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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 3 Jul 1996

Vol. 468 No. 1

An Bord Bia (Amendment) Bill, 1996 [ Seanad ]: Second Stage.

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill is simple and straighforward. Its sole purpose is to increase the membership of An Bord Bia and each of its two subsidiary boards by one and to provide for the filling of these additional places by consumer representatives. Deputies from both sides of the House have, at various times, sought consumer representation on An Bord Bia. This reflects not only the overall importance of the food industry to the Irish economy but also the particular importance of the consumer dimension in relation to food production, food safety and marketing.

The problems currently being experienced in the beef sector have brought home to us, as never before, just how consumer perceptions and concerns can impact on our food industry. Bord Bia, more than any organisation, is fully aware of the need to take account of the consumer dimension. It meets customers as part of its day to day work and knows at first hand that the consumer is king — it is they who exercise the choice between purchasing food products or leaving them on the shelf. With such huge influence on markets worldwide their views and concerns must be heard.

As a promotional and market development agency An Bord Bia does not have any statutory functions in relation to food safety, nor is it intended that it should. Food safety is a regulatory function which should be exercised by the regulatory authorities. However, in order for the board to discharge its duties effectively, it must be very conscious of and concerned about consumer requirements and fears.

The legislation under which it was established — An Bord Bia Act, 1994 — requires that the members of the board and its two subsidiary boards must be persons with knowledge and experience of consumer requirements. This is as it should be and I am happy that these requirements have been complied with fully. Anyone who doubts this has only to look at the membership lists for the board and its subsidiaries. These include the chairmen and top executives of some of our most prominent food companies whose success is due in no small measure to the attention which they give to the needs and requirements of their consumer customers.

They realise, like the other members of the three boards, including a senior executive of one of our leading retail chains, that food companies who want to be successful must concentrate less on marketing food from a production or sectoral viewpoint and think much more in the way consumers do. In this respect they must have regard to innovation, convenience, diet, health, nutrition and, above all, to producing products which are safe to eat and drink.

This influence can be seen clearly in the board's five year development strategy published last year, which emphasises the need to build stronger and better links between the industry and the marketplace. It will achieve this through developing a deep understanding of its clients, competitors and customers and applying that knowledge to the benefit of the food industry; providing information, contacts, market support and financial assistance to companies to assist in finding profitable, reliable and sustainable routes to market; promoting and marketing Irish products at trade level with an uncompromising commitment to product, process and service quality; and providing a continuous flow of high quality market information and intelligence.

This focus on the marketing and promotion of Irish food and drink products is guided by the objective of developing an industry which is innovative, consumer oriented and responsive to the rapidly changing consumer market environment; an industry expanding its market outlook, broadening its product range and adding value. The board recognises that such an industry can be successful only by focusing on satisfying consumer needs and by ensuring that Irish food, wherever it is sold, is synonymous with quality.

The reaction of the board to the BSE scare is a clear example of that strategy in operation. In conjunction with my Department the board has worked tirelessly, at home and abroad, to allay the fears and concerns of consumers, with some considerable success. That work will continue relentlessly until this problem has been satisfactorily resolved.

The aim of this Bill is not, therefore, to rectify any deficiencies in the board's structures and operating procedures but to reinforce the strong consumer dimension it already has and which is evident from its day to day activities.

An Bord Bia has been in existence for just over 18 months and during that time it has delivered an impressive list of achievements. Following a period of intensive research and a comprehensive consultation process, involving all sectors of the industry including consumers, the board published its five year market development strategy last May to which I already referred. This strategy sets out in detail how the board will carry out its statutory remit to promote, develop and assist the marketing of Irish food. In particular it set out in detail the specific measures it will take to fulfil the task assigned to it under the National Development Strategy for the Food Industry of implementing the marketing and promotion measure of the Structural Fund sub-programme for the industry. The implementation of that strategy is now well under way.

Last December the board completed its first full year of operations. During that period the board co-ordinated industry participation at 15 international trade fairs; held discussions with over 100 retailers across the EU; made 112 presentations to potential customers in Ireland and throughout Europe; co-ordinated some 30 inward buyer visits of potential international customers; conducted 300 in-store promotions in Europe; and provided assistance to 66 Irish companies in overseas markets.

The board also developed an electronic database of Irish suppliers by which overseas buyers can access information on Irish food and drink manufacturers in any of its overseas offices. It also undertook 30 research projects ranging from basic market profiles to the identification of opportunities for Irish food and drink in specific markets.

During the year two programmes of targeted financial support at company level were developed to enhance the marketing capability of individual firms. The marketing improvement assistance programme provides assistance at the rate of 50 per cent of the approved cost of marketing improvement activities up to a maximum of £200,000 in any one year. A total of 202 projects amounting to £4.3 million were approved. The strategic market development programme provides assistance of up to £750,000 per project based on the submission of a three year market development strategy. The implementation of this programme has just commenced.

The report records the overall export performance of the sector in 1995 as monitored by the board, in association with the ESRI, against the targets set in the market development strategy. The overall growth in exports achieved by the industry in 1995 over the 1994 level was 11 per cent. Growth was particularly marked in the prepared consumer foods sector although the dairy and fish sectors also performed well above average.

In terms of fulfilling its primary objective of promoting Irish food and drink products, An Bord Bia's most notable achievement must be its organisation of the Horizons food and drink exhibition and conference at the RDS three weeks ago. The exhibition was the largest ever single display of Irish food and drink and attracted 600 buyers from 30 different countries. In a nutshell, Horizons was about showing the world the ability of Irish food producers to manufacture and market food and drink products of the highest quality.

In organising a major-conference alongside the exhibition, the board hit on a winning formula. The conference was addressed by some of the most respected business leaders in the world and was attended by senior food company executives from all our principal overseas and home markets. The centrepiece of the international food fair was the high quality Irish food hall which was very impressive. I am convinced that Horizons will provide many spinoff opportunities for the Irish food industry.

An Bord Bia predicts that overall global demand for food products will show strong growth for some time to come with the strongest growth in Asia and certain Latin American countries. We must — and will — improve our penetration of these developing markets. The highly competitive EU will, however, remain the major outlet for Ireland's food exports and to succeed there our industry must remain competitive while at the same time meeting the highest standards for the products supplied.

Food markets world-wide are becoming extremely competitive. To compete effectively we must do better than our competitors in every area — on the farm, in the processing plant and in the market place. In particular, we must ensure that our customers get the quality and standard of food they demand and that the image of Ireland as a producer of clean green food is matched by reality.

The indigenous food sector has grown in three decades from a modest level to a stage where Irish companies are challenging for a place among the big European and world players. Food is Ireland's single most important industry. It is based almost entirely on indigenous raw materials and currently has a gross output of approximately £9 billion, over half of which is exported.

In the period to 1999 the food industry sub-programme will see investment of £640 million by the industry, supported by the EU and the Government. This will result in an increase in output of 25 per cent to £12 billion and an increase in exports from £4.3 billion to £7 billion. The creation of 6,600 additional jobs will be a significant feature of the programme and will maintain the leading position of the food sector in employment terms accounting as it does for 200,000 people on farms and in processing and related activities. This is the tangible proof of our confidence in and commitment to this most important of sectors of economic activity and our conviction that it has a bright future.

We are determined that our biggest industry will realise its full potential and in so doing make a major contribution to national wealth and employment.

We are confident that our production systems will satisfy the most stringent standards of production set anywhere in the world. The main challenge is to produce products which the customer is prepared to purchase and to market and promote them intensively. An Bord Bia has a major role in this but in the first instance Irish food manufacturers must be prepared to provide an unrivalled customer service. In particular, they must be prepared to respond to the reasonable expectations of consumers who want to know more about every stage of the food chain, from farm gate to kitchen table. Full traceability of the raw materials used to manufacture food is being sought and will be provided. I am convinced that developing quality assurance programmes, as An Bord Bia is doing, which are both transparent and comprehensive is the single most effective way of satisfying consumer worries about food. Clearly food safety has significant marketing implications because if our industry can successfully reassure consumers about the quality and safety of the food it produces it will have overcome the first marketing hurdle.

We are now well on the way towards a co-ordinated approach to marketing in Ireland, an approach which embraces the industry at a national level. We need to focus more clearly on those markets which, taking a long-term strategic view, offer the best prospects of sustainable gains. Our co-ordinated approach must be capable of offering tailored marketing services to individual companies to assist them in selecting the most appropriate routes to market. An Bord Bia's presence in all priority markets is a major help to food companies and their customers, as these companies seek to eatablish long-term defensible market positions. The presence of consumer representatives on the board and subsidiary boards through the passing of this Bill will serve to enhance these prospects.

The Bill is short and uncomplicated. Section 1 is a short definition section. Sections 2, 3 and 4 provide that the membership of the board and each of its subsidiary boards shall be increased by one; that one member of each board shall be appointed on the nomination of organisations whom the Minister considers to be representative of consumers and for certain minor consequential changes resulting from these amendments.

Section 5 is a saver provision inserted on the advice of the Attorney General's Office to safeguard the position of persons who have already been appointed to the board and subsidiary boards. Section 6 provides for the short title and collective citation and construction of the Bill.

I commend the Bill to the House.

This Bill is a pathetic response to the marketing challenge which faces the food and cattle industries since the unprecedented attack on the trade and the loss of consumer confidence as a result of the BSE scare. People are more aware of this problem as a result of the announcement on 20 March in the House of Commons. The Department and the Minister should reassess its impact in terms of the marketing challenge. The consumers have voted with their feet and mouths on this occasion. We have gone beyond relying on our green image, our reasonably environmentally friendly farming methods and our grassland based agriculture. Thousands and millions of consumers in the subsidised EU markets and in the more volatile, but equally important, third country markets outside Europe have shown their interest in eating Irish beef is less than it was before 20 March. We are not dealing with this cyclical problem. From now on, there may be a shift in the eating habits of many people as a result of their perception of the safety of red meat and beef products.

The Bill is perfunctory in that it allows for a consumer representative to be part of An Bord Bia. To suggest this should be a response to the challenge which faces us, given our dependence on this industry, would be absurd. That nothing else has been introduced in the interim seems to suggest the Department and the Minister are running scared. There is no evidence to suggest that a co-ordinated political response is imminent. No country in the European Union is more dependent on this business that Ireland. One would have expected that political will would have been demonstrated in a more assertive, coherent and effective way than it has up to now.

This Bill is an inadequate and belated response to the crisis in the food industry by a Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry who set out to systematically ignore consumers since he came to office. From his first day, the Minister wedded himself to an exclusive producer agenda. The legitimate interests of consumers and processors were ignored. The Minister's agenda was a political one based on the calculation that votes could be recovered for Fine Gael among farmers. Processors were numerically insignificant while consumers were too dispirited and disorganised to count. The Minister's road to Damascus conversion at the food fair two weeks ago is welcome, if it is genuine, but it is belated. I compliment everyone associated with the Horizons food fair which was an extraordinary event and professionally executed. Great credit is due to all the people involved, including the Minister.

It is necessary to introduce legislation now to allow representatives of consumer groups to be on the board of An Bord Bia. This underlines the futility of the policy to date. The only move made by the Minister in relation to An Bord Bia since he came to office was to strengthen farmer representation on the board by appointing the presidents of the IFA and ICMSA. The Minister felt so strongly about the necessity to do this that he introduced amending legislation. He was not prepared, however, to recognise the representatives of consumers, let alone treat them on an equal footing. The background to the introduction of this Bill is a series of sorely missed opportunities.

This Bill is a desperate measure in desperate circumstances. Putting a token consumer on the board of An Bord Bia will not affect consumer confidence or the lack of it in the beef trade. The ineffectiveness of this step is underlined by its isolation. Since the House of Commons announcement on 20 March, there has been no concerted political response to the BSE crisis from this Government. Fianna Fáil has worked to keep the political spotlight on the crisis. There have been three debates on the issue in the Dáil, two of which were during Fianna Fáil Private Members' Time while the third and most recent debate was held at the request of Fianna Fáil. The importance of this issue to the economy can be seen from the fact that no other issue, except Northern Ireland and the crime crisis, has received such sustained attention from my party in recent times.

Fianna Fáil has, from the start of the BSE crisis, advocated a concerted political campaign by Ministers to support the beef industry. There is a good story to tell about Irish beef to our customers at home and abroad. The tragedy for our beef industry is that this positive message has not been communicated. Ironically, and in spite of the commanding position held by farmers in the board rooms of the agri-business sector, farmers have been the first and worst affected victims of this crisis. Consumers at home and abroad were not persuaded by assurances from bodies from which they were excluded. Loss of confidence in our crucial Middle East markets was exacerbated by the failure of any Minister to make a personal pitch for Irish beef.

The position of our beef industry was further undermined by the lack of a system of total traceability. Because we still lack such a system, our competitors have been able to undermine our position in the marketplace. Fianna Fáil has repeatedly called for such a system. Following the special debate on the beef industry during which I proposed such a system, the Minister was quoted in the newspapers as saying that the system might be in place in two years' time. The Minister, Deputy Yates, has been 19 months in office and his response, though welcome, is extremely belated. It is unacceptable that it will take two years for such a priority issue to be dealt with and it does not indicate even a general awareness of the type of problems we are facing in the marketplace by the absence of such a system.

The ludicrousness of the current position is well illustrated by operation matador on the Border, put in place as an emergency measure in an attempt to ringfence the southern herd from their cousins in the Six Counties. The Garda estimate the cost of the operation is £400,000 per week which works out at more than £20 million a year. In response to questions I tabled, the Minister. Deputy Yates, conceded the annual cost was £16 million. I am sure the Garda would be delighted to hear about the £4 million savings in its operation. At a Dáil committee reviewing his Department's Estimate some weeks ago the Minister estimated that the cost of putting in place a computer system to allow for the traceability of all animals which would be compatible with the existing system in Northern Ireland would be between £10 million and £14 million. When the Minister announced his proposal to install a system of traceability he had whittled down the cost to a firm £12 million. Where are the missing millions going? Is that £12 million coming out of the existing budget? Will extra money be provided by the Government or will farmers eventually have to pick up the cost in some form? One would have expected that despite its political composition there would be sufficient coherence and co-operation in the Government to ensure that the additional £12 million, which is not in the Minister's Estimate, would be made available to him immediately so that the necessary system of traceability, which is demanded by everybody in the industry and which should operate for a longer period than the two years mentioned, could be put in place.

It is an indictment of the Minister that 19 months after he came into office and four months after the most serious crisis that can hit us in the medium to long-term, that of BSE, a system of traceability of stock is not in place. The plan he announced yesterday might be in place within two years. In that context operation matador is a gross waste of Garda time. It is an emergency measure and we should be in the process of replacing it with a system of traceability. If the Minister is serious about restoring consumer confidence, a comprehensive system for the traceability of all stock must be put in place sooner rather than later.

Gardaí should be put back on the beat to deal with the drug dealers and apprehend the murderers. We cannot afford to have them standing behind ditches on the Border waiting for Daisy and her pals to come South. The present operation is a shameful waste of resources. The extent to which the foot dragging by the Minister on this issue has resulted in the waste of scarce Garda resources is underlined by the Government's crime package announced yesterday. How many gardaí could be freed from regular duty if the Minister had a system of traceability in place? It is three months since the announcement of the crisis in the House of Commons and it is time to move from the stop gap theatrical measures that this Bill and Operation Matador represent.

From the beginning Fianna Fáil has put forward a cogent political programme to deal with the BSE crisis. The Bill is supposed to address the issue of consumer confidence in a more substantive way than the cosmetics of this debate in approving the appointment of an extra person to the board. Fianna Fáil wants an independent agency to be set up that has a duty to guarantee the integrity of the food chain at all points. It is feasible that the veterinary inspection functions of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, environmental health officers and some or all of the functions of the National Drugs Advisory Board might be included in such a body. It is lamentable that far from proposing the fundamental reforms that are necessary, the Minister has confined himself to the window dressing allowed for in this Bill.

There must be a sustained campaign by Ministers in our main markets. Members of the Government will not have a problem for the next six months as they spend their time boosting their egos in the European capitals during our Presidency of the EU. During the past three months not one Minister has sufficient time to speak to those customers who are crucial to the maintenance of our national interest and purchase 67 per cent of our total output of dairy and beef products. There has not been a sustained campaign. The refusal by Government Ministers to make a personal pitch for Irish beef in third countries has allowed the bottom to fall out of Irish beef sales without a hand being lifted.

To date a Government Minister has not visited Libya, Egypt or Saudi Arabia, our most important third country markets after Russia, but I understand the Minister may be going to Libya next week. If he goes, who will he meet, what are his prospects of success and his demands? Following our failure to secure those markets earlier in the year, have the Australians blotted us out of them and, if so, for how long?

As an important delegation arrives from Iran the Government has confined itself to announcing in today's papers that the Minister of State, Deputy Mitchell, will in due course visit the Islamic Republic. I welcome his proposed visit and have encouraged him to make it. The record will show that during Question Time some weeks ago I asked the Taoiseach, given the Tánaiste was not prepared to visit Iran, if a Minister of State could meet Mr. Vealyati's junior Minister since I understood such an approach would be welcomed by the Iranian authorities. I am glad the Taoiseach is in a position to move on that and has asked the Tánaiste to arrange for the Minister of State to visit that country. I spoke to him two weeks ago and I am delighted he is prepared to make that trip. When the Fianna Fáil delegation travelled to that country we were told to go home because there were minor technical problems, that the case would be reopened and that our meeting was superfluous. That was not the case as extra contracts were obtained by us at that time. However, the Iranian delegation is only now coming here. The Minister of State's visit will be welcomed and it should involve not only beef issues but a broader agenda of which the Department of Foreign Affairs is aware. I hope the visit will be a success, as I believe it will, in terms of ensuring that the type of rapport and relationship we have had with the Iranian authorities in regard to our export of processed beef will come to fruition as a result of such a diplomatic initiative which recognises international relationships as a two-way process. We cannot go to people when we are in trouble and expect matters to be sorted out without any reference to the agenda which they legitimately wish us to pursue during our Presidency of the European Union. I wish the Minister of State well and I am pleased he is making such a visit resulting from a suggestion from this side of the House.

The continued failure of the Tánaiste to use his office on behalf of the beef industry is a scandal. The extent of the apathy by the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs can be judged from the fact that the Irish Ambassador to Libya, based in Rome, has not visited Libya since Deputy Spring took over at Iveagh House. If the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry cannot deliver, it is clear that the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs cannot be bothered.

To date Ireland, the most severely affected of all EU member states, has failed to have its urgent concerns addressed at EU level. Three months after the House of Commons announcement the Minister has failed to build support for our position. The £70 million on offer is totally unsatisfactory and no more than a short-term respite; the package ignores losses incurred prior to 20 March last, the top-up on the slaughter premium covers the period from 20 March to 9 June only and allows for an average payout of £55 per head. This means that farmers are looking at an absolute best scenario of 50 per cent compensation for losses incurred to date before we even reach the peak killing season in the autumn.

As a matter of urgency the Irish Presidency must secure an increase in the farm budget next year since neither the Florence Summit nor the follow-up meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers held in Luxembourg dealt with the crucial issue of consumer confidence and, to date, no funds have been set aside for this purpose. The total absence to date of any action at EU level on these issues underlines the inadequacy of what the Minister proposes in this Bill.

In so far as there has been any resolution of the BSE crisis, it was enunciated at the Florence Summit and the follow-up meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers in Luxembourg. The Taoiseach on reporting to the House on the Florence Summit said that the lead-in to the Council had been overshadowed by the BSE crisis and the related British policy of non-co-operation on EU business.

The extent to which the Florence Summit was overshadowed became apparent at the meeting of the Council of Agriculture Minister in Luxembourg. Despite the fact that the BSE crisis had been raging since 20 March last, to date Ireland has failed utterly to have the underlying problems facing its beef industry addressed, although the beef industry is our single largest enterprise and our economy is the most beef-dependent within the EU.

I agree with the Taoiseach's statement to the Dáil last week that compensation is not a long-term response to the BSE crisis and that the long-term solution lies in restoring consumer confidence and in regaining markets. From the point of view of Irish agriculture, the Florence Summit must be seen as a very serious disappointment. There was no attempt at Florence, or at the follow-up meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers in Luxembourg, to address the crucial issues of consumer confidence and world markets.

It must surely count as a colossal political failure on the part of the Taoiseach and Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry that in the interval between 20 March and last Friday week, they were totally unable to have Ireland's vital concerns addressed at EU level. Finally, when something was done, it proved to be too little too late. On the basis of the criteria enunciated by the Taoiseach last week, with which I agree, the most important issues confronting Ireland resulting from the BSE crisis were not addressed at the Florence Summit or at the meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers in Luxembourg.

A long-term, stable solution to the BSE crisis must involve restoring consumer confidence. There was no move at the Florence Summit to establish a marketing fund. To date Irish exports to the EU remain down by 45 per cent. If, at the end of the day, beef is not being eaten, the crisis will continue if not worsen. For Ireland this issue is of a scale and urgency simply unparalleled in other EU member states. Our beef industry is 80 per cent dependent on exports. If markets do not improve considerably before next autumn, when the bulk of Irish beef comes on the market, the industry could be dislocated irrevocably.

Unlike the British stance at the Florence Summit, when its specific, unique position was outlined, defended, argued for and on which eventually compromise was reached, I do not detect the same distinctive stance being adopted by the Irish Government in respect of our BSE-free herd which has been placed at greater risk resulting from what happened in Britain. Why are we told that the marketing problem is that we are perceived as part of the overall United Kingdom market?

The British Government has obtained a solution, acceptable to its Parliament, based on its total culpability for the problem in the first place — not a bad negotiating feat — in addition to having obtained almost full compensation in respect of British diseased animals. We do not have the disease, we have healthy animals but cannot maintain prices. Neither at Florence nor Luxembourg was there any indication from or recognition by the Commission or our EU colleagues that, although everybody is in a bad position, we are in a different position from any other EU member state on this issue. We must export eight out of every ten cattle we produce. No other country in the EU has that marketing requirement, they require residual percentages only of their national herds for markets outside their country, never mind outside the EU itself; because they have sufficiently large domestic consumer markets to meet the demand, the balance between their supply and demand is much better.

We are 900 per cent self-sufficient in beef, we are dependent on this industry, far greater in macro-economic terms than any other country within the European Union, yet in none of the texts emanating from the Florence Summit or the Council of Agriculture Ministers in Luxembourg, was there any recognition of those basic facts as they affect our economy. Neither has there been any indication of a recognition that we may not be over the worst of our problems, that despite the fact that the BSE scare is no longer front page news, the fact that consumer trends are levelling out, with a major reduction in red meat consumption, particularly within Europe, we will experience a worse problem in the autumn. Because of our unique cattle marketing system, the grassland-based nature of our agriculture — a unique feature compared with other European agricultural systems — we will have a glut of beef coming off grass in the autumn. At that stage our slaughtering season should be in full swing. Indeed there is already every indication that the financial institutions will not allow meat processors to purchase beef to be processed if they cannot convince them they have markets for that beef before purchasing it in the marts or brought directly to the factories.

A squeeze has already begun on the Irish beef sector, affecting not only farmers who are now meeting their bank managers with a much greater degree of trepidation than would have been the case in February last when they were already incurring losses, particularly in the case of winter fatteners who will have to gain the confidence of the banking system to tide them over into the next winter fattening season. Processors, in a much stronger financial position than ordinary producers on the land, are being told by their bankers and financial institutions that the volatility of the market is such they will not receive financial backing for the purchase of that volume of cattle in the autumn in the absence of tying down contracts now so that those financial institutions can be assured that, at least in some cases, cheques will be forthcoming to meet those commitments.

There is no recognition of that fact in the corridors of power in Europe and, even if there is, members of our Government, from the top down, appear incapable of having inserted in the relevant texts, in terms of decisons and agreements reached at Summit or Council of Ministers level, terminology indicating that we are capable of communicating that basic fact and getting agreement on the need to address our issues in the unique manner in which those who caused the problem had theirs addressed.

It seems we are communitarian, with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, continually telling us there are difficulties, that he is doing the best he can and that he is isolated in terms of support. He is not getting anywhere and is hoping against hope that something will turn up, that there will be a bonanza on the Russian market, that someone, somewhere, will take 100,000 or 200,000 tonnes of beef before confidence goes through the floor. It is the ad hoc approach in the Minister's office and in Government circles that worries me, the hoping against hope that something will turn up. That is not the way to run our most important indigenous industry at a time when we have growth rates of 7 per cent or 8 per cent.

While markets within the EU are linked to consumer preference, markets outside the EU are out of reach to Irish exports because of the inadequate level of export refunds. We have seen the dismantling of and total disorganisation in the licensing system under the new arrangements, and the biggest sufferer is Ireland, a country which depends on third country markets.

Just as the vital issue of consumer confidence was ignored in Florence, so also was the matter of export refunds. Consumer confidence must necessarily be underpinned by education, marketing and, above all, total traceability. Only total traceability can underpin the integrity of the national herd in the long-term. The crisis facing Irish cattle farmers in the autumn remains unaddressed. Unfortunately, a crisis of the proportions of that in 1974 could be looming. The potential damage to the cattle sector has been significantly widened by the decisions of the beef management committee last Friday. What is clearly needed is an intervention mechanism along pre-1992 lines. Instead, the present inadequate intervention system has been even less friendly towards Ireland. Last week's decision is only the latest in a series of political failures on the part of the Minister in relation to the Beef Management Committee. Time is ticking by relentlessly. If radical action is not taken in the very near future, this autumn could be the Waterloo of the Irish cattle trade as we know it. No one wants that. Dislocation could be so severe as to be permanent.

Fianna Fáil will vote for this Bill because it believes that Irish agri-business must be consumer driven. The total consumer representative this Bill allows for is better than nothing, but only just. Let there be no doubt that three-and-a-half months after the BSE announcement in the House of Commons, this Bill is a pathetic response to a crisis. It is a step the Minister strongly resisted in fairer weather. What the BSE crisis requires is a concerted political response from the Government as a whole which will gain recognition at EU level. Sadly, there is still no sign of that.

I am delighted to be here for our third annual Bord Bia day. An Bord Bia is 18 months in existence, and we have already had the Bord Bia Act, 1994, the Bord Bia Act, 1995, and we are about to have the Bord Bia Act, 1996. I have rarely, in the 28 or 29 years I have been here, seen a Bill introduced into this House about less than this. Last year we had a Bill which increased the membership of the board of An Bord Bia. This year we have another Bill which increases it still further. The amusing aspect is that the very thing this Bill seeks to do was sought by my party in 1994 on the original Bill and the Government at the time said it could not be done. I note from the Official Report, 5 July 1994, Volume 140, column 2056 that Senator Dardis moved an amendment to provide for exactly what is in this Bill, to have a consumer representative of the board of An Bord Bia, and he did not get any support from any party or, indeed, even from an individual Senator. Even Senator Fergal Quinn said he would not support it. Now, all of a sudden, everybody feels the consumer is king.

We have time enough to introduce a Bill for something as trivial as putting 15 people on the board of An Bord Bia instead of 14. However, we have no time in this House for a Bill on any one of a large number of very important topics on which the Opposition sought legislation in the past 12 months, particularly matters relating to life and death, to subversion and to serious organised crime. There is no time for that, but there is time for this triviality. It shows an extraordinary set of priorities that we are now discussing our third Bord Bia Bill during its 18 months of existence and for the same purpose.

My experience of boards is that they are most effective when they have six or seven members. Boards that consist of a large number of people there as representatives of or nominees of vested interests or sectoral interests are usually a disaster because the members tend only to argue the case of their own sector or their own vested interest. What is needed is a smaller number of people who are prepared and able to take a broader view.

The Minister and the Government probably think they are solving problems by having so many people on a board. If increasing the number on this board every year would solve problems in this industry, why not be logical and have 30 people on the board? If 15 are better than the original ten or 11, why would 25 not be better again with more interests represented? Increasing membership of the board like this shows false thinking and an anxiety to be seen to please particular interest sectors rather than to do anything effective. It is very sad that should be the case.

The whole thrust of a board like this in promoting food should be dominated by the consumer approach but it is not. Here, in the third annual instalment of An Bord Bia legislation, we have a sop thrown to the consumer interest because it is politically correct or fashionable at the moment to do that, directly arising out of the BSE crisis which has had such a disastrous effect on Irish beef in particular which is our largest single food product apart only from milk. We have this Bill now because it is seen to be politically correct, and the Government hopes some of the heat will be taken off it.

I have had the opportunity to listen to the Minister of State. I even read his speech again after he had delivered it in case I had missed anything the first time. One would think there was not a problem in the Irish food industry. One would think we were going from good to better to best. What is the reality, as opposed to the fictional scenario painted by this speech?

The reality is that in Germany, the biggest market in the European Union for almost all food products, consumption of beef is at 50 per cent of what it was three and a half months ago. It has not budged from that 50 per cent over the last three months and it does not look as if it will. That is a disaster for this country. Instead of facing up to that the Minister of State comes in and reads out this stuff. This is the way these speeches are put together and this is the sort of stuff that is delivered, but the failure to look at reality does no service to anybody.

I did not come in here with a solution to the BSE crisis and I never suggested that this was a solution.

Not alone does the Minister of State not come with a solution — and I did not suggest that he did — he does not even admit there is a problem, which is much more serious.

I accept that there is a problem.

It is an appalling problem. I would have thought that a Minister introducing a Bill relating to a board dealing with Irish food and its promotion would devote the majority of his speech to a discussion of that problem and an explanation of how serious it is for this country.

What is wrong is more than just the recent problem of BSE. It is more fundamental than that. The recently established An Bord Bia is yet another State body of a promotional kind. It overlaps significantly with ABT and fragments our resources and export drive in a way that is regrettable. An Bord Bia comes under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and as a result labours under a difficulty.

Grandiose things are said about marketing. The Minister said this evening, "We need to focus more clearly on those markets which, taking a long-term strategic view, offer the best prospects of sustainable gains." That is a grand statement of principle, but in practice it will never happen. If a new, wider and more generous system of intervention was introduced tomorrow morning, intervention would be the solution to our problems and markets which take a long-term strategic view would be forgotten. That has not happened today or yesterday. This has been the outlook here for quite some time.

I have had the embarrassing experience of going to food fairs abroad on behalf of this country and being met by buyers from foreign supermarkets and other outlets who told me that they signed contracts with Irish producers who let them down because they could get a penny a pound more somewhere else. When one took that up with the Irish supplier, his attitude was frequently that he was only in it for the money and what he could get out of it and he asked why he should not take as much as he could get at any given time.

There is no question of taking a long-term strategic view offering the best prospects of sustainable gains. It is all short-term and it is not really consumer related, in spite of what is said. It is price related. Short-term price related objectives govern our attitude to selling our food and until we get away from that and become genuinely concerned about the consumer, as any large and successful company would be, Ireland Inc. will not be successful as a seller of food at premium prices. We can always sell it as commodity, but we will not sell it at premium prices.

The Minister said that the food sector has moved from a very modest level to a stage where "Irish companies are challenging for a place among the big European and world players". That statement is true in respect of three, four or five companies. They are not very big and further amalgamations will be needed for them to be effective. However, what the Minister of State did not say is that they are challenging for a place among the big European and world players because they are processing abroad.

I could name four larger co-ops, now plcs, which have invested large sums of money in expansion over the past three or four years and virtually every penny of it has been spent abroad. Hundreds of millions of pounds are spent by each of them each year on acquiring more and more processing facilities abroad. I am glad they are doing it but they are not processing Irish food or Irish raw materials. They are processing other people's raw materials while our own raw materials are frequently sold either as commodities or in a way which does not give the optimum return to this country. This is because some shortsighted views have been taken as far as food policy is concerned, where the producer was absolutely dominant, or in regard to taxation and other aspects of production and processing. This is very regrettable.

There are other aspects of the Minister of State's speech on which I would like to comment but one is hesitant to do so because one interferes with the image we have tended to build for ourselves. This image does not bear great affinity with reality. The Minister of State told us that "our production systems will satisfy the most stringent standards of production set anywhere in the world", that we must provide an unrivalled customer service and that we must "respond to the very reasonable expectations of consumers who want to know more about every stage of the food chain, from farm gate to kitchen table". All that is correct, but the reality is different.

Within recent months it was discovered in a factory here that there were growth promoters in cattle which had been slaughtered. A request from the Department to trace the origin of the cattle elicited the reply that their supplier was a gentleman called Elvis Presley. The factory was not able to help the Department at all other than to say it was Elvis Presley. Very little meat of this kind which has come to light in factories has been traced to the original producer. We have an extraordinary situation where it is almost impossible to trace an animal's full history. Consumers will be switched off increasingly if we are unable to do that.

Recently I was abroad browsing in shops where the proud boast on the counters was that the beast was born and reared on a particular farm, was fed on grass all its life and was slaughtered immediately on leaving the farm. That may seem rather a tall order in the Irish context but it is something to which we will have to learn to adjust. I do not think we can do that now. I hope we will be able to do so in a year or two but we will have to change our approach if we are to do so.

On the question of certainty about food and its safety, it is very disturbing to think that it was possible in the not too distant past to purchase official blank Irish veterinary health certificates. That matter is before a criminal court so I will not say any more about it. It is a chilling thought that it could happen.

It is entirely commendable that there should be a consumer representative on the board of An Bord Bia. The person to be appointed shall be the nomination of such organisations, in the plural, as the Minister considers to be representative of consumers. It is one thing to appoint somebody who is the nominee of an organisation but how do you appoint someone who is the nominee of organisations, unless they all agree on the same person. If they do not what happens? It seems a rather small point but it is very obvious and I do not think it should be expressed in this way. I can see this giving rise to many difficulties.

A board consisting of 15 people, as set out in section 2 (a), is too big and will not work. It would be more effective if it were much smaller. One effect of such large boards is that they tend to cancel themselves out. The views of board members tend to be ignored and the executive gets on with the job, which may be one way of doing business. It seems extraordinary that this is the third Bill in less than two years in respect of an organisation that has been in existence only 18 months. It is doing the best it can in difficult circumstances but, certainly, its problems will not be sorted out by simply having a larger board representative of more groups. One consumer representative on a board of 15 will not make a great deal of difference. The representation should be based on consumer requirements and views. We will continue to have serious difficulties otherwise.

On Committee Stage we should consider amendments to try to reduce the size of the board, ensuring that it is of a much more manageable size and broadening its representation so that it is not from a particular narrow sector. I would very much like to see all members of the board not trying to plough his own furrow or for a vested interest but trying to make a success of the enterprise.

The Bill is very short because it seeks to make minor changes but it is symptomatic of the wrong approach. What is particularly disappointing is that this is the third instalment in a little over two years and changes will continue. We must hope that somebody will take a more enlightened view in the near future.

I welcome this Bill. What I have heard so far in the contributions is a criticism of the Bill for what it never set out to do. This is not a debate about BSE or about the panoply of measures put in place by the Government to combat the effects of BSE in so far as it is in its power as a Government to do that. This Bill simply and solely provides for consumer representation on the board of An Bord Bia. It does not seek to conceal its purpose which is manifestly and transparently to provide for the first time for consumer representation on the board. Everybody has either reluctantly or begrudgingly admitted that this is necessary and desirable and, perhaps, overdue. The criticism of the Bill as a measure has to be within the parameters of the fact that that is its sole objective. The Bill does not seek to address a range of issues that Deputies Cowen and O'Malley raised.

The Bill stands alone as a measure to expand the range of expertise at board level to enable the sector to be developed comprehensively. Serious questions can be raised as to why this was not done before now. One would have thought when listening to Deputy Cowen that his side of the House had been straining at the leash for a long time to provide representatives of consumers on this board. The fact is that the Bill in 1994 was introduced by the Government of which Deputy Cowen was a member and Deputy O'Malley was wrong to go back to the Seanad debate where his colleague, Senator Dardis, advocated the case for consumers on this board. I advocated in this House the case for consumers and I have consistently sought to do so. The Government of which Deputy Cowen was a member was impervious to any argument for consumer representation on the board.

I see no point in following Deputy O'Malley down memory lane in tracing how we have reached this stage. The Deputy could have started with the argument that An Bord Tráchtála should fulfil this function. There was a belief that a Government which had sufficient votes in the House should have set up a food board. That is the way the argument has progressed but regrettably and surprisingly it provided for neither farmer nor consumer representation, although I would have thought both were central to what we were trying to achieve.

Deputy Cowen took the view that producer interests should dominate and now criticises my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, for holding a similar point of view. I do not believe that is accurate or in accord with the fact. Also it ascribes to the Minister the views he and his colleagues held when in Government. When it comes to the food industry the consumer is a relatively recent discovery on the Fianna Fáil benches and represents a Pauline conversion for Deputy Cowen in particular.

I welcome what the Minister of State said and the format of the Bill he introduced. Perhaps it is regrettable the Government was left with no choice but to introduce amending legislation if it wished to provide for consumer representation immediately but that was a particular commitment I made to the Consumers Association of Ireland at the time of the BSE crisis. The association made the entirely reasonable case that, unless confidence was restored and maintained among consumers, no matter how high the quality, how good the value or how hygienic the product, the argument would come to nil. It maintained the association should be represented on the board. For this to happen, the Government was left with no alternative but to bring forward amending legislation.

It is not necessary to remind the House of my decision last March to set up an expert advisory group on beef products comprising consumer, scientific, Government and trade representatives under the chairmanship of Mr. William Fagan, the Director of Consumer Affairs, to advise consumers, Government and the trade arising from the EU export ban on products derived from cattle slaughtered in the United Kingdom.

Listening to Deputy Cowen one would think this crisis was somehow associated with the Government. It was foisted on us by the manner in which the issue was handled in the House of Commons by the UK Government. It was exaggerated 1,000 times by the incompetence with which it was handled there. The Government had to deal with its implications, as had the Governments of the other member states of the European Union.

Not anyone disputes that the speedy and professional job done by the expert advisory group was a critical factor in restoring consumer confidence and tackling the confusion surrounding the safety of beef products and beef related derivatives. I undertook in my discussions with the Consumers Association of Ireland to advocate its case within Government for representation on the board of An Bord Bia. I am pleased that, in pursuing that commitment, so far as the Minister was concerned, I knocked on an open door. Unfortunately, there are prescribed terms of office for members of the board. If the Government was to fulfil the undertaking I made to the Consumers Association of Ireland, it could only do so by introducing amending legislation.

That is the response to Deputy O'Malley, who said the Bill is a minor one. It may be narrow in its focus but it is not minor in its implications. I am surprised he sought to dredge up a Seanad quotation to show his uniqueness within the political establishment as the only advocate of consumer representation which is long overdue.

It is a salutary comment on the traditional attitude of successive Governments to the question of consumer representation that to keep my promise to the Consumers Association of Ireland it has proved necessary to introduce amending legislation. The failure to make provision for consumer representation on the board when established is a comment on the perceived role of consumers. They have traditionally been perceived to be of no importance, and it was automatic and axiomatic, since we have a good product that the question of consumer participation at the boardroom table did not arise. I am glad producers are no longer making that argument.

They got such a fright.

The Deputy is correct. They now recognise that if the consumer does not have confidence in the product, it does not matter how valuable it is. We are dealing with a more alert and informed citizenry who will vote with their feet and pay sceptical attention to Ministers, scientists and others who tell them what is good for them and what is safe to eat. They will draw their own conclusions.

Given the centrality of the issue in our economy it is especially important that we practice what we preach and provide a position as of right, for consumers. Unfortunately what we do here will not have an impact on our export markets. Domestic consumption accounts for only a small percentage of total production. Nonetheless, in terms of the domestic scene, this decision is of critical importance.

The BSE crisis pointed to the centrality of consumer confidence and perception to marketplace success. This point has been well made by the Minister of State. The consumer is all powerful. Industralists might wish it otherwise. I do not, I am a firm believer in consumer rights and power. That is the reason I raised with the Minister the issue of consumer representation on the board of An Bord Bia. The Minister agreed with the case made and acted quickly to ensure that the membership of An Bord Bia and its two subsidiary boards could be increased with immediate effect so as to provide for consumer representation.

I recommend this good measure to the House. It provides a legal basis for something very important, that is a place at the boardroom table of An Bord Bia, as of right, for consumer representatives. Other companies and agencies might also consider such representation. As Minister of State with responsibility for the Companies Office, I recently established a user council, CROLink, for that agency of State. As Minister of State with responsibility for commerce, and taking up from where Deputy O'Rourke left off——

I was wondering when the Minister of State would refer to that.

Sometimes I grow weary from the number of occasions I find it necessary to compliment Deputy O'Rourke in the House.

I also grow weary of accepting those compliments.

I piloted through the House the Consumer Credit Act, 1995, which gave the Director of Consumer Affairs responsibility for the regulation and supervision of the credit industry. The Act also greatly enhanced consumer rights in this area and resulted in the allocation of increased resources to the office of the Director of Consumer Affairs.

Users and consumers must have a real voice in terms of the operation of State agencies and the Government is generally committed to this philosophy. There is also a message in this for the private commercial sector. The use of consumer panels by some of the major retailers is well established and this gives consumers a voice, an avenue and a way of influencing management decisions and actions.

The BSE crisis has dramatically shown the central importance of confidence and perception in the operation of the market. As regards my responsibility for consumer policy and the safeguarding of consumer rights, the action taken by me during the scare in March and subsequently was not only desirable but critically necessary to allay the concerns being heightened to an irresponsible degree in some sections of the media about the safety of Irish beef and beef products. I am glad a framework for the removal of the export ban was agreed at the recent Florence summit. Without question we have the highest quality beef in Europe, but unless the consumer accepts this message such lofty claims can fall on deaf ears. The work of the expert group in terms of advising consumers, providing help lines etc. did much to allay the fears and confusion which existed at that time.

It is remarkable that such an uncontroversial measure should provoke such criticism from the two main Opposition spokespersons. This debate is not about BSE or the circumstances confronting the industry. It is an extremely serious matter when the consumption levels of beef in, say, Germany are half those which previously obtained. This poses very serious problems for our economy and the producers and workers in the industry. No doubt we will properly seek to arrange compensation for producers in so far as that is possible, but there will be little enough compensation for workers in the meat processing factories which are likely to lose jobs if progress cannot continue to be made in combating the impact of a peculiarly British crisis. What happened in Britain and the decision by the Tory Government in terms of deregulation, going back to the origins of this crisis, was criminal. It is horrific that this crisis should have occurred and that the rest of Europe is paying the price, while the British media works and strives mightily day and night to create the perception that somehow this was inflicted on them by the rest of Europe and they had nothing to do with it.

I am at a total loss to understand Deputy Cowen's criticisms. The measures put in place by the Government to combat the effects of what happened in Britain have been extensive and persistent. I do not think any previous Minister for Agriculture worked such long and hard hours to combat a crisis not of his making. The range of visits made by the Minister, Deputy Yates, and the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, in an attempt to keep markets open and keep our product on the shelves is unprecedented. I do not know what point Deputy Cowen was trying to make. The entire diplomatic service has been mobilised in the efforts to make a distinctive and separate argument for Ireland in the face of this crisis and in terms of seeking to restore confidence among foreign consumers who buy our product.

Deputy Cowen made some strident criticisms of what he referred to as operation matador in terms of Border security. He knows as well as any other Member that those steps were necessary in response to the European-wide ban on the export of beef products. The system of traceability being developed by the Minister will be the fundamental mechanism which in the longterm will provide consumers with the assurances they deserve. That is a fundamentally important point. If we had behaved any differently in terms of the Border implications we would be open to criticisms in the House.

The Bill has a narrow and specific focus and provides for a long overdue reform so that consumers can have a say at the boardroom table. I am very pleased they will have such a say following the enactment of the Bill.

The Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, must be very glad that the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, came to his rescue. Everybody should have a friendly rabbit in their backpack. I am sure the sustained support given by the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, was of great comfort to him.

He did not have to come to my rescue.

Everyone needs a chum in moments of trouble.

There was no trouble.

It is all coming out now — the Minister of State does not like him.

I listened to most of the debate on the monitor in my office. I welcome this simple and interesting Bill. I wonder about the efficacy of that person, who I hope will be a woman, on the board no matter how efficient that person may be. According to the latest survey, women are still the main purchasers of and deciders on what food goes into homes. Ideally that person should be a woman. The board will be made up of 14 people — one against the rest. Be that as it may, it is a step forward.

Under the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government, Deputy Joe Walsh, as Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, set up An Bord Bia when the composition of the board was specified. When Deputy Yates became Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, he immediately introduced an amendment — at that time the blame for not recognising the lacuna of consumers was very strong — allowing for the presidents of two farming organisations to be added to the board. It is necessary to say this because the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, continuously heaped the blame on the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government who did not provide for a consumer representative on the board. That may well have been our error initially and, if so, I admit it. When an amendment was introduced there was an opportunity for the Minister to add the consumer representative but he did not. He rushed in to add the heads of the two farming organisations who are the people of the highest calibre and efficient and prolific at putting forward the views of their organisations.

The idea behind the unseemly rush by the Minister for Agriculture to add the two main producer lobby presidents to the board of An Bord Bia was that it was instant approval for his credentials with the farming organisations. It is to Deputy Walsh's credit, who was derided for not adding the presidents of those two farming organisations to the board, that he resisted such pressure. I recall the publicity surrounding it but he stuck to his guns. If he did not add the consumers, neither did he add the main producer heads. It is often necessary in Dáil debates to put that on the record. Oppositions and Governments in their turn tend to have a blanket view and pick out issues they wish to highlight as the Minister did and as I am doing. The opportunity arose for the Minister and he included the heads of the farming organisations on the board.

After the BSE crisis there were renewed demands by the Consumers' Association to have its voice heard at the table. Its voices — rather than one voice — should be heard. No matter how efficient that person may be it will be very difficult for that person against the combined weight of the producers. I had meetings with all the farmers' representatives, who are in a difficult position given that our exports to EU countries are down 40 per cent to 45 per cent over the crisis period. They put forward their points of view about the need for subsidies and prompt payment of grants and subsidies but they cannot see the clear connection that the person at the end of the chain is the one who buys, prepares and eats the product and that the beginning of the chain is the producer. They fail to understand that if they do not produce a product which people want to buy, they will be out of business and exports will be reduced still further. As difficult and horrendous as the BSE crisis was it had the effect of compelling producers to realise that they can make products forever but if they do not produce goods which the people want to purchase, they will not be successful. That message will have to be repeated.

Consumer interests should be represented by a section which would take from Government Departments all matters relating to consumers. This is the practice in the Consumer Council in Brussels, of which I was a member for three years while I was Minister of State with responsibility for trade and marketing and labour affairs, and which the Minister now chairs. That group takes on to itself all matters of responsibility relating to consumers: health, agriculture, food, transport, trade, trade safety and myriad issues which fall to be reflected from Europe, but sometimes domestically, on how we view consumers and their needs. No Government Department wants to do it and no Government wants to do it because each Government Department would have to cede some responsibility and power if they do so. Eventually, we will have to do so.

I am interested in how the word "consumer" has suddenly become fashionable. It is a word that trips off all our lips now. Words such as citizens, consumers, and consensus — all the C words — have a warm ring to them. One feels good by saying that consumers should have power and feels even better when you say more power to the consumer and the citizens of Europe. We proclaim this is speeches but we do nothing about it and we do not translate it into meaningful measures whereby the citizens will actually get their consumer rights in a consensual way — to put all the Cs together in one sentence. As the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte said, this is a narrow measure and only the beginning of a road. Will one person on a board of 14 be so powerful as to alter overnight the mindset of producers and other people on the board of An Bord Bia? Will the board see that the road to the consumers' heart is to listen to what the consumer is saying?

Cupidity is a powerful force and I hope it will work towards achieving the needs of consumers. Cupidity led producers over the years to build up food mountains and wine lakes and to produce food for which there is no ready market. I am aware of the difficulties farmers are experiencing. These can only be short-term measures. At the end of the day in this global economy if you do not produce the goods and provide the services that other people want to purchase in a non-protectionist way, you should not be in the business.

I am pleased the Bill was introduced but it is not one about which to make a song and dance. It will not move mountains or cause the sun to shine for another hour in the day or suddenly make every consumer in the land better informed. To hype it up as the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, did is ridiculous. I wish we would have a more meaningful way of approaching the word "consumer". It was desperation that brought one person to the board of An Bord Bia. In 1994 the Minister, Deputy Yates, had an opportunity to add the two heads of the farming organisations but he refused to add a consumer representative. That was much worse than the blame heaped on the Fianna Fáil-Labour Government who did not bow to the strident demands of the main farming unions who wanted their representatives on the board. I would like the Minister to have disenfranchised some members of the board, but I realise they have a stated term of office. The board will become too unwieldy if we continue to appoint more members to it and I doubt if the 14 members will reach any worthwhile conclusions. When the board is reconstituted it should comprise fewer members, while consumers with a knowledge of the food industry should be represented on it. The farming lobbies and all those involved in the food industry should realise that if the consumer is not satisfied he or she will merely abandon the product. Consumers no longer rely on one product. The women who shop in my local supermarket read the labels on products to check if they meet the necessary safeguards and these are not people with PhDs doing their yuppie shopping at the weekend. They are ordinary folk doing their weekly shopping, but they still take time to ask questions about the products they wish to purchase. Today's consumer is informed and demanding. He who pays should be given the necessary information.

If I were giving the Minister an examination rating on the Bill, I would give him a D plus to a C. He must continue to build on his proposals and incorporate all the strands into a section that would have a pivotal role in Irish political life.

I welcomed the establishment of An Bord Bia. It was a step in the right direction for the export of Irish beef.

This country depends more on agriculture than any other in Europe. Farming is a way of life but unfortunately the Government has given it very little support since the BSE crisis, the most serious crisis to hit this country for a long time. When we had our last crisis in the beef industry the then leader of the Opposition, Charlie Haughey, was not afraid to go to Libya to secure a market for our beef. Why are the Ministers not doing more to secure new markets? The Government should send Ministers to Iran and Asia to promote confidence in Irish meat. Why is it left to the Opposition to do this?

Fianna Fáil has called for a debate on the BSE crisis on a number of occasions to allay the fears of people about the decline in the beef industry. That is the Government's job, not ours. The Minister of State and his colleagues should travel all over the world to promote our green image and beautiful meat. Is the Minister of State aware of the number of butcher shops that have closed since the BSE crisis? It is a shame that more is not being done about this matter.

I recently had occasion to cross the Border from Garrison in Country Fermanagh to Kinlough in County Leitrim. It is regrettable that once again the Border must be manned by a garda on a 24-hour basis. What does the Minister propose to do to boost cattle prices when beef prices fall during November and December? Farmers who purchased cattle in the past 12 months and wish to sell them now will lose more than £100 per head.

I listened with interest to the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte. It was interesting to see him come in to support the Minister and our beef industry. He caused a great deal of damage to that industry when he was in Opposition and the Tánaiste did likewise. They now talk of confidence in the beef industry. It is great to see those men in Government trying to build confidence in that industry. When they were in Opposition they had nothing but criticism to level at it, their only aim being to get at a former Taoiseach.

Our spokesperson, Deputy Cowen, travelled abroad to promote Irish beef. We should encourage other countries, especially those in Eastern Europe, to buy our beef. If we do not, the slump in the cattle trade will worsen. Our land is excellent for organic farming. We can promote organic farming and we should be the leaders in it. Anyone who travels to another part of Europe and then comes back to our green isle with its lush green grass knows that we should have no problem in selling our beef. When the European Commissioners were here on Monday I was delighted to see that Irish beef was on their menu. That was a step in the right direction.

I wish the Minister every success and I hope the new people appointed to An Bord Bia will be consumers. Hopefully, they will not be active supporters of his party. The Minister should forget about that and appoint people who are interested in the beef industry.

I agree that the board is too big and cumbersome. Boards of that nature do not work. The Minister should have started afresh. I welcome the inclusion of consumers on the board because they must have a say in the products that end up on their dinner tables.

Greed brought this problem to our country. We had one of the most disease free herds in the world. I am not afraid to say that feed imported by a reputable importer had animal substances mixed in it and this was used by some other feed compounders in the southern area. That was the first difficulty that arose. The second difficulty was that derogations were not kept in place and we imported animals which brought further difficulties and misery to our herds.

We did not have to drop our derogation and we should have fought hard to keep it in place. We had a white meat status — linked to countries like New Zealand, Australia, North America, Japan and Denmark — which was the envy of many of our European counterparts. Our beef was the country's gold and we should have protected that high class product.

Last week I visited a supermarket in Dublin and heard an announcement over the loudspeaker system that Aberdeen Angus beef was in stock. That is the product we had and we cherished it very much. We had many good breeds of cattle.

Black Polly.

Black Polly, if you want to call it that. I thank Deputy Cowen for assisting me. I have to say that his knowledge of agriculture is excellent, coming from a midland county.

We have a record as being the best of the whole lot.

Last year I raised a matter in the House and to the credit of the Minister, Deputy Yates, he assisted me. There was a threat to import wild boar into the country which would have brought further misery to our pig herd. I fought that issue single handed and was amazed at the huge turnout of 800 people for a public meeting in my constituency. It was the biggest meeting in Mitchelstown since the Land League days. There was an awareness among farmers and consumers that we had to stop those importations and we succeeded.

We are not safe yet, however. Modern ferries coming into Rosslare make it easy to drive across undetected with livestock, particularly if the ferry comes in early and there is not much wind. There was a lot of wind blowing on the Irish Sea today, however, which upset other events. I hope the weather will be all right tomorrow evening because I hope to visit the ship in Dublin Bay.

The Deputy will have beef burgers.

People can drive on and off those ferries, yet vets are not in place. I am well aware of that because I have researched the matter. It is vitally important that our national herd is well protected because of the problems that have arisen. Any laxity can only be blamed on the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry which is charged with that responsibility.

Many rules and voluntary codes of practice are in place governing importations but they are not good enough and must be strengthened. Although we are in a free market. I am convinced the European Union will recognise our problem and will see that our beef industry derives from very pure breeds of animal. It should be protected since it is subject to many weaknesses because of importation.

We are well aware of the arrival of many new diseases. I do not want to cause distress or to be critical because of the damage that could cause, but in the last few weeks we have seen statements in the newspapers about these diseases. Importations are not in our interest and must be curtailed by embargoes. We must protect our national herd either by statute or by co-operation with the European Union. I cannot repeat often enough that our national herd is vitally important for the well being of farmers and for our economic survival generally.

Over the years Ministers for Agriculture, of all Governments, have not been cautious and careful enough. A limited number of people who import stock have questions to answer because they brought the problems here and destroyed the whole commercial operation.

An Bord Bia has a bright future and I always believed that we should combine all our commercial and agricultural promotions. An Bord Tráchtála has done an excellent job both commercially and industrially. We also have An Bord Bainne which is some kind of a marketing organisation. There should be more involvement in the promotions area rather than marketing because we are living in an age of huge business where multiples and consumers want to deal with the processors rather than going through marketing agencies.

Thousands of tonnes of imported fresh food are on our supermarket shelves but I fail to understand why we do not have fresh dairy product exports. Much work remains to be done in that area. We have to examine some type of brand image for our beef and other products. We should work towards brands using the Irish language. I was surprised to receive a letter recently from Mr. Pádraig Ó Cuanacháin, on behalf of an organisation called GaelTaca, denouncing English language titles for State bodies. Our State bodies should carry Irish titles. In his letter Mr. Ó Cuanacháin posed the following question for the Minister for Agriculture: "Why was the name An Bord Bainne changed to The Irish Dairy Board, and is he aware of the danger to the Irish agricultural industry by our failure to proclaim an identity separate to that of England?"

We need a separate identity. Manufacturers and processors often receive cheques from foreign countries addressed to County Cork, England. Many people believe that we are still part of the English world even though we are an independent sovereign State. For that reason we should use Irish language branding. The fact that our processors are selling to UK and other foreign multiples does not mean they cannot use such branding.

A growing number of farmers recognise that marketing farm commodities will never be the same again after the BSE scare and they are taking action. Firm quality assurance for consumers is necessary for beef, lamb, pork and other agricultural products. Buyers want high quality meat products and they also want to know the origin, feeding, welfare and management of the animals concerned. This industry is grass based and a high level of concentrate feeding is used in pig and beef production.

Debate adjourned.