That Dáil Éireann approves the following Regulations in draft:
Bovine Diseases (Levies) Regulations, 1990,
copies of which were laid in draft before Dáil Éireann on 27th June, 1990.
The proposed Regulations are being made under the Bovine Diseases (Levies) Act, 1979. Their purpose is to provide an increased financial contribution towards the cost of the bovine TB and brucellosis eradication schemes. The additional funds are required primarily to fund the bovine TB eradication scheme which was initiated as long ago as 1954. By 1965 the level of infection had been greatly reduced but unfortunately progress since then has been very disappointing. Various explanations have been advanced for this failure with the unfortunate tendency to each of the interest groups involved to blame the others. The Government, therefore, in a new initiative established ERAD in 1988 with a management board made up of these interest groups. In this way it was hoped that a co-operative spirit would be developed which would enable sectional interests to work together towards the objective of disease eradication. ERAD were established with a Government commitment to maintain their financial contribution to the running costs of the eradication scheme at £31.585 million and to maintain bovine disease levies at £22 million.
Every Member of the House will be aware that this was a unique commitment given the overriding need to restore order to our public finances. The basis of the financing was that the farming community and the Government would fund the running costs in a ratio of approximately 2 to 1 and so a 50:50 basis when allowing for the costs of administration. Both the Government contribution and the rates of disease levies were increased in 1989 to provide for increased rates of grants to farmers for reactors. For some years before ERAD was established about 30,000 reactors were discovered each year and the finances for ERAD were broadly based on this level of extraction. However, the vigorous programme which ERAD implemented in 1989 identified 43,400 reactors. While the increase in the number of reactors might be seen as a cause of concern, one could equally interpet it as an indication of progress. Indeed this is my interpretation. The increased effort and expense incurred will be wasted if the necessary measures to finish the job are not accepted by all concerned and strenuously pursued.
I want to give full recognition to the improvements to the scheme which ERAD have brought about. For example, special measures were introduced aimed at high risk herds and blackspot areas. A reactor collection service was introduced to ensure that reactors are removed as quickly as possible. This service is provided free of charge to the herdowner and experience has shown that factory quotations are better under this system that those available to individual farmers.
For some time the Government have been giving serious consideration to these schemes and they have concluded that a number of aspects still require improvement. There is general agreement that the present provision whereby a pre-movement test is required before an animal may be moved unless it has been tested within four months does not provide adequate protection against lateral spread of infection. This is particularly important given the huge number of animal movements, which are estimated at 12 million per annum. In other words, a proper pre-movement test is critical to the success of the scheme. Various suggestions have been put forward to improve the situation, including a 30 day pre-movement test and a 60 day two stop test. This latter system would permit one further movement within seven days of a sale within the 60 days. I have considered the situation carefully and I consider that a reasonable compromise which would be fair to all sides and which would not unduly disrupt the cattle trade would be to introduce a 45 day pre-movement test. I have seen suggestions that this change will cost farmers an extra £10 million. I do not know the basis for this figure but it is unreasonable to look at a pre-movement test in terms of cost without taking any account of the benefit. The cost of buying-in an infected animal is much greater than any test.
I would like to take this opportunity to refute a belief which seems to have gained a certain amount of currency. I refer to the suggestion that only about 40 per cent of reactors prove to have TB onpost-mortem examination. I emphasise that the absence of visible lesions on postmortem examination is not proof that the animal in question is not infected. It is essential, if we are to make progress in the elimination of the disease, that all animals which react to the tuberculin test are removed and that this necessity is accepted by the farming community. It is the best test currently available to us.
The Government have accepted that additional funding for ERAD is necessary. While it is not possible at this stage to predict accurately the number of reactors which will be disclosed in the current round it is clear, nevertheless, that the number will exceed the capacity of the ERAD budget. The same will apply for 1991. ERAD are facing a shortfall in this year alone of up to £13 million and this budgetary problem will have to be resolved if the current programme is to continue. It would be unreasonable to expect all this amount to come directly from the Exchequer and the taxpayer generally. It has, therefore, been decided that as and from 1 August 1990 the rates of bovine diseases levies will be increased from £6.90 to £7.90 per animal slaughtered or exported live, and from 1.2p to 1.4p per gallon of milk received for processing. The increases in the levies are estimated to yield over £1 million in 1990 and approximately £3.5 million in a full year. These new rates will have to be maintained until such time as the farmer-Exchequer funding ratio of 2:1 is restored.
The Government have agreed that the Exchequer will provide £9 million extra this year and this signifies their commitment to the eradication programme. Therefore, the Exchequer will be meeting more than its share of the shortfall this year, a point which seems to have been forgotten by those who have been so critical of other aspects of the scheme. The provision of adequate financial resources is the cornerstone of a successful eradication programme. Stop-go funding has traditionally been identified as the main culprit in the lack of success. Stop-go funding is no longer a problem and the Government are determined to keep it that way. Even with adequate funding, the detailed elements should operate to the highest standards of efficiency. The quality of testing has become a cause of some concern in recent times. In this regard, I am pleased that ERAD have set up a quality control monitoring system as well as introducing new procedures to deal with cases of below standard testing. On the question of the testing arrangements generally, I have accepted a recommendation from the ERAD board which would allow for a detailed examination to be carried out with a view to achieving appropriate improvements for the 1991 testing programme. That is the earliest it can be done. In addition, the establishment of a task force to carry out a certain amount of testing is being examined at present within ERAD.
The involvement of wildlife has come under the spotlight. This is an emotive subject and, because of the strong views on either side, the debate tends to generate more heat than light. The Government have agreed that ERAD can carry out projects in two black spot areas and I believe that this, plus the normal licences issued for survey purposes by the Office of Public Works, will provide a useful and worthwhile programme on the ground.
In the area of research ERAD are engaged in several different projects at present. By far the most important is the work being done into the development of a blood based test for TB which initiated in Australia. A success in this area — and early indications are optimistic — would be of enormous value in both the disease eradication structures and their cost effectiveness. The Government also accept that a computerised movement permit system would be of enormous benefit to ERAD. However, such an expensive and complex project could not be introduced in isolation from the other computer needs of my Department. Work on the overall computerisation for my Department is advancing and ERAD will, or course, benefit accordingly. In the meantime, herdowners should consider the benefit of keeping their own records of the movement of cattle in and out of their own holdings.
This House and, indeed, the general public, are well aware of the very considerable State funding expended on the TB scheme since its inception in 1954. Considerable funds are still being pumped into the scheme and we are now at the point where results will have to be achieved.
It is important to point out that I have endorsed practically all the recommendations which have come from the board of ERAD. I am, therefore, very disappointed that the veterinary profession and the farm organisations have seen fit to withdraw, or threaten to withdraw, their representatives from the board of ERAD — it must be perplexing for the taxpayer. Expenditure on fees for private veterinary practitioners in the current year will be in the order of some £20 million which, incidentally, includes a substantial increase in the level of fees as recommended by independent assessment and accepted by the Government. In the circumstances, surely it is not unreasonable for ERAD to insist on a system for quality control of testing. Anything less would create a credibility problem.
To the farmer I repeat the national eradication effort has been undertaken to benefit the farming community and it is unrealistic and, indeed, unfair, to expect the taxpayer to continue to pay the costs of these programmes unless the full co-operation of the interests involved is forthcoming.
Even today, in confirmation of a view already conveyed to me, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, understandably, conveyed their dissatisfaction with the fact that the general taxpayer has been asked to fund such a major contribution to the scheme at this stage when the farming community are complaining about paying one-ninth of the cost of the extra levy this year. ERAD were intended to achieve a consensus on the approach to this vital task. Certainly there are difficult decisions to be taken. I stress that if all the decisions taken by the Government or ERAD were easy and comfortable, there would be no need for ERAD or the Government. We are now at the point where we have to face up to these decisions. Time is rapidly running out and the advent of the Single Market from 1 January 1993 will have severe repercussions if the time left is not availed of to greatly reduce our levels of bovine TB.
This is not the time for individual interests to steer their own course, nor is it the time for posturing. It is, however, the time for teamwork, common sense and common purpose. I appeal now to the interests involved to return to ERAD which they initially asked us to establish. The people who left — or who are threatening to leave — are those who demanded that they should be involved in this area. I appeal to them, on the basis of their own original demand, to return to the board of ERAD and to take a sensible view of the difficulties facing the farming community in finally ridding themselves of this disease.
In conclusion, I should like to draw the attention of Members to the recent European Community decision setting the level of EC financial participation for approved national disease eradication programmes in member states. I am very pleased that I was able to bring about that decision during the course of our Presidency and I should like to tell the House that a request for such funding has already been made to the EC Commission.
However, it is stipulated that a national programme has to be prepared and approved by the Commission of the EC. I am arranging, therefore, to have this programme drawn up as a matter of urgency but, realistically, it is mot unlikely that such funds will come on stream before the end of 1990. If funds become available from 1991, and I intend to press very hard to secure them, then the disease levels can be reduced in line with the agreed ratio between farmer and Exchequer contribution. I made that commitment with the farming organisations at the beginning of the ERAD programme. Any reduction in overall expenditure would be applied to the benefit proportionately of both the farmers and the general taxpayer, and I intend to honour that commitment in the event that this arises. In that event the Commission will more than likely insist on specific conditions which we will have to meet. Therefore, we should relish the opportunity of establishing our own conditions under our own responsibility rather than having to respond to conditions that would be imposed on us.
TB eradication has always been a controversial issue. I appreciate that the leaders of the various interests can come under pressure from their members at certain times and from certain sectoral groups who have an interest in the number of movements an animal can have and how and where it is traded. I also appreciate that disease outbreaks can cause severe problems for individual farm families. That is why it is so vital to break the back of this disease once and for all. That can be done only with full co-operation. I would urge all concerned to renew that spirit of co-operation and commitment in a final push to bring TB under control.
I recommend that these regulations be accepted by the House.