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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 9 Oct 1947

Vol. 108 No. 2

Live Stock (Artificial Insemination) Bill, 1947—Second Stage.

I move that this Bill be now read a Second Time. The object of the Bill is merely to secure control over artificial breeding of live stock in this country so as to prevent harmful exploitation of the practice. The systematic breeding of animals by artificial insemination is of comparatively recent development, dating from the end of the first world war when modern methods were first put into effect in Russia with great success. Denmark then took up the idea for the purpose of improving dairy cattle, and Danish experts carried the practice to the United States of America where it has been widely developed. In England research has been carried on at Cambridge since 1935 and a network of artificial insemination centres is now being built up in that country under the control of the Minister for Agriculture and an advisory committee.

As I have already said, this measure is intended only to secure control and prevent abuses. Accordingly it provides that centres must be licensed and subject to inspection by authorised officers, and that semen may not be imported or exported without a licence. Regulations to be made under the Act will contain other precautions such as: ensuring qualified staff and efficient premises, equipment and breeding methods; the approval of the Minister for any bulls to be used for artificial insemination; the keeping of proper breeding records; and control over the distribution of semen from the centres.

Experiments have already been started in this country at the Ballyvorisheen Cattle Breeding Station, Mallow, on a farm owned by the Ballyclough Co-operative Creamery. The station is in charge of a capable veterinary surgeon who has been trained in artificial insemination at the Cambridge Research Institute, and, to meet the requirements of the Shorthorn Society for the registration of calves produced by artificial insemination the station was inspected on behalf of my Department by an independent veterinary surgeon fully qualified in artificial insemination. It is possible that the establishment of other centres may be called for in other parts of the country, and it is necessary that I should have power to grant or refuse a licence as circumstances may require, or to attach to any licence granted such conditions as my Department may think proper.

I am also taking power to revoke licences, power to enter and inspect any premises licensed for artificial insemination or where there is reason to believe artificial insemination is being carried on, and to take all necessary precautions to ensure that there will be no abuses. The provisions of this Bill are in line with Acts already enacted in other countries where artificial breeding is much more widespread than it is here.

The origin of this method of breeding goes back much farther than the Minister said. It goes back some 600 years. The Arabs used it 600 years ago. There are records of its use in 1750. Its utilisation on a commercial basis is, however, of recent origin. This is an enabling Bill. Section 3 is the operative section and is the only important section in the Bill. We do not approve of this system of legislation. We have got no information from the Minister as to what regulations he proposes to make. As a matter of fact, he has not informed the House whether he intends to encourage the use of this system of breeding. He has not given us any information as to whether any financial provision is being made or whether he intends to ask the House to make any financial provision for this. That seems to me extraordinary.

If I asked the Minister what regulations he proposed to control this method of breeding, he would not be able to give me any information because what we are being asked here is to empower the Minister to make regulations and he will then hand it over to a group of civil servants in Merrion Street and they will do the rest of it. In other words, it is delegated legislation. Surely it is our responsibility here to examine legislation, and, if this is something new so far as this country is concerned, Dáil Eireann ought to be interested and we ought to get an opportunity of discussing its implications. For instance, I do not know whether the Minister intends to allow the individual to operate this system privately on his own farmstead for his own stock, or whether he intends to insist on veterinary surgeons being provided where it is used otherwise. This is a highly technical job, and, in my opinion, veterinary surgeons ought to be used.

We have no information whatever as to whether there is any intention to provide a national service, whether we intend to build up a national service, and we have no information as to whether it is the intention of the Minister and his Department to carry out intensive research into the utilisation of animals in an artificial way. We get a very scanty account of what they have been doing in Great Britain, with no reference to the work of Sir John Hammond, to his interest and supervision in the matter, little information about the Reading station, Cambridge, and the various other stations. As a matter of fact, so far as the proven animal is concerned, he might have informed the House what the proven animal means and its advantages, because that is the real advantage in the artificial use of an animal.

The United States took up this system in 1937, and, in 1943, had 574 animals in use to inseminate artificially 182,524 cows, an average of 318 cows per bull. Britain took it up and Reading was started, I think, in February, 1943. By mid-summer, 1946, they had 73 bulls in use and the inseminated average was something over 40,000. The conception rate for that particular year was 65.2 per cent. We have suffered from a variety of diseases here and we have had problems in the matter of breeding and genetics, and one thing claimed for this system of breeding is that it is a very effective way of controlling the spread of disease, and infectious disease in particular. In the particular type of community we have, a small farming community, where you have an animal serving a big district, it gives rise to greater disease problems than where you have independent units which are economically served by one animal. For that reason, we should take a particular interest in whatever advantages may accrue from the utilisation of animals in this fashion.

The Minister recently showed an interest in our problem of breeding. He knows very well that indiscriminate cross-breeding leads nowhere and I feel that it is better to grade up low-yielding herds by the use of good bulls than to try to pull out the low-yielders. That would be a very long and very tedious method and would not be as good, from the breeding point of view, as the utilisation of good bulls. The improvement of herds, in my opinion, depends mainly on better bulls. With good females only, the chances of grading up are only about equal. With the utilisation of the proven animal, it would be odds on the creation of higher yielding progeny and I want to recommend to the Minister that here definitely is a solution of our problem of low yield.

It is true that a co-operative society here has taken a particular interest in this matter, but I am quite satisfied, too, that a great many farmers in that part of the country are wondering whether it is right or wrong and why it is that the Department has not taken any interest whatever in it. The station at Mallow to which the Minister referred was set up on the initiative of the local co-operative society. They have four or five animals under the supervision of a very efficient veterinary surgeon who was trained specifically for this purpose, but there was no co-operation, good, bad, or indifferent, by the Department. It was on the initiative and enterprise of a group of men down there that this work was started. There was no investigation of any sort by the Department and no attempt to provide financially for research in the matter. Then we talk about our agriculture and about progress in Irish agriculture, while getting no lead from Merrion Street, so far as the operation of a new idea like this is concerned.

Every progressive agricultural country in the world is working intensively on this system of breeding from the research point of view. The Minister carefully avoided informing the House that Great Britain provided £250,000 for research and that a special advisory committee, under the chairmanship of the Duke of Norfolk, was set up to advise the Minister and to watch and guide research and to supervise the stations generally. Are we going to have a national service and why is it that we have got such scant information? I want to protest against the way the House has been treated. This is an important matter, fundamental to our whole economy and our whole prosperity. It has been made definitely clear to us that the basis of the whole future of this country is the live-stock industry and that, if we can get away from our haphazard method of breeding, indiscriminate cross-breeding which produces nondescript animals, and get down to a more scientific method of breeding animals for specific purposes, we will be making a definite advance.

The advantage of the proven animal, used artificially, is that you can use him very much longer and much more extensively, having proved his capacity to get milk. In the natural way, when you arrive at that point, where there is positive proof that his progeny are high yielders and that you have stepped up the milking capacity, he has probably become too old to be used in the natural way. Another advantage which accrues is that you can afford to pay much more, to go to much greater trouble breeding animals for the specific purpose of dairying especially. I think this method of breeding has proved best from the dairying point of view. The position to-day in Great Britain, with their activities on this important work, is that there are not sufficient animals available. We have just been marking time in this country, so far as milk production is concerned, until the problem has become so acute that the Minister, when he took office, expressed the view that we had a biological problem here, and that our methods and the Live Stock Breeding Act, in its administration, had reacted adversely and that the failure of the Department to keep close supervision on what was being done in the country had this result, that we were breeding away from milk.

I feel that the Minister should study this whole system much more carefully. He ought to give the matter much more attention. He should make ample financial provision for the research work necessary in this new system of breeding. We should not go blindfolded into this thing. This system has tremendous potentialities. Other countries have proved that. Experts who can speak with knowledge, men like Sir John Hammond, are confident that it has great potentialities. They issue the warning that we should step carefully, that this system requires much investigation and experimentation. Is all that work to be left to the agricultural societies, the creamery societies? Will they have to do their own research? Will they have to blunder along without any technical direction or any advisory committee with special statutory powers and special financial provisions?

If the Minister and the Department are interested only to the extent of providing legislation of this sort, merely an enabling section to empower the civil servants in Merrion Street to make regulations to which we can object by an annulment motion, then I think the whole idea of dealing with this matter is highly objectionable. The Minister may tell us that this is a British system. The British were involved in a war when they adopted the system. We have more time to deal with legislation; we can give ample consideration to whatever provisions are required. This system of breeding ought as far as possible to be made statute law.

I object vehemently to this system of legislation. I am disappointed with the Minister's handling of this matter. He gives us no information; he merely asks the House for the power set out in Section 3. There is no national scheme, no optimism as to the future utilisation of this new system. We have had only a scant account of what happened at Cambridge. There was little reference to the rapid increase in the use of artificial insemination and the success that has attended the efforts of Sir John Hammond in stepping up the milking capacity of animals.

It has been established beyond any doubt that you can raise milk yields enormously by the utilisation of a suitable sire. The man who owns the cow that holds the world's milk yield record lives in the United States and uses his animal artificially on his own herd. It is an independent unit and the animal is not used outside the farm. In the British legislation there is a provision indicating that there is no necessity for a licence where the animal is used privately for the cows on the farm.

We have no information from our Minister, no plan, no financial provision—merely power to enable him to make regulations to govern one station, that at Mallow. Who will satisfy our farmers that this is a good system to step up the milking capacity of cattle? Will the State carry out any research? Are we to be as good as other countries or shall we have to wait to benefit from the researches in other countries? Is that the Government's attitude to our agricultural problem?

A country like this, that is depending to such an extent on agriculture, ought to be a pioneer in work of this sort. The Dáil ought to be far more ambitious so far as the use of artificial insemination on a commercial basis is concerned. The problem is an acute one. The Minister talked about setting up a committee of farmers. I do not think that he has attempted to do that yet.

I have met them.

You would not be able to give us the names of the committee if I put down a Parliamentary question?

Indeed I could.

We will be asking you for that information next week, maybe.

If I had known that I would not have told you. It may get me into trouble.

I appeal to the Minister to make the necessary financial provisions for this and not do the job in a slipshod fashion. This has not been put before the House in a constructive way. It is little or no use. I would prefer to see the Minister come in here with a national scheme. Sound financial provisions are essential if we are to carry out the necessary research. I am disappointed with the way the Minister has handled the matter. This is a poor compliment to the pioneers of this work in this country. I want to pay a tribute to the courage, capacity and enterprise of the group of farmers in the Mallow district who were keen and clear-sighted enough to spend a very considerable sum in establishing a station there and in sending a veterinary officer to Great Britain to qualify himself in this work. It has been a magnificent piece of work on their part and they are entitled to a tribute from this House. That is the spirit that will raise agriculture out of the rut it is in.

It is unfortunate that we have to depend on private initiative to that extent. If we are to save agriculture, if we are to expand production, if we are to reach the targets that may be set one of these days in London, we want leadership and we look to Merrion Street for that leadership. It is not forthcoming in this legislation; in this slipshod fashion you will get nowhere. It will not inspire what is most essential—confidence. Our people must have confidence in the future, they must feel that we are planning clearly and constructively, that we will get a clear vision of the future, knowing the goal towards which we are moving. Above all, for that we want leadership, and this is not the way to achieve it.

The Minister must sit down and think this matter over again. He had enough knowledge to appreciate that there is a milk problem: let him have the courage to face the situation and not be satisfied if the Department pushes this sort of thing under his nose. He must tell the officials that it is not good enough, that he wants a plan which he can bring into Dáil Éireann to tell the whole story. They must give him a plan for the expansion of this particular method of breeding dairy stock, which has been so successful in the United States, in Great Britain and in Russia, first of all. We are in rather a tight jam economically and we must sit up and take stock. Above all, we want leadership. That responsibility has been put on the Minister and he must accept it. He will have to improve his hand over this, if he is to give that leadership.

As Deputy Hughes has said, the Department should meet the matter by making financial provision. This is a new method which has been adopted by a group of enterprising men in County Cork and I am glad the Minister has met the wishes of those people. It is the duty of the Department to see that this artificial insemination is not being abused and I hope that, in the near future, the Minister will co-operate more fully with stations of this kind. Over a long period of years, the losses and the difficulties encountered by enterprising men and by the owners of live stock and dairy stock caused them to seek methods to overcome the scourge of disease creeping through the country. While I would not be in favour of the system and think it is to an extent going against the law of nature, the unfortunate men are forced to take steps in order to protect the breeding industry because of this scourge of disease that has crept into dairy stocks. For that reason, it is wise to take this step.

This is a new pursuit and the Department will have to be very careful. Maybe in the near future, with the issue of licences to certain groups, the Minister will need to guard against abuse and people might be compelled to come within certain areas or stations where this practice is being carried on. In fairness to the people carrying it out and in fairness to the Minister, it is a good thing that this should be sponsored by the Department, as it will help to overcome certain difficulties in other areas by discouraging disease getting into the cattle stocks. Without a shadow of doubt, live stock and dairy stock are the bedrock of our agricultural and national economy. For that reason, I would approve of this particular measure and give the Minister every assistance to see that it is perfected without any abuses being attached to it.

Deputy Hughes made one of his usual speeches here in regard to this measure. The speech he delivered is a stock one with him. If I judge aright, this is more or less an experiment which the Department is undertaking and the Minister would be very right to hasten slowly. I think he is going the right way about it. I prefer to see this handled as it has been handled already, by such an organisation as a co-operative society or a group of farmers in co-operation, instead of leaving the whole thing to the Department and to the Government. The enterprising group round Mallow which got going on this experiment are to be congratulated and encouraged and I am satisfied that that is what the Minister is doing in introducing this short piece of legislation. That is the right way to approach it.

Deputy Hughes is very much up in the air in his whole approach to a number of agricultural questions. Once upon a time, Deputy Corry said that Deputy Hughes reads too many books and I am inclined to agree with that suggestion. No matter what experiments are carried out in artificial insemination, it will be utilised only very gradually, if at all, by a big number of dairy farmers in this country. They will stick to the old methods they know about and if Deputy Hughes thinks this is going to be a panacea or remedy for all the ills and difficulties dairy farmers have to contend with in live-stock breeding, he is very much in the air and will be very disappointed. The Minister has been acting on the right lines in introducing this measure by way of experiment and when the experiment has got a chance if there is anything in the thing he can come along and introduce a more permanent kind of measure.

I approve of the measure and the proposals of the Miniter in so far as it is an effort, as I believe it is, to do all that possibly can be done to improve the milk yield of our cattle. I have had practical experience over a great many years of the efforts being made by various societies and co-operative organisations to increase the milk yield and milk inheritance, but we find that the bulls which produced the best dairy cattle are very often slaughtered before their merits as producers of good dairy animals are known. For a number of years, the Dairy Shorthorn Breeders' Society instituted cup competitions for the best yields of milk shown by our dairy shorthorn cattle. They have had heifers with very high yields of milk, but when we go back and try to trace the sires of those heifers, we find they have been slaughtered. That is the trouble all the time.

The function of an insemination centre such as outlined by the Minister would be to preserve these bulls and to use the semen as far as possible cautiously and to hasten slowly to see how it may succeed. It seems that it has gone beyond the experimental stage in America and other countries. I would like to pay a tribute to the Ballyclough Co-operative Society, who were the first people in this country to start an insemination centre. I have been there and I know they have done their best to procure the best dairy bulls in the country; and, so far, the progeny of the animals produced by an insemination system is very encouraging. I have no doubt that with proper supervision and careful handling it could be made a great success in this country because the point was all the time that bulls who were able to transmit a milking inheritance were slaughtered before the merits of their progeny became known. This is very unfortunate and something should be done in that direction. We all know that for a number of years there has been a serious falling off in milk production in the country because of various circumstances such as the lack of feeding-stuffs and one cause and another. I take it that this is a step in the right direction. Under wise and careful supervision by the Minister for Agriculture it will produce as good results in this country as in any other country.

I think that the Minister has shown great courage and wisdom in the manner in which he has brought in this Bill.

In doing what?

In introducing this measure in the way in which he introduced it.

He has done nothing.

I did not interrupt. I may not know half as much about the breeding of cattle as the Deputy does but the vast majority of people with whom we mix must be of the same mind. The Deputy from Waterford spoke with prejudice against this practice. Since I came into this House I have met farmers who said that this business could not be lucky. Any individual who starts to break down a prejudice of that kind must display courage and he had the confidence of the men on this side of the House who are as interested in the new practice as Deputy Hughes says he is.

It was started in Mallow more than a year ago.

He has shown wisdom in introducing Section 3, which Deputy Hughes is inclined to blame him for. My regret is that when he was naming the particular animals to which it applies he did not go far enough and extend it also to the insemination of queen bees, because the honey-bee must be regarded as a source of wealth to people in this country who might not be able to afford to keep a number of cattle but who can afford a couple of stocks of bees. If Deputy Hughes is interested in the advantages of insemination and its application to that source of wealth, the honey-bee, he would find in the American Feature of September, 1947, an article on this particular matter. One of the things which is outlined in the article is that the apparatus for insemination is able to be sold to all and sundry who want to avail of it. If that were done, there is no reason to doubt that it might have the opposite effect to that which the Minister has in mind when he introduced a measure for the purpose of controlling and regulating the new practice. What applies to the insemination of bees applies to the insemination of cattle and other animals, and it is absolutely necessary that the Minister should assume that control to prevent, not the use but the abuse of insemination, and I congratulate him on his courage and wisdom.

One would have thought from the speech made by Deputy Hughes that I have appeared here this evening, in introducing this short measure, as an advocate of artificial insemination. I am not appearing here this evening with these simple proposals either as an advocate or as one of those who are opposed to this method.

When are we going to make up our minds?

If the Deputy will just listen to me I will tell him and if I have not told him before I sit down, he may ask me for information and I will enlighten him. As some Deputies in this House have reminded us already, we usually get a learned discourse from Deputy Hughes demonstrating to us the amount of wisdom and time he has given to the study of all these matters. I say I am not appearing as an advocate of this practice. I am merely coming with a simple set of proposals which will give me the power which the Minister for Agriculture should have in order to control this method of breeding.

That is not disputed.

The Deputy is not entitled to interrupt the Minister.

If Deputy Hughes should be one of the persons who would approach me with the proposal to establish a centre in Carlow or any other place—or if any other group of private persons should approach me to establish a centre—for the proposed breeding of livestock by this method, I, with the technical advice of my staff, would be in a position in which I could say, "You can go ahead subject to certain conditions which I, as Minister, on their advice should stipulate". That is all I am asking here. Deputy Hughes has complained that I have not, in addition to seeking powers provided for in this measure, incorporated in my opening statement a long discourse in regard to the wisdom or unwisdom or the benefits deriving in other lands through the practice of this method of breeding. Deputy Hughes opened by informing us that he was sceptical of the wisdom of this method of breeding.

I did not.

Then my hearing must be at fault.

I want to make it clear.

The Deputy is free to make a correction and I understand that the practice has grown up in this House, that Deputies with sufficient time at their disposal after making statements, should correct those statements, so the Deputy can do what a number of others have already made a practice of doing. I took it that he was not enthusiastic for this method but he went on to cite the advantages of it and its progress in other lands. I am like the other farmers to whom references have already been made. I am not very keen about it. As a matter of fact, just like them, I was prejudiced against this method until I went to Mallow. I went to the Mallow station some months after my appointment as Minister for Agriculture and after visiting this station I had changed my mind somewhat and now I am in a frame of mind that I think that any group of persons who do as the committee at the Mallow station did are entitled to be encouraged and be congratulated in whatever way we can. When these proposals become law, if a similar group were to approach me with a view to the establishment, particularly in a creamery district, of another centre, I should be inclined to give them what encouragement I could. I shall have to decide the policy of my Department towards this method of breeding. I have no proposals to make to the House. I can give no indication now as to the extent I should be prepared to co-operate in this matter or to assist it in a financial way, nor am I now in a position to say whether my Department will directly take part in an experiment of this kind.

I agree with Deputies who state that I should have those powers and that those who undertake this method in an experimental way should be encouraged but, in spite of the advance, undoubtedly, made in other lands, this is still a matter in respect of which we must proceed with a reasonable degree of caution. That is my general attitude. If I were even strongly hopeful that, as a result of the adoption of this method of breeding, I could shorten substantially the period in which we could bring back the milking capacity of our dairy cows, I should be inclined to look favourably upon the system. Not only that, but I should be prepared to go to the Government and—on that condition—ask them to make a substantial contribution for that purpose. I am afraid I shall not have the evidence which would enable me to take that course. Therefore, the policy I propose to follow in relation to this particular method of breeding is, as Deputies recommended, one of caution. There is no demand on the part of the farmers——


While it is my Department's duty to give agriculturists a lead, to keep an eye on all developments of this kind and to do whatever research work we can, the extent to which there is hostility on the part of farmers to this system, or any other system, however desirable, is surely, a warning to me and to those who work under me that we must proceed with a good deal of caution. We must be careful that, in trying to lead them, we do not leave them so far behind that they will not follow our instructions.

I assure the Minister that will not happen.

It will not so long as I am here. There is no use in our talking about what has been done in Russia, Denmark and America or about the number of bulls in the years 1939, 1940 and 1941 at artificial insemination centres. Even if we had 40 such centres, we have not here the number of proven bulls to which Deputy Hughes seems to think.

You can get them.

They cannot get them in Britain. In the artificial insemination centres there, they cannot get bulls of the type or number they require. That problem will remain for a long time, because, even if we had a number of these centres stocked with proven bulls, if we do not develop our milk-recording system, how are we to learn the results or how are we to get the fullest advantage to be derived from a system of this kind? The matter is not as easy as Deputy Hughes seem to think.

I did not suggest it was easy.

To devise a means by which the milking capacity of our cows could be raised is a terribly intricate matter. Even if you knew the road which you intended to travel and were satisfied that it was the correct road, after careful examination of all the difficulties, you would have to admit that it would be a very long road, indeed. I introduced this measure for the simple reason that I thought, I, or any person in my position, should have the right, authority and power, when application is made to set up a centre of this kind, to say whether it should be set up or not and, if I decided that it should, that I should be in a position to stipulate the conditions under which that could be done. At some later date, when I shall have given the matter more careful thought, I may have some further pronouncement to make regarding my own attitude and that of my Department towards this method of breeding and the contribution, if any, which we propose to make to encourage it.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage fixed for Wednesday, 22nd October, 1947.