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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 24 Oct 1956

Vol. 160 No. 1

National Loan, 1956. - Animal Remedies Bill, 1956—Second Stage.

I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The purpose of this Bill is to put an end to the widespread and persistent abuses in connection with the sale of certain alleged animal remedies which have very little or no value, and to encourage instead the use of animal remedies which have a real scientific value. Many useless remedies are still finding a ready sale throughout the country and farmers are induced to buy them by means of high power salesmanship, for example, extravagant claims made in Press advertisements and by travelling salesmen. Of the many examples which have come under the Department's notice, the following may be mentioned: A product sold at 3/- er small bottle purported to be a remedy for hoose in calves. It was found to consist of commercial turpentine. A preparation described as "Cod Liver Oil Tonic Compound" consisted of 22 per cent. cod liver oil, 3 per cent. iron oxide and 75 per cent spring water. This was sold at 37/6 per gallon while the price of undiluted cod liver oil was then 15/6 per gallon. Another product was sold at 2/9 per small bottle and was suggested as a cure for abortion and sterility in cattle. No "cure" for these conditions is known to veterinary science. The product was found to be almost entirely spring water.

Such practices do great harm in more ways than one. Farmers who buy such preparations are not only cheated but they may be lulled into a false sense of security as regards the cure or prevention of disease, sometimes disease of a transmissible nature. While many of the disease conditions concerned will successfully respond to veterinary treatment if taken in time, the farmer who uses a spurious remedy under the persuasion of an eloquent salesman runs the risk that, in the absence of proper and early treatment, his animal will be beyond veterinary aid by the time he realises that the alleged remedy is useless. This must tend to impair the confidence of farmers in veterinary treatment as well as in the alleged remedies.

My Department has by means of Press and radio announcements repeatedly pointed out that the claims made for many alleged animal remedies were not justified and advised farmers to be very careful about what they purchased and used. Similar advice has been given direct to farmers by the outdoor staff of the Department. Unfortunately, however, many farmers continue to be fascinated by the attractive promises made by the sellers of such preparations.

It is a strange paradox that quack remedies should continue to be used on quite a large scale when, as a result of modern veterinary research, farmers have now available to them to an extent never before known, a wide range of economical and proven remedies, which, under veterinary guidance, can be used very effectively in the treatment of many of the major live-stock diseases present in this country. For example, strain 19 vaccine is a sure preventive of contagious abortion and the Department, in collaboration with the veterinary profession, makes it possible for farmers to have their cows and heifers vaccinated professionally at specially reduced fees. The Department's veterinary scientists have shown in recent experiments that white scour in calves can be effectively controlled by the proper use of antibiotics. Then there are those excellent preparations, hexachloroethane and phenothiazine which are so successful in the treatment of fluke and stomach worms respectively. Such remedies, however, are in general not yet used on a sufficiently widespread scale, and yet a considerable number of calves—though nothing like as many as previously—are lost every year through diseases with a consequent depressing effect on production.

The existing law does not in practice enable effective measures to be taken to deal with the abuses that exist in connection with the sale of quack remedies and the present Bill has been drafted accordingly. The Bill envisages two types of control measures. The first of these, set out in Section 5, requires in the case of every commercial animal remedy that the name of the remedy, its composition, the specific remedial property or properties claimed and the name and address of the manufacturer and the packer be disclosed on the container and on any outer wrapper and that advertisements about the remedy should contain the same information. The disclosure of additional particulars may be required by regulations made after consultation with the consultative committee provided for in Section 4.

The second type of control provided for under Section 7 empowers the Minister, after consultation with the consultative committee, to make regulations for the control, including control by licence, of the manufacture, preparation, packing, import or sale of animal remedies. It is intended that this latter provision would be implemented, on the advice of the consultative committee, should Section 5 alone be found in practice not to be a complete deterrent to present abuses. It is believed, however, that the obligatory disclosure of the composition, etc., of animal remelies should go a long way towards putting an end to the sale of quack products because farmers will know exactly what is being offered for the prices charged and sellers of such products who contravene the provisions of the Bill will be liable to proceedings. At the same time it should be understood that Section 7 will undoubtedly be put into operation if the Minister, in consultation with the consultative committee, at any time considers that this is necessary.

The consultative committee under Section 4 has a parallel in the similar committee which functions under the Therapeutic Substances Act, 1932. It will consist of experienced persons who will be in a position to advise the Minister in the making of regulations. It is intended that the committee will include representatives of the Veterinary Council, the Pharmaceutical Society, the Department of Health and the farmers.

Discussions in regard to the proposed legislation have taken place with professional and trade interests concerned and in framing the Bill regard has been had as far as practicable to their views.

I think I can say that every Minister for Agriculture has been looking forward to bringing in a Bill of this kind and I am very glad that at last the Bill has been produced. There is no doubt that it is absolutely necessary. The only thing I am not clear about is how far this Bill can go. It is not easy for a layman to understand legal language to a fine point. I quite agree that in many cases Section 5 would probably be sufficient. Take, for instance, the examples quoted by the Minister: if it were written on the container that this medicine or remedy contained, let us say, 27 per cent. of cod liver oil and the rest water, nobody would buy it at the price mentioned. However, it may be a bit better than that, but yet not good enough, especially if it contains two, three or four ingredients that the ordinary farmer may not know very much about. Take some of those medical preparations which the farmer would not know much about. He might have an idea that it was a good remedy and be inclined to believe what was claimed for it as a remedy, but he might be paying too much for it.

I am not sure if, under this Bill, the Minister can object to the price charged and I think that is a very important matter. He could, of course, in this Bill, say: "I will not give you a licence because you are charging too much," and in that way the person has to come down to a reasonable price or not get a licence at all. In any event, I think the price is very important.

As regards patent medicines generally, it is obvious they are not good value. Although I have not been in medical practice for many years, my name is on the medical register and I am not exaggerating when I say that every morning I get an average of four or five fairly large envelopes packed with literature and sometimes with a number of samples. There must be about 40,000 medical practitioners in Ireland and Great Britain. They all get this literature and if you do the necessary multiplication of the amount of literature that is sent out by the manufacturers of patent medicines for the human being, you will find that the cost of this advertising is enormous and, after all, that comes out of the price the person pays. In this case, of course, the remedy which they are suggesting for any human disease must be fairly attractive because this literature comes not to the layman but to doctors, and a doctor will have a fair idea whether the thing is good value or not. Nevertheless, that huge amount of money is spent on advertising.

I have no idea in the case of animal remedies what the cost of advertising them would amount to, but when we look at the provincial and daily papers, we see a good deal of advertising every week or every day. That is why I should like to be assured by the Minister that if the remedy is fairly good, a good remedy for the disease for which it is claimed, we should also have some control over the price and see that is is not issued at an unreasonable price to the farmer.

As far as I can see, the remedy may include anything. I should like to know does it include, for instance, such things as condition powder? Sometimes you see nuts advertised, which, if fed to the animal, are supposed to give the necessary bloom and so forth. Whether all these things are or are not covered——

That would be covered under the other measure, the Feeding Stuffs Act.

I do not think the Minister has any power under the Feeding Stuffs Act to control in any way, except in so far as having the composition published. He cannot forbid.

I think I must approve of it.

The Minister must approve of it?

Yes. The formula of a feeding compound must be approved by me.

I merely mention these few points. I think this Bill is absolutely necessary and I am glad it has been introduced. The points I have in mind can perhaps be better discussed on the Committee Stage, but I mention them now so that the Minister will be able to give us some information when he is winding up. The principal points are whether he is taking enough power and whether the remedy is good value for the money charged.

I am very much obliged to Deputy Dr. Ryan for his gracious observations. Every Minister for Agriculture since the State was founded has yearned for the opportunity to introduce this Bill. It was generous of the Deputy, who had himself been Minister for Agriculture for 15 years, so graciously to compliment me on my expedition in doing what he never found time to do.

It had to come some time.

May I express the pious hope that I will not be charged with improvident extravagance for setting up a consultative council under this Bill, because we have already had a painful experience to-day of at once being exhorted by the Leader of the Opposition to appoint a Minister without delay and, when we rushed to carry out his objurgations, being sternly rebuked for our improvident and reckless extravagance.

Mr. de Valera

For the Government's manner of doing it——

I see. Now I hope the manner of my doing——

Mr. de Valera

——in increasing the number unnecessarily.

——so expeditiously what my distinguished predecessor hoped to do for 15 years will not hereafter be called in question by the Leader of the Opposition, on the ground that this is not the time or the place.

Mr. de Valera

If there were reason, I would.

You bet your boots you would, if you dared.

Mr. de Valera

I would, of course.

But I venture to swear you will not. I like to see a hardy old political performer doing his stuff and there is no man to match the Leader of the Opposition.

We seem to be getting away from the Bill.

I thought I could legitimately comment on the observations of Deputy Dr. Ryan and compare them with the less generous observations of his Leader earlier in the afternoon. I value Deputy Dr. Ryan's advice on this. I have an instinctive reluctance unnecessarily to push people around. I think it is a good thing, if an abuse manifests itself, to take measures to suppress the abuse, but not to avail of the opportunity to take powers to harass unnecessarily all and sundry. I think the average farmer, if he gets full information on the packing of what in fact he is buying, ought to be left to himself to judge whether or not he is getting value for his money.

Deputy Dr. Ryan mentioned, by way of comparison, the experience of physicians and doctors who receive hundreds of samples. We all know that a thing like Kruschen's salts may in fact be only glauber substantially and that, if a person went out and bought tuppence worth of glauber salts and used them prudently, as his grandmother probably did, he would get just as much benefit as he gets out of Kruschen salts. But, on the other hand, I think it is true that there are probably a good many Deputies in this House at the present time quietly buying their bottles of Kruschen salts and solemnly taking out their sixpences every morning, covering them with Kruschen salts and putting the salts into their morning cup of tea, and feeling like a million dollars. Deputy Dr. Ryan and I may tell them that if they go out and buy tuppence worth of glauber salts and take a teaspoonful in half a glass of water, they will do them as much good and be much more economical.

Or just as much harm.

Harm or good in any case. But I often wonder would it? One preparation commands their confidence and they continue to use it, if it is benefiting them, whereas the other does not command their confidence. I have a feeling that, unless a very serious abuse arises, if the vendor of the patent remedy openly declares to the purchaser what he is getting for his money, it is fair enough to leave it to the purchaser to determine for himself whether or not he is in fact getting fair value.

I see the point of what Deputy Dr. Ryan said, that where the formula is deliberately made to appear very elaborate, it is hard for the farmer to determine when the formula is so long and exhaustive, that it is maybe value for his money. If a situation of that kind developed to the point where it amounted to a real abuse, then there is power under Section 7 on which we can fall back, authorising the Minister for Agriculture in that event to impose on those who deal in patent remedies of this type a complete licensing system, thus enabling him, if a wholly spurious remedy is offered with a very elaborate formula and at a shameful price, to prohibit its sale altogether.

I would urge on the Deputy not to press upon me the obligation of fixing the price for every patent remedy. I think the Deputy, on reflection, will feel that he has perhaps gone a little further in condemning advertising than the facts would justify. I wish to ensure that the manufacturers, for instance, of phenothiazine and hexachloroethane will conduct vis-a-vis the farmers the kind of intensive sales campaign as Deputy Dr. Ryan has himself experienced in connection with certain therapeutic remedies offered to doctors. I remember when I first tried to popularise hexachloroethane and phenothiazine, I went to the extreme length of sending out very many thousands of postcards addressed to each individual farmer, and I am prepared to say that I got a greater response in the user of these two drugs from that than from any other form of publicity that the Department and the veterinary profession or anybody else since enjoyed.

So that, even if the manufacturers of preparations of that kind did add a fraction to the cost of a drug of that kind, and from that extra fraction of the cost, financed an intensive publicity campaign for its general user, I would welcome it. But I would find myself in a desperate difficulty if I were trying to determine a fair retail selling price for every medicine that was put on the market. The Deputy asked me to clarify, as far as I could, what exactly the Bill would cover. I think anything that is not caught under the terms of this Bill would be caught under the terms of the Animal Feeding Stuffs Bill, if that is the correct name of the other statute. I think the Deputy should look at the interpretation section—Section 2. He will find that "animal remedy" means any substance, preparation, mixture or compound, other than a feeding stuff commonly known and used as such, which is intended for administration or application whether internally or externally to an animal by any means for the purpose of preventing, diagnosing or treating any injury, disease, ailment or defect or improving its health or condition.

I think that definition is wide enough to cover everything which is not covered by the compound feeding stuffs legislation. If any other points arise on Committee Stage I shall, of course, be happy to give Deputies any information at my disposal. I should like to say that I am grateful for the spirit in which this Bill has been received, most especially for the tribute paid to my expedition in bringing it before the Oireachtas.

The Bill covers these supposed nostrums announced by manufacturing combines or chemists, but what I am concerned about is that there is no reference in the Bill to a compound made up by, say, the local chemist.

There is.

Under the terms of the Bill is the local chemist compelled to declare on his bottle the analysis of the mixture?

The answer is yes.

I want to ask the Minister a question which I overlooked when speaking. If he would look at Section 5, sub-section (6), he will see that it says the Minister may require any person who sells an animal remedy to satisfy him of the accuracy of any statement on the container or outer wrapper of such remedy. Does that cover all claims in respect of a remedy? For instance, if the remedy is advertised as a cure for hoose, must the person satisfy the Minister that it is a cure for hoose?

I should think it does. I think it effectively or almost effectively precludes extravagant claims of that kind. For instance, I think phenothiazine is unquestionably as nearly specific as you could get, but I would not think it right for any person to declare it to be an absolute cure for every kind of stomach worms, because one worm has emerged for which it is not a perfect cure without some concomitant. The thing is that people should be prevented from making extravagant claims. A person might not describe it as a cure for hoose but he could describe the medicine as a useful remedy.

I understand that in America—I do not know whether it is a Federal or a State law—that a person advertising a preparation can be brought before a tribunal to prove his claim and that if he does not prove his claim as advertised he must withdraw his advertisement.

Does the Deputy mean that the Minister should take and analyse all samples?

The Minister has made even greater sacrifices for agriculture than that but I would not bind myself or my successors to make such experiments. I believe people making claims of this kind should be obliged to prove them and if they fail to prove them they should be required to withdraw their advertisements.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, October 31st.