Priority Questions. - Foot and Mouth Disease.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

30 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the anticipated consumer and employment implications of the foot and mouth situation for our consumers and economy; the measures she has taken to address this; if she is satisfied that consumers have adequate access to information and advice regarding foot and mouth disease; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7125/01]

It is not clear what anticipated consumer implications the Deputy has in mind. The Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development has put in place a number of helplines to answer queries from individual members of the public in addition to press and television advertisements. Information is also available on the Department's website. The advice from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development is that there are no serious human health implications and that humans do not become infected by eating meat from infected animals. I understand retailers have been notified through the Food Safety Authority of Ireland of any products that need to be removed from their shelves. Members of the public who have concerns about particular products should contact one of the Department's helplines or the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

If foot and mouth disease were to enter Ireland, the most serious implications for employment would be in the farming and agri-food sectors. It is difficult to predict what impact there would be for other sectors of the economy. It has been estimated that for every job in industry there are four jobs elsewhere in the economy and, therefore, the wider implications could be greater than the direct impact. The development agencies are in close contact with clients to ensure key companies have contingency plans. It is crucial that we all remain vigilant in following the procedures that have been put in place to ensure this disease does not enter the country.

The House is united in trying to ensure the disease does not enter the country but the Minister of State seems to be trapped in the paradigm that only agriculture is affected. The question seeks to establish the employment implications. The Minister of State must know that hundreds of conferences, for example, have been abandoned and serious grief is being caused to various elements of the tourism industry. Is he unaware of the impact outside the agriculture industry?

That is not true. There is no doubt we are very much aware of the impact on other sectors. Many sectors of the tourism industry, in particular, are suffering. The Minister for Tourism, Sport and Recreation has met various tourism interests and is conscious of their concerns. No decision has been made regarding compensation. That issue has emerged and the Government's position is that it is imperative we proceed with strong, stringent measures to keep the disease out. There are many jobs in the food industry. A total of 47,000 people are employed in the industry and the implications for employment are greater in the beef, pigmeat, lamb and dairy sectors. There are clear needs in the food sector but that is also the case across a wide range of other areas. The Government's position is to be steadfast in its efforts to keep out the disease. We are not out of the woods yet and that is our approach. However, we are conscious that some sectors are suffering.

Other than being committed to keeping the disease out, with which we all agree, am I correct in taking it that the Minister of State does not have an assessment available to him of the employment implications of the current restrictions, not if the disease should enter the country? Other than facilitating the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, about which we are all pleased, what other restrictions are being finessed by the Government? If the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis can be facilitated, why can conferences, for example, which are generally being abandoned, not take place? Why are the restrictions not being refined?

Continuous assessments are being undertaken by the Government committee which is meeting on a daily basis. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, who is co-ordinating this approach, has sought the expert advice of scientists in this area to make sure decisions are made on the basis of sound advice in regard to any relaxation of the restrictions in place. That is the way forward to assist the sectors about which the Deputy and I are concerned. The Deputy referred to those organising conferences and that is an area of concern. Decisions on the relaxation of the current position will be based on sound advice. The companies involved will suffer even more if the disease is not kept out. That is our approach, which we are determined to undertake, but we will analyse the situation on a daily basis. Our concern is that vulnerable sectors will get an opportunity to resume business as the regime in place is relaxed.

Am I correct in understanding the Minister of State to say he does not believe serious damage has already been done to sections of the tourism industry? They are hurting seriously and it is now this refinement needs to be promulgated. What steps is the Minister of State taking in the interests of the consumer to ensure that excessive profit-taking is not occurring as a result of this crisis?

What was the last part of the Deputy's question?

The Minister of State asked me what I had in mind on behalf of the consumer. What I have in mind is whether the Minister of State can advise us on what steps are being taken to ensure that consumers are not subjected to excessive pricing as a result of this crisis.

The Deputy is aware we do not have a formal means of price control in that area as he was a Minister of State in the Department not so long ago. Consumers should be vigilant with regard to any retailer exploiting consumers with regard to price, particularly the price of meat. I am aware of an unwarranted rise in meat prices. There is a national effort that should involve retailers.