I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
The main purpose of this Bill is to give legal effect to the decision taken by the then Government in October 1982 to discontinue the licensing of bulls. The Bill will also provide legislative powers to prohibit the use of non pure-bred bulls for breeding purposes.
The Live Stock Breeding Act was enacted in 1925 and was designed to control the quality of bulls used for breeding in Ireland. Under the Act inspections of bulls were carried out mainly by temporary inspectors selected for their knowledge of cattle. They were, in the main, pedigree breeders who were paid on the basis of fees for inspections. Some 7,000 bulls were inspected annually at more than 400 approved centres. Between 85 and 90 per cent of the bulls presented for inspection were passed by the inspectors.
In the 60 years since 1925 there have been many developments in livestock breeding — changes in animal husbandry, specialisation of production and the introduction of new breeds in cattle. This was reflected in the type of bull in respect of which licences or permits were granted over the years. In all cases the bull had to pass a visual inspection before being licensed. Practically all the applicants were for pure-bred bulls entered or eligible for entry in the herd book of their breed. In general, non pure-bred bulls were not licensed for breeding. However, where and whenever conditions so war-ranted, exceptions to this general practice were made. For example, non-pedigree Shorthorn bulls of exceptional merit were eligible for licensing throughout the country. In the Kerry cattle area non-pedigree Kerry bulls were also eligible for licensing.
Following the first importation of Charolais and Simmental bulls in the early seventies there was widespread concern that the supply of such bulls from the herd-book sector would not meet the demand. Accordingly, as an interim measure, it was decided to inspect for licence initially half or higher cross continental bred bulls. As the numbers of continental pure-bred bulls increased, however, the percentage of continental blood required in the cross-bred for licensing was progressively increased to three-quarters and seven-eights.
Under the old licensing arrangements there were two rounds of inspections annually in spring and autumn followed by two rounds of appeal inspections. Additionally an annual search, more commonly known as "the comb", for unlicensed bulls was carried out. As bull inspections had to be completed by specific dates and as large numbers of bulls were inspected at over 400 approved centres, bull licensing was quite expensive for the Department to administer. The inspection system at current prices cost about £160,000 annually whereas receipts by way of licence fees amounted to only £4,000. This left the nett cost of this service to the Exchequer at around £156,000 annually.
The previous Government decided in October 1982 to discontinue the existing system of bull licensing. The present Government endorsed this decision and announced that licences would not be required for the keeping of bulls in 1983.
EC Council Directive 77/504 on pure-bred breeding animals provided for the harmonisation of breeding quality standards and for such related matters as the recognition of breeders' organisations and associations, establishment and recognition of herd books, standards governing entry of animals into the herd book, and soon. In essence, this EC legislation is stipulating that the quality of animals entering the herd book should be of a good standard and that such quality control should be exercised by the breed society concerned. However, the directive does not cover the use of non pure-bred bulls.
Following the announcement of the decision to discontinue bull licensing the practical consequence was that there was no restriction on the use of bulls for breeding purposes. This gave rise to considerable concern by sections of the cattle and beef industry about the likely adverse effects on the quality of the national cattle herd and on the export trade in cattle, beef and beef products. It was contended that the absence of controls on the use of non pure-bred bulls for breeding purposes would result in the more widespread use of genetically inferior animals, with a consequential deterioration in the standard and conformation of the progeny. Indeed in an adjournment debate in the Seanad this was brought home very strongly by the Members of the Upper House. Additionally, it was claimed that the discontinuation of licensing could dilute the effectiveness of measures taken to improve the national herd through the Department's various livestock improvement schemes.
In the light of those views I requested the Cattle Advisory Committee, which is broadly representative of farming organisations and of the cattle industry, to examine the matter. This committee was established in 1972 to keep all aspects of cattle breeding under review and to make recommendations as necessary to the Minister. The Cattle Advisory Committee advised that the interests of the industry as a whole would best be served by the official authorisation for breeding of only pure-bred bulls registered in the herd book of their breed and they urged that appropriate steps be taken to implement that recommendation.
Agriculture accounts for roughly a quarter of our total exports. The cattle sector accounts for about 85 per cent of agricultural exports and about 19 per cent of total exports. Because of the importance of cattle to the national economy it is essential in the national interest to ensure that the quality of output from the national cattle breeding herd is capable of satisfying the demands of the market — largely an export one — and at the same time capable of giving a good financial return to the producer. The national cattle breeding herd provides the raw material for both the dairy and beef industries. An important element in the quality of production from the cattle sector is the genetic merit of the breeding stock. That is why over the years we have been spending a lot of money on genetics. Cattle breeding is best approached on a whole population basis and it is necessary to ensure that an effective national breeding programme operates. In most countries the state takes a leading role either directly or indirectly in the operation of national cattle breeding programmes.
As 80 per cent of our beef output and 65 per cent of our milk output are exported it is very important that we remain competitive internationally. To do this we must continually improve the quality of our stock and at least match the progress being made by our competitors. It has been clearly demonstrated that improvement and changes to meet needs in our livestock can be brought about by evaluation and measurement of the merit of individual animals and by selecting the best of these to be the parents of the next generation. By repeating this process of identification and selection of superior animals for use in the breeding herd we bring about gradual and steady cumulative improvement, generation after generation.
The necessary recording, evaluation and selection to bring about this genetic improvement is generally done in the pedigree herd book sector. It is important that such genetic improvement be disseminated to the whole cattle breeding population, thus ensuring the continuing improvement of the national cattle herd. This dissemination is done most efficiently by commercial producers continually using bulls from the improved herd book sector either as natural service sires or through the artificial insemination service. Bulls in AI usually undergo an additional phase of selection based on performance of their progeny — progeny testing — thus ensuring the much higher merit and value of bulls in AI.
A further reason for concentrating on herd book registered bulls is the desirabliity of being able to identify the genetic makeup of an animal at the various stages of production. This country has many different markets for its cattle and cattle products — diverse markets each with its own requirements. We have currently in the national cattle herd many different breeds each having its own characteristics and suitability to fulfil the requirements of our different markets. Many of the requirements for these markets are best met by crossbreeding our cattle. It is most desirable that the breed make up of our cattle be predictable from visual assessment — this is usually done by colour pattern combined with other minor indicators. Use of pure-bred bulls allows such identification with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Use of cross bred bulls, on the other hand, gives much undesirable variation in many traits of importance including colour which makes evaluation of genetic makeup and suitability for particular markets much more difficult.
Some representations have been made to the effect that the proposed controls will adversely affect the income of many farmers, especially in the disadvantaged areas This topic has been given substantial media coverage on TV, radio and the national and provincial press. It has been contended that a large percentage of farmers with small suckler herds and dairy herds simply cannot afford, or justify, the purchase, upkeep and insurance of a pedigree bull because of the size of their herds. This view has been strongly expressed by some individuals and I accept fully that it is sincerely held. However, I believe that the overall interests of the country, the farming sector and the individual farmers earning their living by producing cattle on comparatively small margins of profit will best be served by the use of breeding of only the best bulls.
By and large, the best bulls to use are those from the herdbook registered sector. I accept that exceptional individual non-registered bulls might in some cases be better breeding animals than the poorest herd book bulls. I accept that use of the AI service may be a little more difficult in certain parts of the country and in certain farming situations. However, it is significant that overall 126,000 farmers availed of the AI service in 1983. I do not wish to impose controls just for the sake of so doing. However, I am advised that without controls, significant numbers of farmers are using and will continue to use inferior type "scrub" bulls and that continuation of official State control on the quality of bulls used for breeding is still very necessary. Imposition of such controls, in practice, must apply broadly and cannot cater for the situation on every individual farm.
The Bill before the House provides that a person must have a permit issued under the Act if he has an unregistered bull. The circumstances in which permits will be issued will be laid down in regulations made under this Act. As a general rule, it is envisaged that permits will be issued to cover only bulls kept for research, bull beef production and similar enterprises. For registered bulls (that is, those entered in official herd books) the breed society will issue a certificate for each bull entered in the herd book. These permits or certificates must be produced on demand to inspectors of the Department of Agriculture or members of the Garda Síochána when they are checking on the status of bulls under the Act. The inspectors and gardaí will have powers to enter land and to examine bulls found on that land.
If a person is believed to have an unregistered bull, or a bull without a valid permit he will be allowed 28 days to apply for a permit for the bull, or else to have the bull castrated or slaughtered. He can make representations against a direction to have the bull castrated or slaughtered. Should he ignore the direction to have the bull castrated or slaughtered, the Minister will be empowered to have this done at the owner's own expense. The Bill sets out the maximum penalties that can be imposed for various offences under the Act. Finally, the Live Stock Breeding Act of 1925 is repealed by this Bill.
I commend this Bill to the House.