Last evening, as I commenced my contribution, I pointed out that the Minister had effectively wheeled a Trojan horse into the House and that, apart from organising trade fairs — to borrow from the Minister's speech — to get the leprechaun, shamrock and harp on the one stand the functions of this new board are far from clear. This Bill is a tragic, wasted opportunity. As the Minister said, its origins go back to the Culliton report and to the subsequent report of the expert group on the food industry which made detailed recommendations on the subject. Those who were involved in the Culliton review group and the expert group on the food industry must be sadly disappointed with the Bill as it falls far short of the detailed and excellent recommendations of those bodies in their reports.
This is a window dressing exercise; we are pretending we are establishing a worthwhile body in this most important food and agricultural sector. We should have waited until we were in a position to present a comprehensive Bill and adopt an integrated approach from the plough to the plate in relation to food production, processing, promotion and marketing — the entire food chain — instead of trying to fool those involved in business by putting in place a high powered sales team. Apart from this, I cannot find any other functions which the Bill will confer on the new board. There is nothing wrong with putting a high powered sales team in place but we need to integrate far more in this vital industry which contributes over £2 billion in GNP.
The Minister mentioned that a greater degree of unity is needed in the activities of State agencies as regards promotion and market development for food products, particularly overseas, and that a number of our fellow member states of the European Union have single agencies for food promotion which operate with considerable success. He spoke about promotion and marketing; yet he directed his comments at promotion only. He either believes that promotion and marketing are one and the same or that An Bord Bia will be responsible for promotion but he cannot have it both ways. As far as I can see, An Bord Bia will only have a role in relation to promotion — the super sales team.
The Minister said:
I expect that plan to develop synergies between the different food promotion activities and to develop also "an overall promotion strategy which, making full use of the Irish image, would have a major impact on markets abroad".
That quotation was borrowed from the report of the expert group on the food industry. Does the Minister accept there is a difference between promotion and marketing and my point that the Bill deals only with promotion, in other words high powered sales teams? What role, if any, will the new board have in relation to marketing? It may well have none because I do not think the European Union will allow us to support efforts to market branded products as distinct from generic food products. This would be contrary to the best rules of fair play in the European Union. We have been frustrated by these rules for some time. It is hard to explain to young people the reason we cannot market Irish made food products and run "Buy Irish" campaigns which were successful in the past. I understand this is not acceptable under the rules of the European Union; we are supposed to promote European produce. If that is the case will the European Union allow An Bord Bia to market branded products? I do not think so. I do not see the board having a role in relation to marketing. Perhaps it will be able to make up the rules as it goes along or, to put it more politely, to determine its functions. To borrow the Minister's words, it will stop the squabbling at food fairs and ensure that everyone is on the same trade stand so that we get value for money.
The Bill proposes to combine the present functions of CBF and the food unit of An Bord Tráchtála and to include the export promotion functions of An Bord Glas in relation to edible horticultural products. Despite the recommendations of all the expert groups who reported on this most important area in recent years, An Bord Iascaigh Mhara is not to be included. Fish, fish processing and value added fish products are extremely important but, more importantly, have great potential for growth if properly organised and structured. I have no doubt the Minister will tell us that a review of the functions of BIM is taking place within the Department of the Marine and that when the review is complete and gathering dust on some shelf An Bord Iascaigh Mhara will not form part of An Bord Bia because the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry lost that battle with the Minister for the Marine. There is no point in trying to fool any of us as it will not work. It makes a nonsense of the concept not to include the fish processing sector in an integrated approach to food promotion and marketing.
What is worse is that An Bord Bainne will have nothing to do with An Bord Bia. An Bord Bainne is an extremely successful co-operative which promotes and markets dairy produce but it will not be included in the terms of reference of the food board. The reason that will be given is that it is a co-operative and can deal only with semi-State structures. Is this the truth? Will An Bord Bainne continue to carry out its present functions?
The Minister stated:
With that exception, An Bord Bia will be responsible for promotion and market development for the whole range of Irish food and drink products.
Unknown to those who run An Bord Bainne, its promotion and market development activities in the dairy sector will now be run by An Bord Bia. If this is not true, the Minister misled the House and if it is he should tell An Bord Bainne because it does not realise it. Either way the Minister has a problem.
In relation to the Kerrygold promotion, will there be duplication? Are the promotion and marketing development activities of the dairy industry on which Kerrygold have spent approximately £6 million to be duplicated or run by An Bord Bia? I ask the Minister to clarify that matter quickly.
Will dairy farmers be asked to pay a levy on a gallon of milk to fund An Bord Bia? The board will not receive any extra Exchequer moneys; it will be funded by way of levies, grants-in-aid, European funding and charges for its services. If the board is to be responsible for the promotion and market development of the dairy industry will dairy farmers have to pay a levy? Will the Minister answer that question? Will there be a levy on a gallon of milk or some other product to fund An Bord Bia? The National Dairy Council set up recently to promote the consumption of dairy products at home is doing an excellent job. Will responsibility for it rest with An Bord Bia? Is this an integrated approach to food marketing? As much responsibility lies outside the board it is difficult to see the point of creating the structure proposed in the Bill. The Bill recommends an integrated State aided agency, but there is some confusion about the areas which rest inside and outside the board.
I do not have any difficulty with the funding except to say that the Minister bought peace with the IFA and CBF by giving assurances that the subsidiary livestock committee will take over, lock stock and barrel, the functions of CBF. We are given to understand that the levies CBF receive will accrue to the subsidiary livestock committee to spend on the functions which are the responsibility of CBF at present. The Minister knows that is not the case and that the Bill cannot be interpreted in that manner. The subsidiary committee will have the role of collecting the levy, but unless the board decides to allow the committee to spend it, the committee may not be able to do so. We do not know if the board will make that decision, that is not provided for in the Bill. CBF has been turned into a collection agency, given a different title and the Minister has bought peace with it in order to have this legislation passed. I am not fooled by this and neither are many others. The ICMSA is extremely concerned about the Minister's intentions in respect of the livestock subsidiary committee and it has every right to be.
What independence will the committee have? Will it be able to spend money? There is a minefield of bureaucracy attached to this. Staff will be transferred from CBF to the board of An Bord Bia and not to the subsidiary committee that will take over the functions of CBF. What staff will be available to the subsidiary committee? Will it be pruned and streamlined to the extent that it will not be able to carry out its functions even if functions are transferred to it from the board? Many people could be buying a pig in a poke with assurances that appear to have been given behind closed doors. If those assurances were not given I fail to understand how reputable groups, such as CBF and the IFA, would buy what this Bill purports to do in relation to the livestock subsidiary committee and the decimation of CBF.
Many of those remarks could be directed at the other subsidiary committees. The Minister also proposes to set up a consumer foods committee. This area, which includes the catering sector, is very important. Experts have pointed out that this is an area of real growth in terms of food production and value added. There is great potential for growth in the sale of catering products such as biscuits, ready meats, pizzas, breakfast cereals and so on. We do not know what independence, staffing or funding the proposed committee will have. To whom will it report? Will it have a chief executive officer or will it have to report to the chief executive officer of the board? What autonomy will these committees have?
Is it right to fragment the industry by having so many committees? Such a fragmented, bureaucratic structure may not be the right way forward for An Bord Bia. Why did the Minister not opt for a cradle-to-grave or plough-to-plate approach, such as in the Foods and Drugs Administration in the United States? The people in the US have such confidence in the FDA that it only has to say "yes" and there is no further concern about the issue it investigates. It has only to ban the marketing of a product and people can be assured it will be banned.
We need a body that is held in such esteem that it commands the confidence of the demanding consumer. The FDA has managed to do that and to corner public assurance in the US. I am disappointed that the opportunity was missed to extend this so-called integrated approach and adopt an overall approach to quality control which would include health and safety, quality assurance, hygiene and many other issues that are crucial in preserving our quality food image. Why did the Minister let that opportunity slip? Could he not get agreement from the Minister for Health? He has fallen out with the Minister for Tourism and Trade, Deputy McCreevy, because responsibility for this board lies with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. He appears to have fallen foul of the Minister for the Marine because BIM got its way and to have lost the debate on health, safety and hygiene with the Minister for Health. What are we left with? It is no wonder I consider this Bill to be so inadequate as to be a waste of time.
There are many other variables with which we must concern ourselves in terms of the future of food production and increasing value added here. It is most important that we get this right. The overall importance of the food industry in safeguarding our rural economy both by maintaining viable farming and providing non-farm jobs in rural areas is crucial in a post-CAP reform era and with the impact of GATT from January. CAP and GATT have concentrated our minds on the quantitative controls and limitations in production of main farm enterprises, but we must create jobs in rural areas to ensure that non-farm jobs replace those who are leaving the land.
The status and health management of our herds is also important. The recent threat of the Germans to ban imports of our beef concentrated our minds on how vulnerable our markets could be if some of our so-called friendly neighbouring countries in the EU decided to look after their domestic producers to massage an electoral lobby, as in the case of Germany. I commend the Government and CBF in that regard. I am delighted I raised this issue on the Adjournment of the House before the Minister made a public statement on the matter. I supported the Minister in tackling the German authorities on their threat of restricting our beef exports. No matter how well we get our homework done and the structure of the industry right we will always be vulnerable to those who want to destroy our increased market share in Europe.
There is an ongoing threat of a major accident at Sellafield, particularly with the commissioning of THORP. God help us if something should go wrong, although the chances are remote, but we thought that of Chernobyl. If such an accident occurred our argiculture, agri-food business and efforts in marketing, sales and green image would be gone for decades in one fell swoop. Are we insured against that? Have we argued our case adequately with the UK authorities or the authorities in Brussels? I do not believe we have. What case will we have against the UK authorities if a questionmark hangs over the quality of Irish food because of a minor or major accident at Sellafield?
I do not know what protection will be afforded to our major agricultural and agri-food industries? I have yet to be convinced that the Government realises the seriousness of the issue. Apart from human health and our environment, our two main industries of agriculture and food and tourism are extremely vulnerable.
There are implications resulting from the changes in GATT, the US rules on growth promoters in beef and the export of US beef to the European market. We no longer use growth promoters and rightly so. The consumer demands a quality premium product. What are the EU plans and our Minister's plans in this area to meet like with like, to have a level playing field in beef production when US beef producers can use growth promoters and have a greater, more efficient and cheaper production of a quality product? How can we compete with that position as price will often win out? If they can produce lean beef on the supermarket shelves of Europe more cheaply than we can, how can we justify allowing the US to use growth promoters when our farmers and those in Europe have rightly agreed not to use them? The same rules should apply.
Pig production is an area of growth potential and we produce quality pig meat. The Japanese market offers great opportunities to this industry. Why should our pig producers continue to labour under a £6 per pig price differential to that of their mainland European competitors? Our compound feed is £27 per tonne more expensive than in Europe. That is a direct result of CAP and the grain regime. When will the feed equalisation grants scheme the Minister is "looking at" be in place? Our industry could develop and capture the European market, but we do not appear to be doing much in this area.
I need not remind the Minister that we are the only island nation in Europe. We should reconsider the EU animal and plant health directive in terms of risks to the excellent health status of plants and our herds. Should our country not be used as an isolation unit for the European Union in the event of a major outbreak of disease? If we had appropriate rules and perhaps some derogation our island status would ensure a nucleus of clean animal and plant stock. We should carefully consider how we are bound under the present animal and plant health directive. There is a missed opportunity in this area. We have a special case to make and the Minister and his Department have failed in this regard.
Orderly marketing and seasonality are other major problems. Orderly marketing is required to ensure a regular supply to our meat processors. The retention periods for the special beef premium and other issues have created scarcities at certain times of the year and promoted gluts at others, with the 100 day retention periods. I believe the Minister has plans to resolve that problem by having several retention periods throughout the year for some Euro schemes. Clarification is required in this area, particularly in respect of the special beef premium and others.
There are many other areas involved; I touched on only a few. I would like the Minister to reply to all our specific questions as it is important that we understand why the Bill is worthy of support and does not represent a major missed opportunity. The Minister should explain why he did not go down the road recommended by Culliton and the expert group and why so many of the food agencies are still outside the ambit of the Bill. It is difficult to understand why this is the case. Our food processing industry is allocated £30 million from the Government and Europe in investment aid. It is a major industry with huge potential. We need to integrate our approach towards State support services and this Bill fails to do that.
How much money will be included in the Community Support Framework for research in the food industry, one of the great Cinderella areas? The Government appears not to understand the concept of or need for research to ensure that in five to ten years we will be at the races, as it were, and lead the field in food production and quality control, ranging from producer to processor to marketing and retail outlets. Research has been neglected. It has been talked about at liaison committees recently. Does the Government understand the importance of agricultural research at Teagasc level through to the different agencies within the industry and State agencies in the many areas related to food production? I am not sure it does.
I wish to refer to the role of veterinary surgeons. We have an excellent system of checking animals at meat factories, post mortem and anti-mortem checks. That level of detailed examination is not carried out in other countries. Such a standard is critical if we wish to maintain our quality image. It was critical in selling our case to the Germans when the recent BSE scare arose. Veterinary surgeons have no quality control role in An Bord Bia; it is amazing that they have been excluded. Regarding safety, quality, hygiene, product assurance, testing and quality control I do not believe An Bord Bia will have a function according to the terms of reference to the Bill.
I agree with the Culliton report that we must strive for a leading and unique position in Europe as a producer of high quality and environmentally friendly safe food. We must "establish the highest standards of safety and integrity in the Irish food chain". The policy review group suggested a unified food safety inspection service which is not provided for by this Bill. The Bill falls so short of what is required and what Culliton and the reports of expert groups detailed as necessary that it is merely a window dressing exercise and does not deserve support.