Written Answers. - BSE Crisis.

Ray Burke

Question:

609 Mr. R. Burke asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the specific action, if any, he has taken to help alleviate the problems being faced by the farmers in this country due to the BSE crisis. [16701/96]

Rory O'Hanlon

Question:

632 Dr. O'Hanlon asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry the plans, if any, he has to alleviate the hardship currently being experienced by beef farmers; the new initiatives, if any, he intends to take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16596/96]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 609 and 632 together.

The hardship being experienced by the beef producers at present is a result of the BSE crisis which arose last March following the announcement in the House of Commons of a possible link between BSE disease and the human disease CJD. This announcement led to an immediate and dramatic fall in consumption across Europe and difficulties in some markets in third countries. Cattle prices in all member states, including Ireland, have fallen as a result of these developments in spite of the introduction of emergency intervention in early April and the purchasing of substantial quantities of beef into intervention since then.

I am satisfied that my efforts and the actions taken by the European Union have helped to stabilise produce price and to alleviate the difficulties being experienced by producers as a result of the crisis. Apart from the emergency intervention measures to which I have referred, the European Union adopted a BSE compensation package worth 850 MECU in June for the producers for income losses incurred as a result of the crisis. The package, which was worth £70 million to Irish producers, provides for a top-up of £22.40 million in the suckler cow premium and £15.08 in the special beef premium. In addition, the package includes a special allocation of £13.3 million to compensate those producers who were most seriously affected by the crisis. I have decided to use this additional package to compensate producers who sold (i) steers or bulls for slaughter or for live export to third countries between 25 March and 9 June and (ii) heifers for slaughter between 25 March and 29 June. Payment of this package will commence shortly.
I should also mention that, in the context of the agreement on the compensation package, I succeeded in securing important amendments to the deseasonalisation premium in order to guarantee its application in Ireland in 1997. This premium is worth some £16 million to Ireland and will make a valuable contribution to producers' incomes in 1997.
Apart from these measures, I have recently secured amendments to the intervention system in order to permit heavy carcases to be sold into intervention and to provide for an increase in the processors' margin on sales of beef into intervention. In addition, I am pursuing the possibility of further compensation to be made available for producers who have suffered income losses as a result of the crisis. I am also pursuing with the Commission the possibility of a vigorous EU wide promotion campaign in order to restore consumer confidence in beef, and, thereby, bring about an increase in beef consumption.
A considerable amount of effort has been devoted to protecting our position in third country markets. The diplomatic service and Bord Bia have been fully involved and I have visited a number of markets as well as having direct contact at ministerial level.