Seanad Éireann - Volume 146 - 07 March, 1996
Bovine Diseases (Levies) (Amendment) Bill, 1995: Second Stage.
 Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”
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): The main purpose of the Bill is to provide a legal basis for the payment of levies on cattle exported from the State direct to the Minister rather than to the Revenue Commissioners, as agents of the Minister, who subsequently transmit the amounts collected to the Minister. The proposed Bill also includes a number of other technical adjustments and measures to increase fines under the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966.
Bovine disease levies were introduced under the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Act, 1979, to require the farming community to make a financial contribution to the cost of the TB and brucellosis eradication programmes. Under this Act, inter alia, a levy was imposed on all bovine animals slaughtered in the State, on live exports from the State and on each gallon of milk delivered for processing.
Currently farmers contribute some £28 million annually by way of levy to the operational cost of the bovine TB and brucellosis programmes. The Exchequer carries the balance of the operational costs as well as the costs of salaries of administrative, veterinary, technical, laboratory and clerical staff.
The 1979 Act provides for the collection of the levy by the Revenue Commissioners in respect of live exports. On completion of the single European market, revenue personnel were withdrawn from the export points and alternative administrative arrangements were required to collect levies on live exports.
The proposed amendments do not involve any change in the rates of levy and are essentially of a technical nature to provide for a legal basis for the payment of levies on live exports to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry rather than to the Revenue Commissioners,  who acted as agents for the Minister.
There are also a number of technical adjustments to improve the supervision and inspection of the levy system. These are the extension of the definition of an accountable person to include a person by whom or on whose behalf an animal is being exported live from the State; the removal of the exemption in regard to the keeping of records by a person by whom or on whose behalf an animal is being exported live; and the inspection and removal of such records by an authorised officer of the Minister.
Provision is also being made for increased maximum fines on summary conviction for offences under the disease levies legislation from £500 to £1,500. I am also taking this opportunity to increase fines in respect of certain offences under sections 48 and 49 of the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966. These fines were last increased under section 23 of the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Act, 1979. The proposed increases are from £500 to £1,500 in respect of a summary conviction, from £2,000 to £10,000 in respect of a conviction on indictment in respect of specified offences, and from £1,000 to £5,000 in respect of other indictable offences.
Although it is not related to the current Bill before the House, I would like to take this opportunity to apprise Senators in broad outline of the proposed restructuring of the bovine TB and brucellosis eradication programmes. The bovine TB eradication scheme has been in operation since 1954. The scheme succeeded in reducing the endemic levels of disease in the national herd to an animal incidence of less than 1 per cent. At present some 99.5 per cent of cattle are free of TB. The country was declared officially brucellosis free in April 1986, and currently 99.7 per cent of the country's herds are free of the disease.
Since 1954 total expenditure on both schemes has exceeded £1 billion. The total cost of the schemes in 1995 was £67 million, of which about £20 million was spent under each of the headings: testing,  compensation, and administration, with the balance on operational aspects.
Since disease levies were introduced, farmers have contributed about £285 million, while £16 million has been received from the EU veterinary fund. Most of the EU funding received relates to the brucellosis scheme rather than the TB scheme, for which we have received minimal EU funding to date.
Unfortunately, despite this major expenditure, we have not made progress in reducing the residual level of TB over the past 30 years. While the country was declared officially brucellosis free in 1986, and notwithstanding various intensive programmes over recent years, there are a number of areas where there is still some infection and over 400 herds were restricted in 1995.
As regards TB, Senators will be aware that under ERAD an intensive testing programme was undertaken over a four year programme aimed at reducing the incidence by 50 per cent. The main conclusion to be drawn from that experience is that eradication is more difficult than had been envisaged. Indeed, the consensus now is that while some progress can be made, final eradication will only be possible when new diagnostic tests, vaccines for wildlife, and movement control arrangements are in place. Pending the development of these to practical field application level, the emphasis must be to contain and hopefully reduce the disease and costs of programmes.
Under current trading rules, it continues to be necessary to operate annual programmes for these diseases which are both costly to farmers and taxpayers and which cause particular difficulties and hardship for some farmers whose herds breakdown. As the House will be aware, the operational aspects of both schemes have remained largely unchanged down through the years. The House will also be aware that a number of attempts have been made to change the testing arrangements, but these were resisted, mainly by the veterinary profession.
 Following the IVU's rejection of rotational testing last year, the Minister concluded that the continuation of the status quo, involving ongoing and escalating costs for farmers and taxpayers, was not a realistic option. Consequently, during 1995 he reviewed the measures that should be introduced from 1996 to improve the effectiveness of those measures while at the same time moderating their overall costs.
The review was undertaken initially in consultation with the farming organisations which, together with the Government, provide the funding for the schemes. The outcome of this review was announced in October last. The central aspects of the proposals were as follows: the orderly annual testing of the national herd and/or designated categories of animals, with primary responsibility for arranging testing, negotiating terms and paying for certain tests being devolved to farmers; follow up and focused strategic testing, including use of blood testing in certain circumstances; a quality control programme; a comprehensive programme to expedite the lifting of movement restrictions on certain herds; a comprehensive research programme aimed at preventing TB spread by wildlife; improved epidemiology and feedback to farmers; continuation of research on developing blood tests, vaccines and other technological tools required to improve effectiveness of programmes; a rearrangement of funding, with levies to be substantially reduced and receipts to contribute to compensation on an agreed basis; the establishment of a national forum comprising representatives of the main farming organisations, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, the Department of Finance and the veterinary unions to advise and make recommendations to the Minister on the operation of the schemes and the abolition of the compulsory two month pre-movement test.
The arrangements envisaged a partnership approach to implementing and overseeing the operation of the new arrangements at national and local levels.  Farmers would have greater direct involvement and responsibility under revised and more effective measures. In particular, farmers would choose practitioners to carry out the first tests on their herds each year and negotiate and pay practitioners for such work, assist the Department in research work into disease spread by wildlife and have responsibility for protecting their own herds and, in particular, for deciding whether to buy in cattle which have been tested before movement and whether to test them after purchase.
Together with the revised operational arrangements, the Minister proposed an intensification of control measures, a more focused approach to tackling infection, continuation of research and a rearrangement of the financing of the operational aspects of the schemes. As indicated, farmers would engage and pay practitioners directly for the first tests on their herds each year; as these costs have been borne from central funds to which farmers contributed, the disease levies would be reduced to about £10 million a year from the first full year of operation of the new measures. Thereafter, compensation costs would be shared by the Exchequer and farmers. In overall terms, total costs to be borne by farmers would be moderated while some savings would also accrue from the discontinuation of the 60 day compulsory pre-movement testing requirement for internal movement. Apart from there being a reduction in overall costs, there would also be a more equitable burden sharing of costs between farmers; under the current arrangements, levies are borne by farmers who supply milk, who finish cattle and whose cattle are exported live. Under the new regime, all farmers would contribute towards the costs of the measures.
Since November, the proposals have been refined following detailed discussions with the farming bodies and the Irish Veterinary Union. All the main farming bodies have now indicated that they are broadly supportive of the refined proposals while the veterinary  union has yet to make its final decision. I am hopeful that the union will cooperate fully with the new regime. The union had very strongly opposed the principle of structured rotation on the grounds that this would involve testing of non-client herds and, in particular, that it could tend to undermine the practice structure. As the new measures envisage that farmers will choose practitioners, this source of difficulty has been addressed.
I do not propose to elaborate further on these arrangements at this stage. I would advise Senators that I anticipate that there will be a further opportunity to debate them more fully in the near future when the required draft regulation to reduce the bovine levies from 1 April next to £2.50 per animal exported or slaughtered and to 0.5p per gallon of milk delivered, will be before this House for approval.
I commend the Bill to the House for approval.
Mr. R. Kiely Mr. R. Kiely
Mr. R. Kiely: This technical Bill, which has been introduced because of the Internal Market, proposes to put on a legal basis the new system for the payment of disease levies on cattle exported directly on the Minister than as heretofore to the Revenue Commissioners, who acted on behalf of the Minister. As the Minister of State pointed out, it is necessary to amend the original Bill to ensure he receives these levies. The increase in the fines will enable the Minister to deal with some of the technical matters.
The Bill gives us an opportunity to discuss the recent proposals with regard to the bovine disease eradication scheme and it is important that we look at the deterioration in this scheme. The Minister has been attempting to bring in these new proposals for a long time and he has met with serious opposition from the veterinary profession. I stated in previous debates that the Minister should speak to the profession. It was a mistake on his part not to do so. Members of this profession have been involved in the scheme since its inception.  Vets have first class knowledge in this field and it was a mistake on the Minister's part not to speak to them sooner. He took an intransigent stance in this regard. The relationship between vets and farmers is most important for the success of farmers. The affair was poorly handled. One of the reasons probably was that the Minister was the sole and most vociferous advocate of the EU situation he inherited.
A major condition in drawing down EU funding for the TB eradication scheme, according to the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, was the primary requirement that testing of one-third of the national herd should be rotated over the next three years. The Minister of State did not mention anything about rotation in his speech. He said that farmers overcame this impasse by choosing their own vets. This requirement was never necessary. It was a bluff and nowhere in the proposals brought forward by the Minister recently is there a reference to rotation testing. The Minister stated some time ago that if we did not introduce rotation testing EU funds would not be available. This is absolute nonsense. There is money available but the Minister is not giving us detailed costing.
What is the position on the savings to farmers? The Minister promised to reduce farm levies, which is welcome, but this does not include the £14 million farmers will now pay to vets. Is he giving us the full information or is he underestimating the cost to farmers? These figures could be undermined by the lack of competition in rural areas because of the shortage of vets. No calculation has been made on this matter. There is no guarantee of any net saving to the farmer. The veterinary surgeon has to be paid anyway, which means the farmer must pay him directly rather than the Department paying the farmer when he submits the results of his testing. That is the bottom line. This means the only saving will be effected at the last point of movement when the disease levies are cut. Most of the savings  will benefit the Exchequer rather than farmers.
Today's Farm Exam, which is a supplement to The Cork Examiner, states that annual test rates may increase by 50 per cent and that farmers will pay the extra costs. Farmers will pay vets and will also be liable for VAT at 12.5 per cent, which will add considerably to the costs of the majority of livestock farmers who are not registered for VAT. Because of this, farmers will pay more to vets than the Department would have paid them.
Many people involved in research in this area have highlighted that the lateral spread of TB should not be regarded as the primary source of TB infection in the national herd. There is a need for more accurate testing and confirmation as to whether we have been getting false positive to false negative results in the national herd so that we achieve the eradication of the disease and maintain our disease free status. Our consumers at home and abroad need to be reassured that we are trying to eradicate TB from the national herd. Much of the difficulty in dealing with this disease centres around the inadequacy of existing technology. I am delighted the Minister of State is addressing this problem. The present test is imperfect as it gives rise to false positives and false negatives — some animals who suffer from TB do not test positive when subjected to the tuberculin test while some test positive when they are not infected. That also creates difficulties.
The Minister of State said that 99.7 per cent of cattle are disease free. I would like to know the figures because, although I do not wish to be alarmist, in my area bovine TB is rampant. A local farmer had a test carried out recently and his cattle passed the test. He sent 13 cows to the factory and of the 13 — all of which had passed the test — two were found to have lesions. That proves that the testing is inadequate and must be improved. I am delighted to hear the Minister is addressing this problem. The  elimination of the disease would be greatly facilitated by the development of a blood test similar to that for brucellosis. The failure was in not putting investment into research to develop such a test, which would have eliminated many of the problems that existed.
In the new approach outlined by the Minister, the only figures mentioned are those that will receive an immediate positive political reaction. Under compulsory aspects of the scheme the Minister of State announced that farmers will only pay £10 million, although under the present arrangement farmers pay £28 million per year in disease levies. This is false economy on behalf of the farmers. In the course of several debates on bovine TB I have told the House that I would not mind paying increased levies if I could keep disease outside my farm gate. I had personal experience of my herd being depopulated in 1994 and I know the hardship that causes. The compensation the Department pays for the depopulation of herds is not adequate.
Veterinary surgeons and others will have many questions about the deregulation of the scheme, if what the Minister of State outlined today are simply proposals. However, it is clear that the Minister made decisions irrespective of consultations. Under the new proposals the annual test will remain. Farmers have adhered to that over the years and have enjoyed the benefits. However, the annual test will now be the responsibility of farmers. That will lead to veterinary surgeons carrying out TB testing only and not being available to farmers for routine veterinary work. As a result of this proposal, we might see the emergence of the Monday to Friday veterinary surgeon — a vet who will not be available after 5 p.m. or before 9 a.m. for routine work. It would not be acceptable if veterinary surgeons specifically concentrated on testing to the detriment of ordinary animal welfare.
My vet is most attentive. Any time there is an urgent requirement for the vet to tend to a sick animal, he is always  there. That is a practice I would like to see continue. That was one of the objections I had to the rotation system. If the Department sent my vet to another farmer who was not his client and I had an urgent problem at home, my vet would have to leave the farmer while carrying out a test despite the inconvenience to the other farmer. One's usual vet should carry out the testing and there would be better understanding all round. The vets were not alone in objecting to the rotation system — farmers were also opposed to it.
We must also examine the costs involved in these proposals. While money might be saved in levies to farmers, small farmers will benefit least. All farmers, large and small, will be required to pay the standard call-out charge to a veterinary surgeon for doing the annual test, in addition to the rate per head. Farmers who have a couple of hundred cattle will pay the same small call-out fee. This is not appropriate. The annual test should remain in the control of the Department because it would result in better co-ordination and control.
The abolition of the pre-movement test is wrong and will mean disaster for the eradication of bovine TB. It is more than 16 years since the introduction of that test and it has been beneficial but its continuation would have been more appropriate. No farmer wants disease on his farm and nobody wants to buy diseased animals. The proposal to abolish the 60 day pre-movement test is a recipe for farmers buying disease into their herds. A parliamentary question about the number of reactors that have shown up in pre-movement tests was asked in the Dáil recently and the Minister failed to answer. He should answer that question. What was he afraid of?
We have a duty to try to eliminate the incidence of TB from our national herd. The rescinding of pre-movement tests and the movement of diseased animals onto farms could be extremely dangerous. There is no guarantee that a reactor could not be moved almost continuously over a period of two years without being  detected by the system. Under the pre-movement test cattle had to be tested within 60 days and almost certainly any element of disease would have been detected.
The Department will always have the support of 99.99 per cent of farmers in seeking to eradicate disease. The small minority who do not have respect for themselves or others are pushed to one side by those who are totally committed to the eradication programme. Farmers have a responsibility to protect their herds and any who do not are fools. I will not allow an animal on my farm that has not been tested and, if female, blood tested. I could not afford the loss of income consequent on any subsequent outbreak of disease and my inability to trade normally.
Where will a farmer stand if it is found that untested cattle came onto his farm and disease is detected only after an “on-farm” purchase? Will the Minister immediately clarify the specific period within which a farmer could test such animals without having any penalty imposed with regard to entitlement to compensation? The disease that affected my cattle was brucellosis and, when I bought in to replace stock following the depopulation of my herd, I had to pay my vet to carry out a test within 60 days. If there was an outbreak and I had not carried out that test I would not be entitled to compensation.
I do not agree with the abolition of the pre-movement test. I would be slow to buy an animal that had not been tested within 60 days before purchase and the proof of testing was not on its identification card. Any farmer attempting to sell cattle without testing them will diminish his customer base as the number of people prepared to purchase untested cattle is minimal.
The free movement of cattle which have been tested in the previous 12 months will mean that two years could pass before an animal has a tuberculin test. If, for example, the first test in my herd was in January 1996 and I sell cattle the following December to somebody  whose cattle had been tested a couple of weeks beforehand, those animals will not be due to get their annual test until the end of the following year. It could be two years before they are tested without any rule being broken. In addition, the system would leave open the possibility of spreading disease. We want to eliminate the disease not spread it.
The Minister might have abolished the pre-movement test but farmers will not buy untested animals. It is a recipe for disaster. In future when there are outbreaks of TB the Minister will not be forgiven by the farmers for having done away with this test. I have spoken to farmers who have told me the new scheme is a disaster.
In a recent debate on agriculture I referred to badgers. About 15 per cent of the badger population suffers from tuberculosis and although some of that can be transferred to the bovine population, the rate of brucellosis in the bovine population is about 3 per cent. There was an outbreak on a farm near mine and a dying badger was found. On examination by the Department's vet the badger was found to be infected with brucellosis. I do not wish to do away with the badgers. However, if a cow has brucellosis it would be killed or and badgers should also be killed or treated to ensure they do not cause the spread of bovine disease.
The high incidence of tuberculosis in badgers creates its own problems among wildlife generally. Some progress is possible with the development of vaccines which it may be possible to get badgers and other wildlife to consume and in that way reduce the incidence of tuberculosis in the wildlife population. In some areas the incidence of tuberculosis is more than 100 times greater than in the bovine population. A successful pilot scheme was carried out in Offaly with regard to the levels of tuberculosis in badgers.
I do not like the new scheme for the bovine population. However, it is in place and although we have reservations, we will not oppose the Bill on  Second Stage. Farmers have always paid willingly for the pre-movement test because they do not want to sell animals that might be a risk for those who buy them. They want to maintain good relationships between buyers and purchasers. My experience was that I had a sale in November 1993 and then a breakdown in my herd in April 1994. My biggest worry was that the herds of some of the people who had bought cattle from me would become infected. Thankfully, none of them did. Farmers do not want to sell cattle to their friends and neighbours and infect their herds. The pre-movement test ensured that would not happen and doing away with it is a disaster. I ask the Minister of State and the Minister to reconsider.
Mr. D'Arcy Mr. D'Arcy
Mr. D'Arcy: Bovine disease is an ongoing problem which has not yet been resolved. There is a moral obligation on all concerned with disease eradication, including the vets, the Department, the Minister of State and the Minister, to see that the negotiations on the matter are brought to a satisfactory conclusion. This is a serious problem. I understood the matter was near settlement and a positive result should be announced as soon as possible. I call on all involved to put their heads together to finalise the negotiations so that we can get on with disease eradication.
Disease eradication started in 1954 and a lot has been said and written in relation to the cost of the scheme, its operation and the changes made to it by Ministers. We have reached a stage where at least we are in a reasonably favourable position and I would not like to see any deterioration in that position. Adverse comment on the cost of the scheme to the taxpayer has been made from time to time. The overall cost of the scheme last year was about £67 million, of which farmers paid approximately £30 million. We are protecting a vital national interest — the national cattle herd is approximately seven million head and the value of the beef  industry is about £2 billion; the figures for milk and milk exports are about equivalent to that.
The taxpayer gets good value from the scheme. I have never criticised the levies and I will not do so now. It is important that the farmer pays his share because it emphasises the value and the importance of the industry to the State. We are protecting a vital national interest and that is why I call on all concerned to bring the negotiations to a conclusion to the satisfaction of everybody. Every farmer in the country is concerned that the negotiations have gone on for almost a year and a half and a conclusion has not yet been reached. All parties must get on with the task in hand.
In his speech the Minister of State said:
Unfortunately, despite this major expenditure, we have not made progress in reducing the residual level of TB over the past 30 years. While the country was declared officially brucellosis free in 1986, and notwithstanding various intensive programmes over recent years, there are a number of areas where there is still some infection and over 400 herds were restricted in 1995.
It is possible to have absolute eradication of brucellosis and TB? Few if any countries in Europe have achieved it. Denmark claimed it, but I understand there was a breakdown there last year. Sweden also claimed it, but had a breakdown last year caused by deer imported from England. They are infectious diseases which are difficult to control.
The source of infection has always been a subject of argument. I am not satisfied with the Department's performance in this regard throughout the years. I have always believed the badger is one of the greatest single sources of infection. In this country the badger's habitat is on the margins of grassland. We have a population of approximately 250,000 badgers, which is about the same as the badger population in England. However, in England the  badger inhabits the woods, hills and mountains. Badgers are killed regularly on the roads in Ireland. One sees one or two badgers killed every week on the road between Wexford and Dublin. Badgers tend to live around the areas the cattle graze and are thus a major source of infection.
I do not have the answer to the problem. I do not want to see all the badgers killed because they are a wildlife resource. I was a Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture for a short time and I had strong arguments with the officials on the question of badgers. I am glad the Department has finally accepted there is a source of infection. I do not know how to eliminate disease from badgers because I am not a veterinary surgeon. The Department must put forward proposals to deal with this problem. We, in County Wexford, blame the badgers for the infection. Some badgers were killed in that area and this helped to reduce the number of infections. I appeal to the Minister and the Department to do something in this regard.
People in Europe are sensitive about anything which happens in the beef industry. Some 80 per cent of beef, which is worth £2 billion, is exported from this country. The BSE scare in England meant that we lost £60 million of our beef market in Germany and in other markets across Europe. Any arguments made by the Department or the IVU are serious as far as the consumer is concerned. Consumers want high quality beef which is not infected with disease or growth promoters. I produce beef for a supermarket, therefore my herd is inspected four times a year. I must guarantee that my beef is of top quality or it will not be bought. We get bonuses for doing so. Consumers, whether in Ireland, England, Germany or France, are concerned about anything happening to their beef. Beef is the greatest food on the market. I asked a restaurant owner last night how much beef, compared to other foods such as chicken and fish, is used in his restaurant.  He said that 80 per cent of his food is beef. He wants good beef, therefore he checks the source of his raw materials. Senator Quinn owns a large supermarket chain and I have no doubt he agrees with me on this point.
When I was in the Dáil I argued for the pre-movement or 60 days test. It was introduced to control cowboys who abused the scheme. Farmers must have one test each year. I am worried that because farmers are now paying for the test they could tell a veterinary surgeon that they will not test 20 calves this year who are two or three months old. They may sell these calves as yearlings. Everyone knows that cattle may move three or four times before they are finally fattened. Someone else, who may have just done a test, could buy those yearlings. Heifers can be fattened and sold at a year and seven or eight months. Those calves could go through two herds and be sold to a supermarket without a test being done. I ask the Minister to examine this serious problem.
Cowboys were also able to change ear tags, although it is not as easy to do so now. I am worried about young cattle not being tested and being sold to someone else. Unlike most other countries, the movement of cattle from mart to mart and from farm to farm could lead to the spread of TB, which no one would detect because a test may not be carried out. I favour a 90 days test which would eliminate jobbers or cowboys. There is no parish in Ireland which does not have someone who will move cattle that have not been tested. The 60 days test stopped some of them, but the 90 days test would stop more. I ask the Minister to consider these points.
As regards the level of disease, there are approximately three bovines with TB in every 1,000 cattle. The Minister said that for the past 25 years the Department has been unable to reduce that figure. The Department should act responsibly when there is an outbreak of TB in an area. Three or four parishes could have a serious outbreak of TB. The Minister should use all the  resources in his Department to try to identify the source of the disease, whether it is badgers or bad farming practice, and measures should be taken to eliminate it. We cannot afford to allow the spread of this disease to continue. If a newspaper heading tomorrow morning showed an increase in the incidence of this disease, the consumer would be worried.
I have always supported levies. It is right that milk producers pay the highest levies because they are the greatest beneficiaries of having a low level of disease in our herd. The Minister is proposing to abolish certain levies on milk and beef, but he should not allow the level of disease to increase. I appeal to the Minister who is the custodian of the scheme and to the veterinary surgeons who operate it to sort out whatever problems exist in this area.
Mr. Quinn Mr. Quinn
Mr. Quinn: The two points I want to make deal with the reputation of Irish beef and the Irish beef industry, matters which underlie the thrust of this Bill. The reputation of Irish beef is precious, but it can be easily destroyed by unfavourable events. From my experience as a retailer, I know that people seem to be more interested in beef than in any other food product. They are more sensitive about quality and health issues where beef is concerned than with any other product we sell in our supermarkets.
The decision making process on beef matters should be more inclusive than it has been in the past. I stress the point made by Senator D'Arcy that everyone should be included in it. The process could benefit from the involvement of two groups. The first is the customers, who are often totally neglected when food issues are discussed. Everything in business and agriculture is done in the name of the customer, but very little attempt is made to involve him or her directly in the process. Great benefits can result from involving the customer in the process and I urge it on the Minister and the Government. By the customer, I am not just speaking about the  next buyer of cattle, the supermarket, the master butcher or the hotelier; I also include the consumer. The Irish food industry is too producer-driven. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry should be called the Department of Food, Agriculture and Forestry, but that would not be alphabetically correct. Even the Department's name shows that in the past it has been too little customer-oriented and this failure to involve the customer in the policy process is an exact example of that.
The second group on whose experience we could draw more are the vets; Senator D'arcy also made this point. They are the experts when it comes to bovine TB and they know best the problems of getting the last tiny percentage of reactors out of the system. This will never be an easy problem because of the infection risks that arise from our method of raising cattle outdoors — the Senator also described the badger problem. However, vets tell me their expertise is not being fully utilised. They feel left out of the decision-making process and think they are often blamed for the fact that the problem has not been totally solved by now. I therefore suggest a more inclusive approach to decision-making on bovine TB and related matters of beef quality, an approach that would include customers and vets.
My second point is wider, relating to the reputation of the Irish beef industry rather than that of the beef. The industry's reputation is an important part of how the beef is perceived in the eyes of the customer. In common with every other taxpayer I am annoyed and apprehensive because we will probably have to pay £100 million in fines to the EU as a result of irregularities in the beef industry. At this stage of our economic development, that is a burden we could do without.
However, we must be careful that in venting our frustration we do not inflict on ourselves the added pain of shooting ourselves in the foot. If we look to the future and not just to the past, we should realise that the beef industry must remain a tremendous force in our  economy. Our ability to sell Irish beef abroad, particularly to the premium markets in Europe, is crucial to our economic well-being. That has been said often before, but it must be stressed that this is a massive industry.
I am concerned, therefore, about attacks made on the reputation of one of the main players in that industry. I have no wish to defend any of the mal-practices which took place and were uncovered at such great expense by the beef tribunal. However, we need this industry in the future. We should make sure it puts its house in order, dole out whatever punishment is necessary and then be ready to move on. Our beef industry cannot thrive if it is constantly sniped at by people on the sidelines.
In the Dáil last week the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry said he would shed no tears if Mr. Larry Goodman left the beef industry. My reply to this remark is based on my experience as a major buyer of Irish beef. Three years ago, our company joined AMS, an association of supermarkets in Europe. There were 23,000 supermarkets in that organisation until we joined; there are now 23,016, so we are only a small part of it. I therefore speak not only as a buyer of Irish beef but as part of a European grouping through which we have introduced supermarkets groups across Europe to Irish suppliers of beef. In both those capacities I would be very sorry to see Mr. Goodman leave the Irish beef industry. In the experience of my European colleagues and myself, his company provides a level of professionalism and an ability to address the concerns of the customer that is quite exceptional in the industry. I understand and share the frustrations arising from what happened in the past, but there comes a point when in our national interest we have to look to the future. If we want the beef industry to be a major part of that future, as I am sure we all do, then we must get behind it, not stand in its way. We should applaud professionalism, not denigrate it.
Mr. Townsend Mr. Townsend
 Mr. Townsend: When TB eradication comes up in conversation among those living in towns and cities, they always express amazement that it was possible to clear our TB among humans in the 1950s when we did not have a fraction of the technology we have now, yet we have worked at the problem among animals for over 40 years and have spent about £1,000 million with no light at the end of the tunnel. It is only fair to point out that while the State spent an enormous amount trying to eradicate the disease, many farmers were financially ruined by the manner in which the eradication scheme was put in place. I do not believe the money spent to date was wasted because 90 per cent of the cattle population is free of the disease; although that is not good enough, it is quite good. The current cattle population is seven million, so much has been achieved.
The production of cattle, whether for live export or killing, plays a big part in our economy. We are well aware that our green image and the health status of our animals is of the utmost importance when we try to gain a foothold in export markets. This will become more important as consumers become more discerning about quality. Anything the Minister can do to eradicate TB or reduce it to the lowest possible levels is to be welcomed — it is in the national interest that he should do so.
Many blame the vets and rogue farmers and dealers for stopping us making more progress in eradicating TB, but I do not agree with that analysis. While there is the odd rogue or rotten apple, vets were placed in an awkward situation. They were aware that in some cases if the test proved positive it would spell disaster for the producer, especially tests carried out in the autumn when small farmers might not have made provision for fodder. When a herd owner possessed a single animal which tested positive, the whole herd was then locked and underwent two tests before any of them could be sold. When the animal in question was slaughtered it was often found to be clear of TB  lesions. The injustice involved in this must be clear. Many farmers were ruined because of this. If I was in the vet's position I would have given the herd owner the benefit of the doubt.
Even if all the rogues and rotten apples were put off the pitch it will not be possible to eradicate TB until a new foolproof test system has been put in place. I am pleased to note that something is being done about this. I am also pleased that further studies are to be undertaken on wild animals. On a recent television programme the pros and cons of the badgers were debated. People from the North of Ireland were adamant that badgers in the North did not spread TB. It almost amounted to them saying that badgers in the South were spreading it. This indicates that people have not made up their minds on this issue.
I welcome the Minister's decision to ease the restrictions on the remainder of the herd where no lesions have been found in a reactor slaughtered in a factory. This worthwhile development will encourage the vets. I also welcome the Minister's decision to abolish the 60 day pre-movement test because it causes much hardship to many small farmers. In addition, I welcome his decision to spread the levies among all herd owners. It means that if TB is abolished everybody will benefit. I wish the Minister every success in his endeavours.
Mr. Kelleher Mr. Kelleher
Mr. Kelleher: This is probably one of the most discussed issues in Irish agriculture. Since 1954 we have spent £1 billion on the eradication of TB, comprising of money from farmers, taxpayers and contributions from the beef industry.
I support the eradication of TB. However, the eradication scheme is completely fragmented. If General MacArthur's troops had disagreed they would not have been so successful. I am concerned about farmers and customers. The beef industry is worth much to this country, both in terms of exports and employment. We do not appear to be taking this seriously. By continuing  to discuss bovine disease in this House we knock our own industry. The impression is created that if there is a disease in the herd, the beef must be of a poor quality. As long as we continue to be unable to eradicate TB we are damaging the industry and its image abroad.
We are now down to almost 3,500 cattle who test positive. The test was adequate when we had a higher percentage of animals testing positive up to five, six or ten years ago. However, we are now down to less than 0.5 per cent testing positive. We must, therefore, find a new mechanism which will produce a 100 per cent foolproof system to eradicate this last 0.5 per cent.
Some of the animals who prove positive are not reactors at all, but they are included in the statistics. This gives rise to a situation where animals other than reactors are slaughtered. The laboratory system involves the slaughter of an animal that proves positive. It is then tested in the laboratory and the farmer is only locked if the test is positive, with two subsequent tests undertaken to provide clearance. However, as matters stand, an animal fails a test, goes to the factory and the farmer is locked. There is no reason why a temporary locking scheme cannot be put on the herd owner, followed by tests on the animal through the most scientific means available. If it proves positive the herd should be locked; if not, the herd should go free.
The present testing system is not 100 per cent accurate. We should look at this, because if all else fails we are in big trouble. We are giving the opposition a stick to beat us with. We are an island nation, yet we are unable to come to terms with the fact that we have a problem in our herd and cannot eradicate the last 0.5 per cent of TB. Other countries which engage in cross-border cattle trading have had more success than ourselves. We are doing something radically wrong.
Wildlife will have to be looked at seriously. Nobody is in favour of eradicating the entire badger herd, but there has been no political will to seriously  address this issue. Every Government over the last 40 years has shied away from this because it is not politically popular to be seen to be hard on creatures wandering the countryside. However, if we are to eradicate the last 0.5 per cent of TB in the national cattle herd, badgers and other forms of wildlife must be investigated to see if they are a contributing factor.
Most of the vets on the ground would say that the present testing system is not accurate enough to eradicate TB and that the wildlife issue must be seriously addressed. If a farmer is locked because of a test failure, Department officials and qualified personnel must immediately ascertain the origin of the infection and attempt to eradicate it. However, it is pointless to eradicate the animals and then have the farmer purchase more in a few months time and have the same problem repeated because, for example, a badger carrying the disease is ignored.
I am in favour of maintaining some form of a pre-movement test because of the transient nature of the cattle industry. Calves are sold on after two or three weeks. They go through the mart system, are probably suckled in the west of Ireland and then transferred to the south or east for fattening. In consequence, cattle are moving continually. We must, therefore, have some form of pre-movement test to ensure that when animals are leaving they are guaranteed to be disease free. While it may be argued that farmers are responsible for ensuring that cattle come from a reputable herd, the scientific data must be available to support this. The pre-movement test is one way of proceeding. It safeguards against the spread of TB. While it could be made more flexible — for example, by including a 90 day provision — to abolish it is a retrograde step.
If we are seen to be continually discussing the disease status of our herd we are doing nothing but undermining our own beef industry. This goes against the interests of farmers, processors and those involved in the export of beef. In  this respect mention was made of an outburst by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry on an individual involved in the beef trade. I would shed some tears if this individual were to withdraw from the beef industry, as would many who have dealt with the Goodman Group, whether they be farmers selling their beef or people trying to develop markets abroad.
When the Irish beef industry is under pressure because of BSE, disease scares in the UK and subsequent problems in Germany, I am amazed that we are engaged in the process of trying to downgrade our industry. It is time we closed ranks and accepted that there were problems in the past regarding compliance with EU regulations. However, we should not attempt to denigrate the entire beef industry for the sake of political point scoring because to do so would have major repercussions.
I was in Wales last year and one of the issues that came up at a discussion between young farmers from Ireland and Wales was the fact that until recently the Irish beef industry had a brilliant image abroad. They said we were downgrading our own image. I suggest that the Minister make every effort to eradicate TB in this country, that he ensure that the vets, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the farming bodies are cohesive as opposed to being fragmented. As long as the various interest groups are fragmented, we cannot resolve this problem. We can spend another £1 billion on the eradication of TB but if we do not find a more scientific means of detecting, analysing and eradicating the disease we will never have disease free status.
I hope the Minister's new initiatives succeed but there does not seem to be the political will to challenge this in a serious way. The badger has been blamed on many occasions but the whole wildlife issue must be looked at. We must quantify the impact of wildlife on disease levels in the national herd, because if we are seen to be targeting the badger without any scientific evidence,  people who are not in favour of the badger being blamed will have more ammunition to suggest that the badger is innocent when vets and farmers have fair knowledge to suggest that they are the culprits and that they must be included in the equation. When another £1 billion has been spent, in another 40 years, I hope we will have made an impact on bovine TB and eliminated the final traces of this disease in the national herd. If we do not, I fear for the beef industry because our competitors can use this against us in years to come.
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
Mr. Neville: I welcome the Bill before the House. The proposals outlined by the Minister and the procedure for implementing them, as announced by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry in November, is the first radical approach to the eradication of bovine disease since the programme was initiated in 1954. The programme has been the subject of much criticism. Many mistakes have been made. We can point to our lack of achievement but it is also important to highlight the programme's achievements over the decades.
In 1954 bovine brucellosis was present in about 25 per cent of herds. Since then the incidence of disease has been reduced to about 3 per cent of herds and 1 per cent of bovine animals. It is important to note that there has been some achievement, but one must however criticise the establishment of ERAD. The expectation that brucellosis would eventually be eliminated or brought down to the level of competing countries in Europe has not been realised. Since the mid 1980s we have not succeeded in the reduction of incidence of disease in any significant way.
I fail to understand why the State has not used the full available assistance from the EU to deal with the problem. In 1991 the EU promised funds of £30 million for a three year programme to eradicate bovine tuberculosis and the State did not draw down these funds. If the funds had been drawn down it  would have saved the farming community and the taxpayer £30 million. The State has received minimal EU funding for the TB eradication programme over the years. Difficulties with aspects of the programme, as the Minister has said, have meant that we failed to secure about £10 million for each year since 1991 as well as £20 million per year over three years from 1993 to assist in bovine TB eradication. It is unfortunate that none of the programmes has been implemented.
I come from the farming community; my father was a farmer. I was born and reared on a farm and my brother still works the family farm. I live on the farm, so I am quite close to the farming community. One of the major sources of difficulty for the farming community is the disease eradication programme. It is cumbersome in its implementation and frustrating in its lack of success and I welcome the Minister's approach in tacking the problem head on. The Minister proposes that the payment for annual herd testing should be devolved from the taxpayer directly to the farmer. Farmers should welcome this. The taxpayers have expressed their annoyance over the years and the media have often highlighted this situation in a very unfair way. The media too often focus on the taxpayer's contribution to the eradication of TB without highlighting the contribution which was made by the farming community over the past 40 years.
The contribution to disease eradication by the farming community amounted to £28 million in 1991. This contribution is composed of levies deducted at the point of sale from farmers, whether they sell milk or animals at the mart or to a meat factory for slaughtering. The procedures outlined by the Minister will reduce farmer's levies for milk delivered to creameries and on cattle disposed of through the marts and factories. The reduction amounts to some £18 million per year. When the cost to farmers of paying their local vet for the annual round is taken into account, there will be a net saving of  several million pounds to the farming community.
Farmers will now have to pay their local veterinary surgeon for their first round test. Any further tests where disease is shown to be present will be paid for by the Department. This is a very important step forward. It allows the farmers to negotiate the cost of the animal tests directly with their veterinary surgeon. The farming organisations and individual farmers will be in a position to negotiate price scales and professional fees for carrying out the test. This should reduce the cost of the programme.
Much debate has centred around the abolition of the compulsory 60 day pre-movement test. The principle behind the idea was good in that it attempted to identify animals which might be diseased. However, over the years the disease has been identified in only a small percentage of cattle — about 1,000 animals — through this test even though millions of cattle have been put through it. We should welcome the abolition of this test. It will, of course, be sensible for farmers to insist in some cases that animals they buy are tested. It is com-monsense that where animals are entering a herd, they should be tested to ensure they are free from disease.
In the 1960s, progressive farmers would not buy any animals into dairy herds but produced their own heifers to replenish the herd. Under no circumstances would they buy in cattle at that stage; that was their way of controlling disease in their herd. It was a way of ensuring that no disease was introduced. Prudent farmers will continue to have tests before they bring animals onto their farms. The incentive to introduce this is welcome.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: What about the imprudent farmers?
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
Mr. Neville: In my experience, and I am sure Senator O'Kennedy's is the same, farmers nowadays are very professional people.
An Leas-Chathaoirleach An Leas-Chathaoirleach
 An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Senator O'Kennedy will have an opportunity to make his own contribution.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: This is not meant to be obstructionist; far from it.
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
Mr. Neville: Farmers are very progressive. There are many changes in farming since I was a young person. There is a totally different attitude and approach; there is different understanding and expertise. It is now a professional position.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: There are a lot fewer farmers.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: There are a lot fewer smaller farmers, unfortunately.
Mr. Neville Mr. Neville
Mr. Neville: Some 30,000 people leave the land each year. This is a fact of life and, unfortunately, will continue to happen. I was speaking about the pre-movement test and the incentive to have this test carried out. I welcome the incentives introduced by the Minister. Farmers who insist on pre-movement or post-movement will be paid a greater level of compensation where a reactor is detected. It is appropriate that such incentives be given. It is also important that the small percentage of reactors are detected before they cause further infection to other herds.
There is broad agreement that the existing system has not worked. However, countries with climates and cattle populations similar to Ireland have eradicated TB. Why did this not occur in Ireland? Why is the incidence of TB in the Republic much greater than in Northern Ireland where factors such as climate, land, geography, breeds of cattle and types of feed are similar to those in the Republic? Despite the similarities, the incidence of TB in Northern Ireland is much lower. The difference is that the regulations in Northern Ireland are more stringent. Movement of cattle in Northern Ireland is more tightly controlled. In the  Republic the movement of cattle is much freer and more frequent. We have an extraordinary tradition of moving cattle, particularly beef cattle. Sources estimate that some beef cattle are moved up to seven times during their short lives. Perhaps that is an exaggeration, but they are certainly moved up to five or six times. Such movement, which occured due to traditional factors, should be discouraged because it promotes the spread of disease.
Our system for identifying animals must also be considered. It was questioned in the past and lags behind developments in other countries. We have a primitive system for checking and recording details relating to cattle. Such information is recorded on “blue” cards whose colour may have changed over the years, but they are still referred to in that way. Identification numbers should be computerised so that cattle can be instantly recognised in any part of the country. It is difficult to understand why this has not taken place. It is time we knew where each animal was sold, because every herd owner who purchased cattle from an infected herd should be contacted and the reactor traced when a breakdown occurs. This is not a new idea; it is in operation in Ireland and other EU countries.
Other Members referred to the problem of wildlife. This issue was investigated in County Offaly and discussed on a previous occasion by the House. The Minister must continue to investigate the problem of wildlife. Farmers have generally taken a responsible role in the area of disease control. However, they become frustrated when they realise that badgers and deer are not being tested. It is also very frustrating when there is a sudden unexplainable outbreak of TB in a neighbouring herd which has not been brought in for testing in the past. Increased finance should be provided toward investigating the issue of wildlife. It is not fair to state that only badgers and deer are to blame. We must endeavour to discover the origin of such diseases.
 In conclusion, I welcome the scheme because the changes involved are long overdue. The scheme will not work without the co-operation of the Minister, the Department, veterinary surgeons, farmers and everyone involved in its operation. In the past, such schemes have not operated with 100 per cent co-operation. Anyone who states otherwise is not being true to the facts. The increases in the level of fines are important, as are the changes in the operation of the scheme. If we are to retain the largest possible number of farmers in rural Ireland we must tackle the issue of disease eradication. We must eradicate disease from every herd. We must also ensure that schemes operate properly with the full co-operation of all parties involved.
I do not wish to refer to the previous speaker's remarks regarding controversy in the beef industry. However, I was involved in the beef industry for 23 years and I am cognisant of the situation which pertains to it. I congratulate the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry for the stand he made in that regard.
Mr. Dardis Mr. Dardis
Mr. Dardis: I have no objection to the Bill before the House. It is perfectly sensible and I do not intend to oppose it on Second Stage. However, I will comment on aspects of the Bill and the general question of bovine tuberculosis.
I will not repeat the catalogue which has been regularly recited in the past number of years. One of my first contributions on entering this House in 1989 related to bovine eradication. I recently reconsidered the statements made during that debate and it struck me that we have not moved forward in the interim. Many of the points made in that debate could be raised with equal validity today. The history of the attempts to eradicate bovine tuberculosis makes for disappointing reading. Enormous amounts of taxpayers' and farmers' money have been spent since 1954 in this regard. While some advances were made, there have also been many failures. We have not reached a point  where we can state that the disease has been or is almost eradicated.
One of the characteristics of many past contributions on this issue was that they contained an element of pointing the finger. Farmers point the finger at the Department, which points the finger at the veterinary surgeons, who point the finger at farmers and the Department and a vicious circle results. The reality is, however, that each sector, in attempting to eradicate the disease, shares culpability. No one is exempt from culpability. It could be argued that there are degrees of culpability, but it must be accepted that the various sectors have all been culpable. The taxpayer has been the victim in this situation.
Having considered the debates on this issue in 1989 and 1990, one must ask how far we have moved in the interim and how far will we move in the future? As Senator D'Arcy stated, we must also inquire if eradication is a reasonable expectation. Perhaps control is a more realistic expectation, but we should not cease in our attempts at eradication.
In the past, the possible withdrawal of European funds has been introduced to these matters as a kind of Sword of Damocles. The implicit threat is that such money will be withdrawn if the industry does not comply and acquiesce. I often wonder about the reality behind such arguments, one of which was used when we were asked to embrace rotational testing. The Minister was vigorous in putting forward the case for this, but rotational testing was changed in October or November 1995. A very good spin was placed on the issue in the press releases accompanying the change. However, in his contribution to this debate the Minister informed us that we now have “structured rotation”. We have moved away from rotational testing and now have structured rotation. This is a fine way of stating that we have drawn away from the position we adopted earlier and have retreated to a lesser one.
 There is also the question of the forum. On previous occasions I discussed with the Minister the fact that there now are a plethora of fora. The old saying that “A funny thing happened to me on the way to the forum” could apply to many people in Ireland who attend such fora. One wonders what these bodies actually achieve. In the past, there were task forces which achieved some worthy developments, but one also wonders about their lasting effect. Perhaps Senator O'Kennedy will comment on that aspect of the problem.
Science is often overlooked when it comes to these issues. Science tells us of what it should be possible to establish empirically, but the difficulty is that it becomes polluted by or wound up in politics. Science speaks to us, but different interpretations are placed on it. It is a difficult science because the epidemiology of the spread of tuberculosis is not, even with all the technology and information available now, particularly well understood. For example, there is the question of lateral spread and the degree to which it is responsible for the maintenance of the disease at its current level. In Northern Ireland, double fencing was introduced as a way of controlling lateral spread and it proved quite effective. I will return to what Northern Ireland can teach us in respect of the control of the disease. Even in terms of the peace process, it would be useful to consider what was done there over the years and learn something from it.
Senator Townsend mentioned the difficulty people who are not farmers have understanding why human tuberculosis could be controlled and eradicated but bovine tuberculosis cannot be controlled. However, they are totally different things. If there were sanitoria and vaccinations for cattle, bovine tuberculosis would be controlled. However, these do not exist and the cattle are in fields. There is also the wildlife implication and both aspects must be taken into account.
 Regarding the studies carried out in County Offaly on badgers and the conclusions which were reached, it is unquestionable that a connection was established between badgers and the spread of tuberculosis. However, there were also grey areas and I return to the point about the need for research and science. If a deficiency could be identified, it is that not enough attention has been paid and insufficient money has been devoted to establishing criteria on which we can act. For example, this arises in terms of the epidemiology and the question of false positives and the accuracy of the avain test.
When I read the 1989 contributions, I noted that blood testing and its introduction from New Zealand was discussed. We are six years down the road and it is still being discussed, but it is not coming as quickly as I thought. The questions of badgers, false positives, lateral spread, etc., still arise, in addition to whether it is realistic and possible in the European context to state that the disease can be controlled. But eradication is a much more difficult objective. Another possible aspect is the extent to which the matter has developed into an industry over the years, with many people having a vested interest in keeping the show on the road.
The Minister stated that the consensus now is that while some progress can be made, final eradication will be possible only when new diagnostic tests, vaccines for wildlife and movement control arrangements are in place. The Minister could have made that point six years ago with equally validity. However, it raises the question of whether eradication is possible.
I welcome the Bill's provisions in respect of the penalties which would be imposed on people who do not pay their levies. However, in the context of the area alluded to by several Senators and the general abuses which were established in the beef industry, one wonders  to what extent prosecutions will arise from the legislation. To what extent will this legislation be implemented in terms of practical prosecutions of people in default? Will the penalties be imposed on people? Is there a willingness and an ability to prosecute people who abuse our beef industry? I use the word “abuse” advisedly.
Reference was made to the abuses which occurred and the point which is frequently made, that the beef tribunal did not reach conclusions. However, it reached conclusions and found that there were abuses. It found that beef was reboxed, that the Irish taxpayer was defrauded and that income tax had to be paid arising from the tribunal. What prosecutions have arisen as a result of the stated abuses found by the beef tribunal? It comes back to the fact that people who had little to gain were jailed for their role in fraud and conspiracy, but the person or persons unknown are seen as not so amenable to the rigours of the law. What is being done on foot of abuses? Under this legislation, will people who do not do what they should be pursued with a view to imposing the fines established in the Bill?
It may appear contradictory to allude to another aspect of the Bill in terms of wanting to ensure that people are prosecuted and brought to book. However, section 5 states that an inspector or an authorised officer may enter at any reasonable time any premises in which the inspector or officer has reason to believe that such person is carrying on business, etc. This aspect arose in the Waste Management Bill and the Road Traffic Bill and I question the appropriateness of vesting those type of powers in individuals who are not gardaí or officers of the court. This is increasingly creeping into legislation and I am concerned about it. I hope I am not being inconsistent when I say that my reservations are not meant to convey that people should get away with not complying with the Bill.
 Another point relates to the Northern Ireland example I quoted earlier. I understand a food fair was held in Spain last week and the North and the South had stands at it. I understand one of Northern Ireland's big selling points was a computer which they use to demonstrate that the passage of every animal from the time it is born on the farm to when it is slaughtered can be traced. In the context of European pressures, the issue of traceability is becoming increasingly predominant. It was evident that Northern Ireland was much more aware of consumer needs in that it was able to produce that type of information. The need for computers was also mentioned in the 1989 debate on this matter.
Senator Neville is correct about the number of movements which take place within the Irish chain. It is part of the difficulty of dealing with the disease, and surely using the technology now available is one way it can be dealt with to ensure the cattle are traced. If it is possible to put a satellite in the sky which looks at every field in Ireland so that when one submits one's area aid form for arable crops, not only is it known there are arable crops there but also whether it is wheat, barley or oats, it is surely possible to devise a scheme which traces animals around the country.
Arising from this, one questions the efficacy of introducing a plastic tag system for cattle. Everybody is aware of the abuses which took place in the past in terms of tags being switched and the way they were used. Surely this abuse could be even more prevalent if a plastic rather than a metal tag was used. Given that an electronic tag and computer technology is available, why cannot they be used? I realise there is a cost implication for the Government, but the disease is costing much money. Perhaps it would be cost effective to deal with it in that way. As Senator Quinn said, we will have take these actions if we are to  sell this beef in the international market.
It is viewed as almost anti-national to talk about abuses which have taken place in the beef industry. That has to be nailed on the head, because those who did wrong are responsible for bringing down the industry rather than those who are talking about it. We want to be able to go to our international markets and say we have an industry over which we can stand and that it is traceable to the point where the calf is born on the farm.
Recently, I went into one of the big supermarket chains in Paris which had a beef counter almost the length of this Chamber. It was about 30 yards long, a foot of which was allocated to Irish beef. We talk about promotional campaigns, but the reality is that our exports are tiny in relation to the total amount of beef. There was a similar proportion of Irish lamb. The other significant fact was that Angus beef was beside the Irish beef and it enjoyed a price premium, and Limousin beef was beside the Angus beef and it enjoyed a price premium over it. Are we just giving the meat away because we cannot stand over the quality, which we all know is there?
I have an open mind on the matter of the pre-movement test. I am not sure that the pre-movement test helped us to catch up with tuberculosis. I think I am correct in saying we are the only country in Europe which has a pre-movement test, although I accept there are far more movements in Ireland than in mainland Europe, given the different nature of the industry here. However, the value of the pre-movement test is questionable. If I bought an animal in October which had been tested the previous January and brought it through to fattening in February to go to a factory where it would be checked for lesions, I would have to conduct a test on that animal. That seems unnecessary and I do not think it should happen.
 We have to concentrate on research and the adoption of the latest technology. I am sure what is happening in Northern Ireland has been looked at by several Administrations and many officials in the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Food, but we have to learn the lessons from that.
With regard to the role of veterinary surgeons, I agree with Senator D'Arcy about the need to continue talking until this matter is resolved. However, dictating to a profession what it should do rather than talking to them first and trying to reach a consensus is not a very good way to enter talks. Solutions should only be imposed if consensus cannot be reached. There was a great deal of putting the cart before the horse in the way in which the veterinary profession was dealt with in this instance.
In regard to how far we have moved in six years, certain action steps were proposed to me in 1989 which are worth recalling. The first was twice yearly herd testing with more effective testing of the national herd; that is, to monitor the quality of herd testing and ensure testing of all animals in all herds. This testing programme was to involve back to back testing by practitioners and Department of Agriculture veterinary inspectors. That has changed and we would not say the same today, but that was what ERAD said at the time.
Second, all free animals were to move to marts, meat factories and third country markets on a six month test requirement. Third, there was to be no other pre-movement test requirement, except for export to markets within the EC, that is, 30 days. The fourth proposal was immediate introduction of computerisation and movement permits, independent of the computerisation of other Department of Agriculture livestock schemes. Fifth, there was to be early removal of all infected animals, including infected wildlife, in TB black spot areas. Sixth, research on a blood test for TB and the causes of herd breakdown  was to be stepped up and meat factories were to provide herd owners, through the DVOS, with a full post mortem report on each TB reactor animal. Those were reasonably sensible proposals, several of which are as applicable today as they were then.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: I am obliged to Senator Dardis for recording in the latter part of his contribution the conditions which I introduced in 1989 and the characteristics of the approach to tackling the major problem of bovine disease. This matter is not just of interest to farmers, vets, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and the Minister of the day, but is a matter of priority for the whole country. Due to the significance of the beef industry, which is worth £2 billion to our economy, it is a matter of fundamental concern for everybody. There are front line players such as farmers, farming organisations, the vets and the Department. However, as this matter is of such crucial importance it has to be tackled on a comprehensive basis by all concerned. The disease eradication programme must continue to be developed by all concerned.
As a Minister, I saw it as a fundamental responsibility to engage all the main players in co-operation and partnership in bringing about a reduction and eradication of this disease. I appreciated the goodwill and co-operation which I received during my period in office from the players concerned: the farm organisations and the veterinary profession. It is essential in order to maintain and build on the bovine TB eradication programme to be able to rely on that goodwill. I regret, for that reason, that that seems to have changed dramatically in recent times and that systems which are threatened to be imposed are replacing systems which could be introduced by agreement. I am not suggesting that what would be introduced by agreement would be comprehensive or absolutely  effective. However, it is the better and only way to deal with this issue.
I have reservations about the Minister's rather heavy handed approach to the veterinary profession, in particular in highlighting what he saw as their irresponsibility or unreasonableness. One can always point to elements of irresponsibility or unreasonableness in any sector of any community. I am not saying that every vet — any more than every farmer, citizen or person in the beef industry — is perfect and responsible. However, our role is to engage those who are and to penalise those who are not.
Senator Neville said that prudent farmers would take certain courses of action. Nobody has more reason to be respectful of the farming community or to understand their contribution to our economy and culture than I have. However, it would be foolish to assume every person engaged in agricultural activity will always behave prudently and responsibly. That would fly in the face of our experience and would ignore the fact we have had to take heavy action from time to time, including during my time, against a small minority who were doing serious damage to our industry in terms of carelessness in relation to bovine disease, the switching of tags, as Senator Dardis mentioned, or the spreading of what I always insisted on calling “the devil dust”, clenbuterol, which is even worse. These people played their part in conjunction with some of these rogue elements, buyers and others, in the beef industry who did as much as they could to undermine that important industry for their own narrow short term profit at the public's expense.
Having said that, I want to address the issues related to this particular proposal. First, like other Senators, I have no difficulty in supporting the purposes of this Bill in that it provides a legal basis for the payment of levies from the State directly to the Minister rather than  to the Revenue Commissioners; in fact, I commend it.
I want to make some general observations in that the Minister has introduced the bovine TB eradication programme and other colleagues have addressed this also. First, it is clear from the experience which we gleaned during my five years as Minister for Agriculture and Food — incidentally, this was about the longest term of office in the history of the State with the exception perhaps of Minister Jim Ryan from County Wexford, which is a little while back — that the causes of this critical problem in Ireland are multi-factorial. There is no single issue which one can isolate and say “There is the cause. Eradicate that cause and we will have dealt with the problem”. That would be far too simplistic. I recall incidents of what people call spontaneous outbreaks of bovine TB, where herds had been previously free for a considerable time. If that happens — and there is such a thing as a spontaneous outbreak — we must research the causes.
I want to point to a number of factors which emerged when I decided to set up ERAD with the participation of the farmers and the veterinary profession under Dr. Liam Downey, the current director of Teagasc, who had special responsibility, so that nobody could say it was just the Minister or the Department. We set out in that programme for the first time to have a semi-State organisation with one priority, that is, to deal with this problem. It became fairly clear, even from the preliminary conclusions reached under ERAD, that there were a variety of factors, many of which have been referred to here this morning.
First, the climate here is a factor, although the point can be made that it is not greatly different from that in Northern Ireland. Anybody who knows anything about the TB bug knows you are dealing with a hardy little so-and-so. It can survive for quite a while where it  appears to have been eliminated and can surface again in conditions which may be conducive to the health of the bug and the bad health of the animal. The climate factor is one which would distinguish us from most other countries in Europe. The warm moist climate, particularly in the south of Ireland, is conducive to the health of the TB bug as distinct from the dry cold conditions in the rest of Europe or throughout the United Kingdom. It is just one factor, but it should be borne in mind.
Second, the pattern of movement of cattle in Ireland is very different to that which exists elsewhere. This is a traditional cultural matter. One can try to change and discourage it, but by comparison with Belgium, Holland, France and Germany, where you might find that an animal never really departed from the place where he or she was born until the date of slaughter, animals are moved on average six or seven times between date of birth and date of slaughter in Ireland. That factor must be taken into account. It is an element which must be dealt with in the overall control of the disease.
Third, I know the standard of hygiene on our farms in general by comparison with that in some other highly intensive cattle breeding enterprises throughout Europe has improved considerably in recent times, but other animals' access to places where cattle are housed in Ireland, much less access to where cattle graze, is a significant factor.
I do not point out these factors just for the sake of trying to point out what might appear to be all the seemingly insurmountable difficulties. These are facts which we must take into account. The other fact which we must take into account relates to wildlife. I set up that pilot programme in County Offaly. I am an admirer of wildlife and the dear badger, in particular, and wildlife is an important part of our function. As Senator Dardis said, the evidence of that pilot scheme and other schemes  would suggest that badgers and, to a lesser extent, deer are a significant factor. I am not saying they are the only factor. Remember, these are all the factors. People tend to isolate one and decide to deal with it. Why is this factor a bigger factor than it is in England? My recollection, which I think is correct, is that Ireland's badger population, for instance, is about the same as that in the UK, which of course is a much bigger country.
Mr. D'Arcy Mr. D'Arcy
Mr. D'Arcy: It is a different habitat.
Mr. O'Kennedy Mr. O'Kennedy
Mr. O'Kennedy: That was the point which I was about to make. Senator D'Arcy, who is close to all of this, will appreciate that it is a different habitat. We have greater density; but our badger population tends to be very close to, and trail across, our pasture areas whereas in the UK they tend to be found in controlled forestry areas, so they do not have the same access to pasture as they do in Ireland.
It is important to put forward these points as facts so we do not raise people's expectations and then look for targets to victimise or accuse in the event that our programme is not as successful as it should be. There are a variety of factors. I regret to say there is the human factor, which involves a small number of people. One of the State's most distinguished former Ministers, the late Frank Aiken, made the point to a young Minister, former Taoiseach Jack Lynch, who said he had a problem and asked to discuss the matter. Frank Aiken's response was “If we didn't have problems, there would be no need for a Government and wouldn't that be the end of the world?”
One of the reasons we must regulate is that there is a small number of farmers, people in the beef industry and some others, who do not act responsibly or prudently. That is why I address the question to Senator Neville: what about those few farmers who might not be  prudent? I yield to nobody in my admiration for farmers. I come from farming stock. Incidentally, perhaps I should mention, in case it would seem to be an interest which I should declare, that my brother is a vet who has been in practice for some time. I would like to think that his standards and those of his colleagues are such that one would want to promote and vindicate them at any stage. However, that is not my purpose this morning lest someone suggest that I am making a case for the veterinary profession.
It is for the State to regulate and control this area, as it does every other area. The Minister has my support in looking at this new scheme in a comprehensive way. However, are we being a little naive? When we deal with aspects of human health, we do not leave it to the doctors, nurses or patients to come to an arrangement between themselves. We do not delegate to them to decide what they should do to eradicate certain causes of human ill-health. We have programmes relating to human health and human disease that are and remain the responsibility of the State. They are supervised by the State to guarantee the State's role on behalf of the citizen and the efficiency of the system. Are we not asking a bit much when we pass on the responsibility, and to a large extent the administration, of the scheme to farmers?
Seanad Éireann 146 Bovine Diseases (Levies) (Amendment) Bill, 1995: Second Stage.