An Bord Bia (Amendment) Bill 2003 [Seanad]: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to bring the Bord Bia (Amendment) Bill before Dáil Éireann. This Bill was initiated in the Seanad on 17 December 2003 and completed all Stages in that House on 4 February 2004.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide for the amalgamation of Bord Glas with Bord Bia. The food and horticulture, including amenity horticulture, industries are operating in an increasingly competitive environment at home and overseas. They need to focus on efficiencies, competitiveness and market orientation to make the most of sales opportunities. My aim is to assist the industry in addressing these challenges. Looking ahead, a single agency can carry greater weight in the delivery of services than a structure where separate bodies are responsible for promoting home and export markets for horticulture.

An expenditure review of Bord Glas, carried out in 1998, considered that a proposal to amalgamate Bord Glas with Bord Bia should be reviewed within five years. Given the economic importance of the food and horticultural industries to the economy, I believe that an amalgamation is now opportune and can bring together the synergies necessary to promote and market the entire food and horticultural industries at home and abroad. The horticultural industry will also have access to the broader profile of Bord Bia's existing international network, with the possibility of establishing a complementary international branding for the amenity sector.

The Bill consists of three parts: Part 1, preliminary and general; Part 2, dissolution of Bord Glas; and Part 3, amendment of the Principal Act, the An Bord Bia Acts 1994 to 1996. Parts 1 and 2 contain the usual provisions regarding legal interpretation, transfer of staff, property, liabilities and preparation of final accounts. Part 2 also provides that Bord Glas will be dissolved as and from a transfer day to be made by order, from which day the staff and functions will be transferred to Bord Bia.

Part 3 provides for the transfer of the current functions of Bord Glas in their entirety to Bord Bia. This in essence means that the current function with regard to assisting production of horticulture will remain. A comprehensive definition of the word "horticulture" to include amenity horticulture and production is provided. Bord Bia already has the marketing function for edible horticulture on overseas markets.

I propose that no fewer than two people with knowledge or experience of horticulture will be appointed as ordinary members of the board. No increase in the overall numbers on the main board is proposed. I also propose to update the nominating function of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and to suppress the nominating function of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, as seafood marketing has not transferred to Bord Bia to date. The facility to effect such a transfer under section 9(2) of the Act remains in place.

In drafting the Bill, my Department consulted the chief executives of the two organisations and the board of Bord Glas. In addition, 34 organisations representative of the horticulture sector, including institutions, were asked to submit their views. The Bill covers the main areas of concern expressed on the issues of representation on the board, the establishment of a dedicated horticulture subsidiary board and the inclusion of the amenity sector.

Having regard to the outcome of the consultation process, I am providing in the Bill for a sub-board for horticulture, comprising 12 ordinary members and a chair who will be a member of the main board. The horticulture sub-board will have a legal identity under the An Bord Bia Act in the same way as the meat and livestock sub-board at present.

Provision is being made for powers by way of regulation to modernise the system of levy payment on live exports from the current pre-paid stamps system. Any regulation proposed under this provision will be laid before the Houses in the normal way. Provision is also made for the establishment of subsidiary companies by Bord Bia for the purposes of complying with legal requirements for internationally recognised quality assurance.

The legislation is relatively simple. The interests of concerned stakeholders — staff and the entire horticulture sector, including amenity — are adequately safeguarded within the proposed new, strengthened organisation. The Bill will ensure that promotion actions at home and abroad are synchronised to achieve the best possible service for the producer and taxpayer alike and I commend it to the House.

This simple and short Bill, as the Minister described it, is in marked contrast to the fanfare with which the then Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, launched Bord Bia in 1989 or 1990. I deeply regret that the Government has decided to scrap Bord Glas, which is the purpose of the Bill.

When introducing the Bill to establish Bord Glas as an independent statutory body in 1990, the then Minister stated that the Government believed that the much needed development of our horticultural industry could be achieved only if responsibility for its development was put in the hands of a body with specific overall responsibility to carry out the task. When one winds forward the clock, one discovers that certain cutbacks had to be made because of the Government's spending mania in the years leading up to the previous general election. When the so-called three wise men set their eyes on the Department of Agriculture and Food, the wheel stopped spinning when it reached Teagasc and Bord Glas. The result is this Bill for which the catalyst was the need to cut costs. Irrespective of the general arguments of properly managing the public finances, however, one should always be slow to target development research and market intelligence.

At the time of its introduction, the Fine Gael Party opposed the Bill for a number of reasons but many of its concerns were addressed on Committee Stage by the then Minister. At the conclusion of Report Stage, the former Deputy Farrelly stated he was happy with the assurances given by the Minister to consult industry. Nevertheless, many of the issues raised by Members then still hold true.

With concerns about healthy eating and competition in the horticultural industry on the increase, the decision to incorporate Bord Glas into the larger Bord Bia is a retrograde step. Considerable concern has been expressed to me about the dangers of the smaller agency being subsumed in the larger body and losing its identity. Bord Glas and other small agencies such as Bord Iascaigh Mhara have a definite, concentrated and recognisable role which may be lost.

It is also proposed to relocate Bord Bia and Bord Glas, with their staff of some 75 people, to Enniscorthy. Given that 20 of these posts are based overseas, will the Minister explain the precise position? Speaking on budget day, the Minister for Finance announced the transfer of some 75 members of the staff of Bord Bia to Enniscorthy, yet I am given to understand that 55 of them are located here, with a further 20 based overseas.

The founding principle of Bord Glas was to maximise the contribution of horticulture to the economy, the environment and the health and well-being of our citizens by ensuring the availability of quality produce and services from the horticulture sector. One of the main objectives was to promote increased consumption, which is now more important than ever in light of the current widespread debate on our eating habits, especially among the young.

Medical opinion suggests that obesity among children could reach epidemic proportions within the next ten years due to our sedentary lifestyle and eating habits. To receive a cabbage or turnip in one's Christmas stocking is depicted as punishment rather than reward. According to the Food Safety Promotion Board, obesity levels increased by 67% between 1990 and 2000 and more than 20% of men and 16% of women are now obese.

Television advertising aimed at children has played a major role in this trend. Each year in the United States, for example, the food industry spends an estimated $10 billion to influence children's eating behaviour. The average American child watches 10,000 food advertisements per annum, 95% of which are for fast food, soft drinks, confectionery and sugared cereals. More than 100 obese children are being treated at the National Children's Hospital in Dublin for growth, diabetes and endocrinology disorders. While recent research by the Department of Health and Children indicates that adults are increasing their consumption of fruit and vegetables, since 1998, reported fruit consumption has declined sharply — by almost half — among schoolchildren and vegetable consumption has also declined, although not at the same rate.

Health promotion may not be a function of the board, but increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables is within its remit. It must be frustrating, therefore, to have to compete with McDonald's and similar companies. I hope funding will always be allocated to promote healthy consumption.

Consumers spent €801 million on fresh fruit, vegetables and potatoes last year, second only to dairy produce. A further €1.1 billion was spent on the procurement of these products in the food service industry. On the non-food side of horticulture, consumers spent €431 million on plants and cut flowers for the home and garden products. This indigenous industry employs approximately 18,500 people across the food and non-food areas and employment is spread across the country.

I was disappointed to learn from Bord Bia at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food yesterday that our edible horticulture exports decreased by 3% last year, although it is possible some of this decline is due to currency differences. Bord Glas monitors the retail value of the fresh produce market through the Taylor Nelson Sofres household panel in the Republic which involves continuously tracking the spend of a representative sample of 1,350 households. The consumption figure of €801 million in 2002 consists of €310 million for fresh vegetables, €161 million for potatoes and €330 million for fruit and berries.

Despite our pride in the horticulture industry, a visit to any supermarket or shop provides evidence of the large quantity of such products we import, including cabbage from the Netherlands, carrots from Spain and potatoes from Israel and France. The market share of Irish vegetable production is declining even though consumption of vegetables is increasing due in the main to the increased intake by adults. Irish imports of fruit and vegetables in 2002 were to the value of €613 million, an increase of 9% over 2001. The Irish mushroom sector has fallen back in recent years and its value decreased by €11 million in 2002 to €117 million.

An article published inThe Irish Examiner at the end of January reported that a local Cork producer experienced difficulties because he was a long distance from the market. It stated that the industry was in the hands of a small group of growers who were tied in with the big multiples and it was difficult for other growers to break in. It was proposed that if the other growers co-operated their bargaining power would be enhanced. I believe this was tried in east Cork but they ran into difficulties a few years ago and went out of business. Growers experience difficulties with transport costs.

There are many challenges for the horticulture industry. Due to diversification many mainstream farmers may seek to enter this sector. In an enlarged EU change will be required. There will be more competition but there will also be a more accessible market. Labour shortage difficulties in such a labour-intensive industry should be easier to overcome from next May but it is likely there will be a reduction in Structural Funds available for investment in the industry over the coming years. For obvious demographic reasons, many tillage areas are in close proximity to large areas of population and the increasing demand for housing will eat into this supply. There will be a departure of experienced growers and their associated expertise.

Our microwave lifestyle does not sit easily with fresh produce and a more radical taste among young people has given rise to a string of Thai, Indian and Chinese outlets and products. There are Indian restaurants in places as diverse as Bunbeg and Cross Bridge. In the past we were used to the chipper and breast of chicken meals but now most nooks and crannies have these foreign, so-called exotic restaurants.

With increased participation in the workforce, preparation time for meals is limited. Pre-packed and prepared vegetables are becoming more popular. Bord Glas should have been expanded to meet these challenges. Food safety is rarely an issue with fruit and vegetables so price is the main factor. It is difficult for the organic sector to expand at a great rate. Many areas require assistance and advice.

This Bill is straightforward and the Minister has outlined the relevant sections. It subsumes Bord Glas into Bord Bia. Section 4 deals with the staff transfer. The concept of decentralisation is to be welcomed. The Minister for Defence, Deputy Michael Smith tried to relocate the Civil Defence on one occasion. There was a staff of 30 in the Dublin headquarters but only one person agreed to relocate to Roscrea. The staff of both Bord Bia and Bord Glas are experts and I question how decentralisation will operate. I sought to raise the matter at the meeting of the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food but I was ruled out of order by the Chairman because the committee was dealing with marketing issues. I wonder how the relocation to Enniscorthy will impact on the marketing ability or otherwise of Bord Bia.

The remaining sections of the Bill deal with administrative matters and the composition and appointment of the board. Section 14 allows for the establishment of subsidiary companies. I ask the Minister to elaborate on this provision in his response or on Committee Stage. I am uncertain whether this means that it deals with specialised assurance schemes or a marketing body for specific aspects such as the organic sector or the administration of a quality control scheme.

The amenities sector faces a greater threat of neglect than the edible sector. I ask the Minister to review this issue on a regular basis. Horticulture also includes the garden centre sector which is countrywide. In my constituency there is a garden centre called Rathwood which is very successful. As people have more disposable income they will buy items such as flowers and bedding plants.

There is a great opportunity for expansion in garden products. Ongoing investment is required in the industry and modulation funds may have a role to play. I ask the Minister to consider encouraging farmers to diversify into certain aspects of horticulture. The modulation fund will be the Minister for Agriculture and Food's version of the slush fund of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív. I am confident the Minister will use the fund in a more responsible manner than was the case with the CLÁR programme.

Producers should consolidate and grow to order for key buyers. They must provide themselves with the option of the weekend farm markets. Local authorities should facilitate this development. Many people like to visit the local farm market and more are setting up. It gives the farmer an opportunity to compete against the regular retailers. Transport efficiency is vital to the survival of growers located at a distance from population centres. There is a real battle against imported products. Consumers should not be deceived by the glossy chilled product on the shelves.

I was among a group of Members who participated in a recent promotion by Bord Glas. We were asked to purchase food products and I endeavoured to buy Irish products only. Out of a total expenditure of €14 my expenditure on non-Irish produce was approximately €9 and that was mainly vegetables. There is much deceptive advertising of products in shops and consumers may believe they are buying an Irish product when they are not doing so. As Deputy Upton will know, I won the healthy buying competition but like most politicians I have unhealthy eating habits.

As regards marketing, it seems there is an attempt to subsume everything into Bord Bia but there is only one representative of Bord Bia in the United States, based in Chicago. That seems unusual to my mind. Perhaps the thinking is that the individual companies should do their own promotion work and only one link person is required in the American market. I suggest that the drinks sector should be represented.

The Minister mentioned in his speech that 34 organisations were asked for their views. He may not be able to provide the information today but I ask him to inform me of the response he received from them. The genesis of this Bill was in the cutbacks in the 2002 Estimates. The cutbacks were necessary as a result of the spending mania and the over-expenditure by Government in past years. It is now more important than ever to have a promotion body for the edible and amenity sectors of horticulture. This is particularly in view of the fact that in 2002 imports were to the value of approximately €600 million. It is surprising that we are importing so much foreign produce.

The promotional work of Bord Glas is excellent but it has a staff of only 11 or 12 people. That body should have been expanded rather than contracted. There is an increasing realisation of the need for healthy eating. As is the case with crime, preventative measures should be put in place to assist health by encouraging people to eat healthily. We should not think that the cabbage or the turnip is a punishment food.

Fine Gael recently carried out a survey on the issue of the farm gate price of products. For example, the farmer is paid 40 cent for a head of cabbage, there is a mark-up of 233% and the consumer pays €1.29. He is paid 20 cent per kilo for potatoes and they are sold at 90 cent per kilo which is a mark-up of 350%. He is paid 47 cent for a cauliflower and it costs €1.19 in the supermarket. We have continual difficulties with the farm gate price. Farmers need to work together to re-examine this matter. I do not know why the co-operative in Cork, with which Deputy Dennehy may be familiar, did not succeed. The option of a farm market or some other outlet should be open to farmers. People like to buy fresh goods, rather than being deceived by the chilled products which are imported by food stores. I realise that it is not legal for Bord Glas or Bord Bia strictly to market Irish produce, as opposed to imported products, at home.

When one examines the contributions to the debate that took place when Bord Glas was being established, one will be reminded that it emerged from a commitment in a Fianna Fáil manifesto in the late 1980s. It was a good idea, on reflection, to establish Bord Glas and I regret that it is being abolished. It seems that the Government intends to proceed with its abolition. I realise that the Minister is arguing that it is not being abolished, but merged with another entity. We all know, however, that the larger organisation swallows up the smaller one during a merger.

We know that.

I hope the Minister does not try to take similar measures in respect of Bord Iascaigh Mhara and other organisations. We will oppose this Bill because issues other than consumer issues are involved.

I welcome the opportunity to debate this Bill. I do not agree with the thrust of the Bill, which is to amalgamate Bord Glas with Bord Bia. The two boards have fundamentally different roles and functions and should be retained as two distinct units. There is a risk that the smaller board, Bord Glas, will be subsumed or gobbled up by the larger organisation. This may not happen deliberately but the nature of mergers is that the smaller body loses its identity. There is a real danger that the performance of the smaller organisation will not improve. The entity that emerges from a merger is not always greater than the sum of its parts. Many business mergers have failed in the past and we should take account of the consequences of mergers for the smaller unit.

The amalgamation of the two boards was not driven by a concern for food production or marketing, but by the recommendation of the three wise men whose job it was to find savings in the 2002 budget. It is clear that the financial gain from the amalgamation of the boards is extremely small in the overall context. I will ask the Minister at a later stage to quantify the gain and to outline the justification for the merger, if it is being pursued for financial reasons only. If there are concerns about savings among the food agencies, the Minister should answer questions about other food promotion agencies and boards within his remit. Why has Bord Glas been selected for special attention? There may be much more significant savings if the Minister considers the amalgamation of all the State agencies that have a role in food promotion. What part can be played by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, the food wing of Enterprise Ireland or the Irish Dairy Board? I will return to this issue later in my speech. Is this merely a cosmetic exercise? Are the Minister and his Department trying to make small savings so that they will be seen to be doing something to keep the bookkeepers happy, rather than examining the real issues of marketing, promotion and sustaining the food industry?

Bord Bia and Bord Glas have done a good job. Deputy Timmins mentioned that Bord Bia made a good presentation to the Joint Committee on Agriculture and Food yesterday. I compliment the clear provision of information in the presentation. Bord Glas is also doing a very good job in its area. The primary goal of each of the boards is quite separate and distinct — one is primarily concerned with production and the other is primarily concerned with marketing, which happens to be the marketing of food.

Bord Glas has an important role in the production of horticultural products, including amenity horticultural products. It faces significant challenges in responding to changing consumer demands and in facing greater competition from exotic imported fruits and vegetables. If one takes a trip around one's local supermarket, one will clearly see the evidence of such competition in the form of interesting and exotic fruits. Such goods cannot be produced in Ireland for a variety of reasons, particularly the climate. We have to face this element of competition and to examine how we can address it. The decision to diminish the ability of Bord Glas to provide a competitive effect does not represent the best approach.

The lifestyle of the consumer has changed significantly in recent years. Consumers are looking for meals that are produced as convenience foods. The health aspects of our diet and lifestyle have changed. The emphasis on healthy eating represents a real challenge for the food industry. Bord Glas should have a particular niche in that regard. Fruit and vegetables have been identified as a major part of a healthy diet. A major concern in the amalgamation of the two boards should be to ensure that the role and importance of fruit and vegetable production is not diluted in any way.

We must continue to respond to the challenge of adding value to the commodities. This applies not only to fruit and vegetables but also to other commodities. The basic commodities in the horticulture sector — fruit and vegetables — will be challenged as commercial ventures if we do not support the adding of value to commodities. I am aware that this matter has been discussed in other fora, but it is important that we persist with the debate. I am concerned that Bord Glas could have played an important role in that regard. We should enhance its role and create more opportunities for it.

There is an increasing emphasis on the importance of fruit and vegetables in our diet. The health promotion unit of the Department of Health and Children has been quite proactive in emphasising the importance of consuming five portions of fruit and vegetables every day. The significance of the role of fruit and vegetables in our diet was emphasised recently when the UK Government decided to provide vouchers for the purchase of fruit and vegetables by those in lower socio-economic groups. The authorities there are placing particular emphasis on developing an awareness of the importance of fruit and vegetables, particularly fruit, in the diets of children. The obesity debate is here to stay because the problem, which is found in all western countries, will not go away. We can help to alleviate or address it by placing emphasis on the consumption of fruit and vegetables.

The use of technology and infrastructure in the horticulture industry has increased tremendously in recent years. It is being used to assist the production of high-quality raw products, particularly mushrooms. The horticultural commodity that Ireland is best at producing for the export market is the mushroom. It dominates most of our vegetable export markets. Bord Bia made clear to the joint committee yesterday that a real threat to our mushroom industry is presented by cheaper imports from countries such as Holland and Poland. We have to acknowledge that there are real problems in this regard. This Bill's dilution of the role and responsibility of Bord Glas, which was put in place to assist the production of fruit and vegetables, is not a good way to go about enhancing our ability to compete with imports from other countries.

Bord Glas risks losing its distinctive identity if the proposed amalgamation with the larger body goes ahead. It has carved out a distinctive and important niche in the horticulture industry, but there is a risk that it will be diluted and subsumed in the larger body. The establishment of a sub-board is important and welcome. However, it will be a smaller player in a much bigger field and the niche role of Bord Glas will be lost again. It is important that membership of the board will adequately represent the values and interests of the horticulture industry and will not be mere token appointees.

I emphasise to the Minister the importance of ensuring gender balance in the formation of the board. This is an opportunity to ensure that the gender balance will be adequately addressed. It should not simply be a case of women's groups with an interest in the horticultural industry putting names forward. It is the Minister's remit and responsibility to be proactive in ensuring that the gender balance is established. I have raised this point in other matters with the Minister recently.

Tremendous strides have been made in the amenity horticulture area with a rise in the levels of employment. Emphasis is being placed on the training and education for that particular aspect of the industry. I again emphasise the importance of the appointment of a board member who would be sympathetic to the role of the amenity horticulture input of Bord Glas. The amenity aspect of horticulture is one that cannot be forgotten. The emphasis has been on the fruit and vegetable sector. However, when it comes to marketing and promotion, the amenity horticulture aspect will not gel in the wider Bord Bia environment. This aspect will be diluted in the larger board where the marketing of the food aspect will become predominant.

In his speech to the Seanad, the Minister referred to the cost savings from the amalgamation. It will be just a cosmetic exercise as the savings will be small in the overall budgetary scale. I am not aware of any quantification of the savings that will arise from the amalgamation. If the basis of the amalgamation is one of finances, then it is important that the savings are quantified. Merging of market research, logos. quality assurance schemes and promotional operations at various exhibitions throughout Europe and Ireland may have an associated cost saving. However, I want to see it quantified. I could agree with the Minister's rationale if he proposed the merger on the basis of improved market access, improved quality and increased value added to the products, but as a method of balancing the budget, it will have little impact. Other factors will be taken on board. However, it appears that finances are the primary driving force behind this amalgamation.

If all the virtues the Minister referred to are inherent in the change, why is Bord Iascaigh Mhara or the food element of Enterprise Ireland not also part of the merger? I agree with the Minister's references to the good job done by Enterprise Ireland in various sectors. The Minister also made the point that if one is setting up a poultry industry, one does not go to the Department of Agriculture and Food but to the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I am building my case for a separate Department with responsibility for food. Enterprise Ireland is doing a good job, but the plethora of resources diffused around the various Departments should be co-ordinated.

I welcome the recent co-ordination of the labelling of foods under one banner because it brings order and clarity to the system. On the one hand, there is a will to bring together all the labelling issues under one banner. I can see the rationale of bringing together all the boards and State organisations that have a role in the establishment and promotion of food operations. However, this is not what is happening in the proposed amalgamation of Bord Glas and Bord Bia. There are shades of labelling confusion developing when one looks at the various bodies and organisations with responsibility for food. Many of them are being left as stand-alone enterprises. If there is a rationale behind co-ordinating and amalgamating those food agencies and boards, Bord Glas and Bord Bia are not the ones to start with, as there must be a more co-ordinated approach. Until the rationale has been set out for the amalgamation and co-ordination of all these agencies, Bord Glas is in an invidious position as a token operation.

In October, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources publicly denied that there were plans to trim down BIM. With regard to concerns expressed about the amalgamation of BIM with Bord Bia, the Minister stated:

We want to make sure that we have proper synergy for the money we have, and spend it a bit more wisely. But nothing will happen until I am absolutely satisfied that it makes sense, and I have seen nothing to date that would suggest to me that anything should change.

However, in November the Minister had a slightly different slant on the future of BIM. He refused to rule out any initiatives that could improve the State's performance in the area of marketing and promotion of Irish seafood. Mr. Hugh Byrne, chairman of BIM, and a former Fianna Fáil Deputy, said that marketing fish was a specialised skill and involved a different language and approach to that taken with other food products.

The same argument can be applied to Bord Glas. I am arguing in favour of retaining the unique nature and characteristics of a horticulture board in the same way as fish marketing is seen to be unique. It seems, however, from later comments of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, that there are other plans. Is it not reasonable that all these should be addressed together rather than in a piecemeal fashion? While there is a case for the rationalisation and amalgamation of some of the various bodies that have grown up around the food business in Ireland, more significant questions remain to be addressed before the amalgamation of Bord Glas and Bord Bia can be justified. For these reasons, I will oppose the Bill.

I wish to share my time with Deputy Boyle.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

In principle, there is nothing wrong with amalgamating bodies which are involved in the same broad area. There are merits to bringing the overall development and marketing of horticultural produce under one body. However, I have concerns, as do other Members who expressed them in the Seanad and elsewhere, that this proposal might diminish rather than enhance the work previously done by Bord Glas. There is also the question of resources.

Horticulture is an area that requires increased investment in both research and marketing, and I trust this will occur under the new arrangement. I use the word "trust" because, unfortunately, the recent experience of cuts in Teagasc indicate that there is not the required will to develop research facilities. So-called rationalisation and streamlining can be another excuse to divert resources away from areas that require development. The importance of the research department in Teagasc is paramount to the development of its aims.

Horticulture is an area of crucial importance where substantial progress can be made in supplying the needs of consumers and the processing industry and boosting the level of exports. Up to October 2003, almost €518 million worth of vegetables and fruit were imported, while only €187 million were exported. While the level of imports remained almost at the same level as in 2002, exports had fallen in value by €9 million. It is noticeable that a small proportion of horticultural exports go to non-EU member states and this was reduced by half in 2003 to a value of just €2.3 million. The marketing side must be promoted to enhance that development and reverse the decline. That is an area where improvement can be made and I hope the new body will devote its energies to enhancing the strength of the sector.

Sinn Féin was among the first to argue in favour of decoupling as part of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. One reason was our belief that the single farm payment would provide an opportunity for Irish farmers to move into different areas of production with the security of the guaranteed payment. Farmers would do well to examine horticulture as a lucrative area in which to become involved. It offers potentially high productivity and can bring more added value. Now that farmers no longer depend on having to produce in order to draw down subsidies and premia, it is an attractive area. This will require a substantial commitment of research and marketing resources which I hope the new body will deliver. This applies particularly to the small and medium-sized farmer who has effectively become part-time dependent on the premia and payments drawn down. This would give him or her the opportunity to return to a more full-time commitment.

Farmers should also prioritise the organic sector where there is strong potential for producing high quality products that are in great demand in external markets. This country is ideally situated to become a site of excellence for the production of organic food which would build upon and enhance its image as the source of high quality produce. Many farmers will recall when perhaps 30 or 40 years ago much of the produce, particularly in the west, the south-west and isolated areas, was effectively organic. I grew up beside the sea and our vegetables were grown with seaweed and natural dung. Many of my age group would have this memory. However, that image can be maintained only if we retain our current high standards. It is also important to realise that from a health and safety point of view Irish produce throughout Europe and farther afield is highly recognised as being the best on the market. Our shortcoming is a failure to market our produce properly.

This image will be possible only if we continue to refuse to allow the cultivation of genetically modified crops. There are plans to end the EU embargo on genetically modified maize and there is a danger that it is only a matter of time before the Commission succumbs to pressure from the United States and the large corporations to allow the production of GM crops. That would represent a serious setback for Irish agriculture and negate the good work being done by Bord Glas and Bord Bia to sell our food abroad. It is essential that we proactively address our credibility abroad and the fact that the food we produce is so safe. The introduction of GM crops can only harm that reputation and must be resisted.

There are several issues to be addressed in the wording of the Bill, and I hope to do so in the form of suggested amendments on Committee Stage. One of these concerns the issue of the type of people who will be members of the new board. For example, in Part 3, section 18 (a) it is proposed that “Not less than 2 of the persons appointed to be ordinary members shall be persons having knowledge or experience of horticulture”. It might also be stipulated that at least one member ought to have some knowledge or experience of organic production techniques that would provide a co-ordinated approach to this work. Also in section 18 there is a reference to board members having knowledge of the food industry or horticulture and consumer requirements. It ought also to be stipulated that members should be fully conversant with the ongoing debate on the scientific and economic arguments surrounding GM. It is essential that we have an informed opinion for the future.

I am slightly unhappy with the vague commitment to gender balance and believe this ought to be stipulated at 40%. However, we can return to these issues on Committee Stage to which I look forward.

The Green Party opposes this Bill, not alone on the selfish grounds of putting out of existence a body which officially is translated as the Horticultural Board but also more literally as the Green Board. The idea of abolishing a body established relatively recently to encourage, maintain and develop an industry that has always been the Cinderella of agriculture makes no sense. The Minister of State's argument about possible synergies does not convince. There was a need to establish Bord Glas and there is a need to maintain it. Deputy Upton's arguments in response to the Minister of State's argument about the need to create an all-embracing food body do not hold true when put against other sectors of the food industry such as the fishing industry and the food elements of Enterprise Ireland. On each of these grounds the Minister of State and the Government have failed to convince. They are making a grave mistake in seeking to put Bord Glas out of existence rather than seeking to enhance it.

Historically, we have over-depended on an agricultural system that relied too heavily on animal by-products when we had the land resources that would have facilitated a more widespread and diverse system of agriculture. There has never been a greater opportunity to develop such a system in these more developed and prosperous times but unfortunately the Government is taking us down another road. It should promote diversity and high quality produce because food can be produced in large quantities around the globe. This might not always be the right type or amount of food for those who need it but that is another issue in terms of world hunger and poverty.

We have significant advantages in how we produce food that we choose not to exploit. Our environment is still of a relatively high quality, yet our food promotion agencies exist only to market food. Bord Bia is a marketing body but its remit should cover education and challenging policies that are ultimately contradictory. For example, there is a proposal to locate a national toxic waste incinerator in my constituency. The national food agency should be able to question decisions of this nature. If other processes compromise the quality of food we produce, it should be in order for a State agency to challenge Government policy in this area. Instead, it follows a very narrow remit to market food excessive quantities of which may already exist on the world market.

The Minister of State is trying to marry two bodies, one which has the ability to develop into a high quality, high quantity producer in areas which we have previously failed to develop, with a food agency model that is trying to market food that is unsaleable because there is too much of it already in the world market. This is a marriage that should never happen. It should be referred to the Government's marriage advisory service because these are not compatible partners. It does not make any sense in terms of future agricultural policy to put together what in chronological terms could be the maid of 20 with the man of 70. We have seen how such marriages have affected the population of rural communities. There is the opportunity and the development in Bord Glas. However, Bord Bia must reconstitute, ask what it is about and where it is going because in world agricultural terms it does not offer the same potential as horticulture. The Government seems to be introducing this Bill only in terms of cost savings. I am not sure where this body will be located in the Government's relocation programme.

Debate adjourned.