines badger road casualties. It is a serious matter that 15 per cent of the tested badgers carry tuberculosis.

The important point is that the Department and the Minister are vigorously seeking extra funding from Europe for our eradication programme; a sum of £20 million annually over a three to four year period is being sought. A number of Senators asked how this money would be disbursed. Obviously, as the Senators pointed out, we must put further resources into research. At present about £0.5 million is invested in research and, [1803] in view of our disease free status on international markets for beef and other agricultural products, it is extremely important that we vigorously pursue this research.

I disagree with Senator D'Arcy's suggestion that the Department is carrying out a programme of containment. The Department is carrying out a programme of eradication. Obviously a great deal more needs to be done and it can be done if more resources become available and that matter is being vigorously pursued by the Minister.

Our national herd numbers about seven million and the number of tests that will be carried out in the current eradication programme is estimated at about 9.8 million. It should be stressed that significant progress has been made since 1954 when the eradication process began. In 1991, for example, there were 4.4 reactors per thousand animals tested and in 1992 that figure had decreased to 3.3 per thousand. Everybody will welcome that progress. Less than 3 per cent of herds had reactors.

The issue of EC funding was raised by Senator Kiely. We anticipate that these funds will be used to ease the burden of the levy and to increase compensation for reactors. In relation to the question of the movement of cattle inside the 60 day period, cattle can be moved as often as one likes during that time. Agriculture shows are considered important meeting places for country and city people. After recent discussions with the show committee representatives about the validity of attending shows within that time, my advice is that the 60 day rule is acceptable to that group. However, I will discuss any specific problems in that area later if necessary.

It is often said that since this programme was introduced in 1954, it has not given a good return to the country. Between £0.5 billion and £1 billion has been spent on the programme since then and the return is seen in our food exports of livestock and livestock products which are worth £2 billion to this country every year. I was heartened to hear Senators [1804] talk about our reputation in foreign markets for quality food products. CBF was successful in establishing that quality and, at present, it is similarly promoting other meat products.

I would not agree with the impression that may have been given by Senator O'Toole that there is something wrong with our red meat. We have an excellent product. We are the centre for quality food products in Europe and we do not have serious diseases such as foot and mouth disease which has recently been detected in Italy and the officials of my Department are going to great lengths to ensure it stays out of this country. We do not have a serious disease problem, a point I believe should be stressed. Essentially, we have a residual problem with TB. Being frank, we have not eradicated the problem of tuberculosis among humans. From time to time that flares up again.

I once again thank Senators for what I believe has been a very worthwhile debate. I did not get an opportunity to refer to all the points made but I would be happy to respond to any Senators who want more specific information.

Question put and agreed to.