According to estimates made by Bord Bia, exports of agri-food products amounted to approximately £5.4 billion last year. Although figures for the full year are not yet available, it is expected that total exports of merchandise goods last year will have exceeded £60 billion. Exports in the period January to October 2000, the latest period for which figures are available, reached £59.3 billion, an increase of 25% on the same period in the previous year. The CSO initial estimate of exports in December is an additional £6.26 billion.
An outbreak of foot and mouth disease would affect primarily the agri-food industry and have knock-on effects in other sectors of the economy. It is estimated that each job in the agri-food industry supports up to four others. The food industry employs about 47,000 people in addition to the number of farmers. The best way to protect those jobs and all businesses which might be affected by an outbreak is to prevent this dreadful disease from entering Ireland. As the Deputy is aware, the Government is taking every possible step to do that. The implications of an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the agri-food industry are a matter primarily for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.