Written Answers. - Carcase Classification.

Billy Timmins

Question:

185 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of people in his Department at management level involved in beef carcase classification; the number of classifiers operating at factory level; the cost associated with both for 1995 to 2002 inclusive; the amount of overtime included in the payments; the number of meat plants in which a full beef classification service is provided; and the number of meat plants in which no beef classification service is provided. [26649/03]

The information in relation to costs requested by the Deputy is available for the year 2002, arising from the Department's new accounts system introduced in 2002. It would take a number of weeks to manually compile the information for the period 1995 to 2001.

In 2002 there were ten officers at management level involved in beef carcase classification. The number of classifiers operating at factory level in 2002 was 57. The cost in 2002 was €3 million and the amount of overtime was €215,000.

The number of meat plants in which there is a full beef classification service is 26 and the number of meat plants in which no beef classification service operates is seven.

Billy Timmins

Question:

186 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will not allow his Department hand over the important role of beef carcase classification from classification officers in his Department to meat factory personnel in the move to mechanical classification. [26650/03]

Ireland and Portugal are unique among EU member states as the only countries that exclusively provide and finance an official carcase classification service in meat factories. The decision that the Department should withdraw from providing this service is based on the principle that a Departmental permanent presence in meat plants should be confined to areas where regulatory responsibility is vested in it, as the competent authority. The only regulatory responsibility arising for it in respect of carcase classification is of a supervisory nature and my Department will continue to carry out this function.

Following withdrawal from carcase classification duties the staff concerned will carry out other necessary functions where there is a shortage of staff resources. Agreement has been reached with the IMPACT trade union in relation to redeployment arrangements. In the meantime training of factory operatives, delivered free of charge by my Department, is currently in progress. This will enable factory operatives to be trained to the appropriate standard and enable them to provide continuity of service when the Department classifiers are withdrawn. At that stage my Department will provide intensive supervision of the grading process, in line with the systems operated in 13 other EU member states.

The option of introducing mechanical grading is something for which I have been pressing for some time at EU level. This was finally agreed by the Commission earlier this year and machines are actually being tested this week in factory conditions. Given that mechanical grading is something which has been sought by the industry including factories and producers, I anticipate it will become the norm within the industry in the near future.