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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 29 Mar 1955

Vol. 149 No. 6

Committee on Finance. - Fertilisers, Feeding Stuffs and Mineral Mixtures Bill, 1955—Committee and Final Stages.

Section 1 put and agreed to.

There is an amendment to Section 2 in the name of Deputy Donegan.

Perhaps the amendment might be left over until the Report Stage.

I do not know what Deputy Donegan has to say on the matter. He is not here at the moment.

I think my suggestion would be acceptable to the Deputy.

Has Deputy Donegan given authority to anybody to move this amendment? If not, I shall mark it "not moved".

Might I move the amendment in Deputy Donegan's name:—

Before sub-section (2) to insert a new sub-section as follows:—

(2) The manufacturer of a compound feeding stuff shall give to the purchaser at the time of purchase, in addition to any other particulars prescribed, a full list of all the ingredients and percentages of such ingredients incorporated in the mixture.

I understood the Minister was to include in the Bill some provision similar to that proposed by the amendment.

The position is that, if I may take the amendment as moved by the Parliamentary Secretary, I find myself in entire sympathy with the view that it would be desirable if all compound manufacutrers would provide an open formula for the benefit of their purchasers, but I am reluctant to ask the Oireachtas to place a statutory duty on the Department of Agriculture to stand over a warranty that the Department of Agriculture might not be in a position to check. The trouble is that if you get an open formula declaring that this compound mixture contains so much oats and so much barley and so many vitamins—so much this and so muchthat—there is no chemical test which can establish with certainty that the terms of the open formula have been observed. Therefore, if the Department of Agriculture prescribed it as statutory to provide it I feel that the purchaser would be entitled to turn to the Department with a sample of the compound, if he had any suspicion, and say: "Get that tested so that we may check on the terms of the open formula." In that case I feel I would be obliged to say: "There is not any test which will with certainty check the terms of the open formula."

The only chemical test which we could apply would deal with factors such as the fibre content, the protein content and matters of that kind but if you ask us to determine how much oats or how much barley or how much milo maize the compound contains there is no chemical test which would enable us to do so. Furthermore, even though we might be able to identify the presence of a certain quantity of oats in a mixture, we are in the difficulty that there are good oats and bad oats. It might be possible to establish by chemical test that there are oats present but that leaves open very much the question as to whether the oats present were good oats or bad oats. Therefore, I would advise the House to stand on the traditional mandatory certificate as to the content of a compound mixture——

And that is?

That is the one requiring us to declare the maximum fibre content, the minimum protein content and the minimum carbohydrate content— the maximum oil content, the maximum fibre content, the minimum protein content.

Is the Minister not including carbohydrates?

As far as I know—perhaps the Deputy may be wiser in this than I am—protein is in fact the modern equivalent of the albuminoid content of such compounds. I understand there is some feature in the accepted formula which covers that aspect of it but the Deputy may rest assured that the aim will be to work out a formula which is the common form, as far as I know, of providing against an excess of fibre or oil and against a minimum of protein content. If the Deputy considers that carbohydrates should be dealt with specifically in the certificate I shall give that careful examination. The House will understand my difficulty and accordingly my recommendation to Deputy Donegan that he should withdraw this amendment on the assurance, which I gladly give him, that any influence I can use with compound manufacturers to induce them to provide the open formula as a voluntary addition to their statutory obligation to provide a formula relating to fibre, oil, and protein content will be used by me.

I must apologise for not being present when the amendment was moved by the parliamentary Secretary. My reason for tabling this amendment, which I am now withdrawing, was that I felt the position of the live-stock trade, excluding the cattle trade, was such as to give us very great concern. One of my reasons was that in our pig and pork production we had not reached the degree of specialisation which has been reached by our competitors in the British market. The position exists where a pig feeder who feeds 400 pigs and derives therefrom a profit of £1 per pig can earn, if he feeds them from the bonham stage to the killing stage, a period of four months, a profit of £1,200. That situation does obtain in the countries which are competing with us but it does not obtain in our country and it is a situation which we must try to develop. Therefore, any small decrease in the price of compounds or any change in their quality or any information which we can give to the farmer is, in my opinion, very important. There was the ever-present danger, which has been so evident when profits on pig rearing at any time in this country were not there, of the discouragement to farmers by their failure over a certain period of time to make a profit. We are lagging behind these other countries in that respect inasmuch as we feed lesser numbers of pigs.

The position in America is that this open formula is used. I am informed this has resulted in many farmers using specific formulae for which they found their district most suited. It is a fact that as things stand at the moment farmers in Ireland most often use a formula which is not suited to their particular economy. For instance, you have the case where a manufacturer holds a licence for a formula which is used generally when in fact many of his customers are farmers who use skimmed milk. It is possible to produce a compound mixture which is just as good but costs less if skimmed milk is used in conjunction with it. This inflexibility in our present situation could, I believe, or believed before I heard the Minister on my amendment, have been remedied if the open formula were adopted and the Department relaxed in their ordinary Orders which they make the standards which they insisted upon, or alternatively, allowed the miller to make, without a licence, a formula which he declared to the public.

I can see certain other difficulties that might arise, for instance, the possibility of farmers using mixtures which were not the best thing. It is, of course, the farmers own business what he uses but it is a fact that our farmers in many districts, perhaps through talking to one another or by some other means, may get a certain remedy which in many cases is uneconomic. I can give an illustration of how a better situation could obtain. Let me instance the case of the biggest pig feeder in the country who resides some distance north of here. His system may be in direct contradiction to the belief of many people who think that when one starts a batch of pigs or other animals on one particular type of mixture one should finish them upon it but it is a fact that this man, who compounds his own rations, changes the constituents of those rations every Monday morning to achieve his analysis, depending upon price.

I would, however, suggest to the Minister two alternatives or additional amendments to other portions of the Act which might possibly be of greater help and might also be of assistance to the farmer in his future purchases. In the section of the Act which deals with the right of the Department to enter the manufacturer's premises and search or examine the books, I would suggest that he should introduce an amendment that the manufacturer shall keep and balance monthly a clear record of all stocks held, bought or withdrawn from store——

Is the Deputy not anticipating himself? That section will come up for consideration and the matter should be discussed on that section rather than on this.

Certainly. Therefore, I will withdraw the amendment on the understanding that the Minister will do his best to protect the farmers from any unscrupulous manufacturers or from any difficulties that may arise.

I was not expecting this amendment to be withdrawn. What I did say on the Second Reading of this Bill was that under the 1906 Act the manufacturer was obliged to give the albuminoids, proteins and the oils. Now he is not compelled to give the carbohydrates and what I wanted to insist upon when the Bill was being discussed was that carbohydrates should be included. That was the purpose of my talk on the Second Reading. I thought it might be covered in this way by the amendment that was put forward by Deputy Donegan. If I could get an assurance from the Minister that that would be included I would be perfectly satisfied.

The difficulty is that many compounds are put up and we do not know what the constituents of that feeding stuff are. It is put up under different guises but there should be no difficulty whatever in asking a compounder to give the proteins, the fats, the albuminoids, or the carbohydrates under whatever heading he wishes to give them. If we are to make any progress, as I expect we will, it is necessary that our people be educated in the proper feeding to use, particularly, as Deputy Donegan has mentioned, in the case of pig feeding.

We will have to produce a ration here that will produce a good quality bacon. The people who are producing that bacon must be educated as to the proper feeding to use. In that way it will not be very long, I hope, until every feeder in the country knows the type of feeding he is giving his animals. If the compounder is compelled to give an analysis of the feed there should be no difficulty for any feeder in the country in knowing what he is buying. It is equally important that he should know the unit value of what he is buying as well as the analysis of the food that is in the compound. He can compare the unit value of proteins, albuminoids and carbohydrates with that of his barley, oats and maize mixture. He knows whether it is cheaper for him to buy a compound or do the job himself. For that reason I think the Minister might produce a formula which would be unambiguous, and by which every person in the country would quickly recognise the type of feeding stuff he was using and the type for which he was paying.

I do not think there is any difference between us in the way we want to do that. The Deputy speaks of albuminoids. I understand that, in terms of dietetic science, the word albuminoid is replaced by the word protein.

We are both agreed on that. I agree with the Deputy that, if it is within the sphere of practical politics to add to that requirement, that you declare the correct carbohydrate content of the mixture, I am all for it and will do it, but as the Deputy fully understands, carbohydrates are derived from a wide variety of constituents. They may be derived from oil, maize or sugar, or any number of constituents. Whether it is possible to define and determine by analysis the carbohydrate content of a given mixture, I am not sure. I understand, if it were possible, it would not be an unreasonable demand to make on the compounder.

I understand that we propose to make these by regulation. I shall certainly look into the practicability of adding to the protein, oil and fibre declaration, thereby adding the carbohydrate content. I am not going to deceive the Deputy. I am unqualified to give an undertaking, because I do not know what practical difficulties may emerge, but if it is practicable, it will be done. If it is not practicable, I can only let the Deputy know the difficulties which deterred me from doing so.

The reason that Deputy Donegan finds me unable to accept the amendment is not want of goodwill but want of a way. I do not want to make a regulation requiring a compounder to declare the specific constituents guaranteed to be present in the compound when I have no chemical laboratory means available to check the veracity of the certificate. It is only because I am not able effectively to check such a certificate that I ask the Deputy not to place upon me the statutory duty of pretending to do what I cannot.

I renew my assurance that, in so far as I can influence the compounding industry, I will urge upon them that, after having provided a statutory guarantee as regards protein, oil, fibre and carbohydrates, they should voluntarily enclose with a bag of meal, or whatever it is, their own certificate, showing the specific constituents which constitute the compound mixture.

On this question of compound feeding stuffs, I wish to say that they are regarded as one of the mysteries of farming. You often see a bag with proteins, fibres, carbohydrates and all the different constituents. I would like to see a label on that bag showing that there are so many offals and so many barley combings in it. I would not like to see byproducts of mills which have no practical feeding value at all mixed in compound feeding stuffs.

They will be no longer allowed.

I would like the Minister, if it is within his province, or that of his officials, to see to it that any waste products of mills which have no feeding value are not put into the compound feeding products.

Hear, hear!

At the present time the farmers have to buy these compounds, and have to try them out before they know how they are going with them, or if they are a success. I have known cases where farmers fed them with success to one batch of pigs, and yet when they fed them to another batch they were a failure. The manufacturers evidently are not consistent.

There are one or two small points I want to make in relation to this Bill. I think it is envisaged that there are going to be regulations whereby there will be standardisation of the different feeding stuffs; in other words, that it will be obligatory on the manufacturer to standardise, up to a particular percentage, each of the main feeding ingredients. There are certain cases of specialised feeding in this country which I am glad to say are becoming more prevalent than before, in which certain farmers produce certain foods with a high protein content. For example, some farms may have a good deal of separated milk at their disposal which has a protein content, and they may wish to make up feeding stuffs by producing some of those ingredients as put out by the manufacturers.

If it is necessary, as it will be under these regulations, for a certain standardised percentage of these feeding stuffs to be contained in the bag or whatever the feeding stuff is sent out in, it is quite obvious that some of these feeding stuffs may not be required. I understand some of these things are going to be brought into use by regulations. I would like to suggest to the Minister that he would consider that when these specialised feeders are making an order for a particular stuff, and if they do not require, say, the amount of protein, carbohydrates, fat or whatever the case may be—mostly proteins in this case—it could be possible for them by a special order to procure that stuff less the ingredients that they do not want. That may be a little bit complicated, but I think if the Minister does not make some regulation along that line it will to a large extent block this type of farmer who is becoming increasingly prevalent in this country, and who ought to be encouraged.

There is a precedent for that. I think under the British regulations manufacturers are permitted on occasions to omit a certain amount of protein, or whatever it may be. I can appreciate that it is necessary to have safeguards in order to ensure that the farmer gets the proper feeding stuffs, but I would urge upon the Minister to allow this. It is hard to know how it could be covered. I think possibly if they kept books and also put on the outside the name of the farmer to whom they were delivering the particular product, with the percentage therein contained, it would prevent abuses in any shape or form. I would ask the Minister to give consideration to that point when making the regulations.

I thought the Minister would have been able to accept this amendment which, in my view, is very important. Possibly one solution of the problem would be to have officials of the Department inspecting the manufacturers' premises where the particular ingredients are available so as to ensure that the mixture is up to the specification. Without doubt, it is generally felt that these compound feeding mixtures are expensive and often not very good value. I believe that if the purpose which is sought in the amendment could be achieved it would ease the minds of the purchasers. I suggest that if, on analysis, it is found that the contents are not up to the specification, there can be inspection of the premises so as to ensure that the people concerned will produce the article according to the specification.

Deputy Walsh suggested that we should have a common formula. I do not believe that that method would be very successful. There are different views on that matter. Different feeders have different ideas as to what is necessary. If you had a common formula which was, possibly, supposed to be the best you would find that quite a lot of feeders would not agree. They would have their own opinion and quite a lot of them would be dissatisfied with the particular type of feeding that would be available.

I feel the Minister might find a way out of this difficulty by inspection of the premises so as to ensure that the particular ingredients were, in fact, provided, together with the name of whatever was being put into the mixture.

I did not mean a common formula. What I had in mind was that particulars of the percentage of the carbohydrates and albuminoids be given so that the purchaser would know what he was buying in that regard. The Minister has spoken about a formula. I understand the intention is that the manufacturer will give information as to the percentage of oats, barley, wholemeal, fishmeal or whatever it may be——


If a farmer knows the percentage of carbohydrates, oils or fats, albuminoids, protein and so forth, I think he is pretty well catered for. Then, again, take oats, for instance. They can vary very much. So also can barley. You can have a very high percentage of oats but they may be bad oats and very poor feeding. I think fibre is possibly more important than anything else. As Deputy Lynch said, during the war 50 per cent. of the compounds offered on the markets were fibres. Everything possible in a mill was packed into the sack, as we all know. If the percentages are given, as I suggest—and as the Minister has agreed—I think it is quite sufficient. In time, the farmers will educate themselves about these things.

May I say to Deputy Lynch at this stage that I entirely agree with him that we must take precautions to provide against the user of unsuitable constituents in compound feeding? In that connection, may I direct his attention to Emergency Powers (Feeding Stuffs) Order, 1944 which is really being replaced by this permanent legislation. Paragraph 8 of that Order provides:—

"No person shall manufacture by way of trade or sell or otherwise dispose of any compound feeding stuff of which an ingredient is husks derived from the milling or dehulling of oats, hulls so derived, or shudes so derived, whether such husks, hulls or shudes are alone or are mixed with any other article and whether they are whole or ground."

I must confess that I have not the faintest notion what "shudes" means. Paragraph 10 of the same Order provides:—

"No person shall manufacture by way of trade or sell or otherwise dispose of any compound feeding stuff of which an ingredient is Corozo nut meal."

I shall be very much obliged to anybody who will tell me what "Corozo nut meal" is and also what "shudes" means. As Deputy Lynch will see, these things are under constant review and as we become aware of any deleterious matter we exclude it. I am now able to tell the House that Corozo nut meal is a by-product in the manufacture of buttons. The House will, therefore, endorse the regulation.

The word "shudes" is a very common word in the Minister's county, County Monaghan.

The county of my adoption.

It is applied to the shell of flax.

It is marvellous what a little co-operation from all sides of the House will do. We now know what Corozo nut meal is and also what shudes are. I am very much obliged to Deputy Kelly.

Deputy Hughes has indicated a desire to make it mandatory on the compounder to furnish the open formula. I think the fact is that we are all agreed that if that were within the range of practical politics we should all like it but my trouble is that I cannot enforce it. I believe the only practical method of enforcing a regulation of that kind is to be in a position to take a sample at any time and check it by chemical analysis.

In theory, I could take stock of the contents of every compound manufacturer's premises on a Monday and again on the following Monday and check the issues of manufactured material for the week. Then, if it did not correspond with the consumption of stock revealed by the two stock-takings I could call them to account. However, in practice, when you think of the number of compounders in this country—large and small—I think that, on reflection, Deputy Hughes will realise that I would want a vast inspectorate if I were to be in a position to give an honest certificate to every purchaser in the community that I was effectively and conscientiously enforcing that open formula condition. The truth is that I do not believe the Oireachtas would or should authorise me to appoint an inspectorate adequately to discharge that task conscientiously. In my judgment, it would be a piece of extravagant supererogation. Otherwise, if it were administratively possible I would agree with Deputies Donegan, Hughes and, I think, Walsh, that it would be a very desirable thing to have.

However, I think the administrative difficulties of securing it on a mandatory basis are insuperable and so I content myself, and I think rightly, with making the analysis relating to protein, oil, fibre and carbohydrates, if that is practical, a mandatory requirement, leaving it to the compounder out of his own goodwill to provide the additional information for the benefit of his customers.

Deputy Esmonde raised another point, which may be summarised in this way, that if a feeder wants a formula which, to take a case in point, omits expensive protein and provides what he requires but which is compound feed without protein, does the fact that a compound meal manufacturer is required to declare the minimum protein oil and maximum fibre, preclude him from making a compound which contains no protein at all? The answer is that it will be possible to do what Deputy Esmonde suggests and it will be done, to provide by regulation that where an individual farmer applies to a compounder to have a special compound made to his own personal formula, the production by the compounder of the specific requisition made upon him will discharge him from the obligations ordinarily attaching to standard compounds which he offers for general sale.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 2 agreed to.
Section 3 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.
Question proposed: "That Section 7 stand part of the Bill".

The Minister has stated that it would be impossible to create a vast inspectorate to see that compounders carry out their duties, but it would be possible for the Minister to add to sub-section (1) (a) an amendment something like this:

"A manufacturer of compounds shall keep balanced monthly a clear record of all stock held, bought or withdrawn from store for production of compounds."

Would the Minister consider that?

I would certainly consider it, but what I am concerned to do is to protect the average purchaser from having passed off upon him a fraudulent product. Let us not be carried away, by unreasonable zeal for that purpose, into making a whole maze of regulations which are so complex as to be virtually impossible to enforce and which are so complex as to make the life of the compound manufacturer almost unendurable. The simpler we keep the law the better. If you make the law so complex that the average citizen, going about his lawful occasions, finds himself inadvertently stumbling into breaches of the law, rendering him thereby liable to prosecution by the Department of Agriculture, I think he has the right to complain.

Deputy Donegan has a very specialised knowledge of this business himself and I think he will agree with me that anyone who is in the business—whether it is as a miller or as a compound feed manufacturer, or as a shopkeeper or in any kind of trade—by the time he has grappled with the public health regulations, the Department of Industry and Commerce regulations and the Department of Agriculture regulations, is kept pretty busy keeping on the right side of the law. Therefore, I am very reluctant to add a regulation which is not indispensable. If I can get the result without the regulation, I would sooner do it.

While I see what Deputy Donegan is aiming to achieve, I suggest we should bear in mind that this Bill gives the Minister pretty wide power to make regulations, that clearly the purpose of the Oireachtas is that the Minister should make any and all regulations necessary to protect the average farmer from having an inferior article fraudulently passed off upon him. I would ask the House not to press upon me the making of new and further regulations other than those envisaged in the Bill.

On the other hand, whoever is Minister for Agriculture here is always subject to parliamentary question and always subject to hear reasonable representations. If experience teaches that whatever regulations we make initially under this Bill when it becomes an Act prove inadequate, we can always strengthen them or, if needs be, amend the Act. Perhaps I am not going far enough in this Bill, but I do not like to go too far in the beginning; because it is very much easier to add the powers you use as you go along than it is to drop the powers which you have in the first case.

I think Deputy Walsh will agree with me that once you have a power to regulate somebody, it is a major operation to abandon it. If you find you have not enough authority to control a situation, it is only too easy to seek and secure more power. At this stage, therefore, I would ask the House to try this plan out. If it proves inadequate we shall strengthen it, but I would like to give it a trial in the form in which I submit it now to the House.

My view is that the Minister may err on this. It is absolutely impossible for any compounder to proceed without such a book as I suggest. If the ingredients of compounds are many—eight, ten or 12 ingredients—it is obvious that since these are bought ahead and most of them come from abroad, with the exception of home-grown cereals, they must be bought and stocks must be kept up. It is often very difficult to keep these stocks up and a stock book must be kept. My anxiety merely is that this stock book be available, that it must be available when the inspector calls, if the inspector sees fit to call or if the Minister sees fit to send him. Such a stock book exists and there is no extra work being put on the compound mill by the insistence that such a stock book should exist.

My anxiety simply is to see that if a compounder uses 50 per cent. linseed meal in his calf meal—and a very good calf meal can be made from 50 per cent. linseed meal—and if on the first of the month in his stock book there is shown a figure of ten tons of linseed meal and if during that month he produces according to his books 25 tons of calf meal, he must have used 12 tons of linseed meal and if he has not got it something else went in. That is my anxiety. This amendment would give the Minister an extra power, which I think he should have.

I wonder if the Deputy has looked at Section 7? When I read Section 7 I feel positively alarmed at the powers that I acquire thereby, culminating in the powers envisaged under sub-section (1) (c), that I have a right to any information which I may reasonably require with regard to any purchase, importation or sale effected in the course of the business. Under these regulations I think I could prescribe all the Deputy has in mind— and more if I so wished. My scruple is that I do not want to prescribe more than the minimum necessary to secure the result I have in mind— which, let us remember, is to ensure that there shall not be passed off fraudulently on a purchaser an inferior article.

We do not charge ourselves with determining the optimum specification of every compound feeding stuff. All we charge ourselves with doing is to say that no manufacturer will go below a certain minimum. All must conform to that minimum. Above that minimum, let one manufacturer compete with the other to draw custom by improving on the minimum requirement. Our only duty in this House, I submit, is to provide minima and to say that nobody will go below them, leaving it to the trade to compete, one with the other, by the excellence of their products to attract custom. Therefore, I am reluctant to go beyond the limits I have already indicated to the House as my intention.

I think that is what we all desire—that there will be no fraudulence in the manufacture of compound feeding stuffs, or, for that matter, any feeding stuffs, whether compound or otherwise. Our intention is to make this Bill watertight so far as these people are concerned who may, for one reason or another, or may have been doing it in the past, offer a commodity for sale that is not up to the standard noted on the sack or elsewhere. That is our desire. We do not want to hamper anybody in the production of their commodities. We want to help them as we want to safeguard the people who will purchase these commodities, who will feed them and try to earn a livelihood out of the feeding of them. We want to be fair both to the manufacturer and to the feeder.

Under paragraph (c), the Minister has the power, but the Minister's inspector would need to camp outside the office of the large compounder for a very long time before he could unearth an injustice perpetrated on farming customers. If such a book as I visualise must, by law, be readily available to the inspector, he can then, from the book, trace, in the ordinary manner of an accountant, the purchases, sales and withdrawals from stock and he can then search for an additional sale, an additional purchase or withdrawal not noted in the book. My suggestion merely gives a readymade headline to the inspector from which he can easily gain the information he desires. I do not want to press it; I merely say that I think it would be a great advantage.

In fact, I have these powers, if I wanted to use them. If the Deputy will look at paragraph (d) of sub-section (1) of Section 6——

Do the regulations not give the Minister these powers?

——he will see that I can require manufacturers for the sale of, importers of or wholesale or retail traders in fertilisers, feeding stuffs, compound feeding stuffs or mineral mixtures to keep specified records of their transactions in such fertilisers.

Yes, you may.

I may require them to keep any form of book. If the Deputy will then look at paragraph (c) of sub-section (1) of Section 7, he will see that they may then be required to produce them to my authorised officer at all reasonable times. The question is, when we come to operate this Act when it becomes an Act, how far these powers should be used. I want to say that my desire is to use them as little as possible, while securing effectively the end we all want. That is my policy in regard to these regulations, but I can assure the Deputy that, if it appears that moderate exercise of the powers under this section does not protect the consumer from fraudulent exploitation by compound feed manufacturers or fertiliser manufacturers, I shall not have the slightest hesitation in using the further powers I have, in order, as Deputy Walsh said, to make the situation watertight.

Question put and agreed to.
Sections 8 to 17, inclusive, and the Title, agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.