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

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

This Bill emanates from the report of the independent Estimates review committee to the Minister for Finance in November 2002, which recommended that action should be taken to amalgamate Bord Bia and Bord Glas. The committee indicated the separate existence of these two bodies was an unnecessary duplication of resources in promoting and marketing exports.

Bord Bia is responsible for food, drink and livestock exports, while Enterprise Ireland has responsibility for indigenous exports, generally, excluding food, drink and livestock. The committee proposed that savings be achieved in the short term by closer co-operation between the bodies and Bord Glas. In the long term, however, it recommended that the functions of these bodies be integrated under a single agency to achieve greater efficiencies in promoting Irish produce.

This Bill provides for such an amalgamation. Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, was put on a statutory footing by an Act of the Oireachtas on 1 December 1994. It brought together the former CBF, the Irish Livestock and Meat Board as well as the food promotion activities of the Irish Trade Board, now part of Enterprise Ireland. It assumed responsibility for the export promotion of eligible horticulture from Bord Glas and the Irish Horticultural Development Board.

The role of Bord Bia is to act as a link between the Irish food and drink suppliers and existing and potential customers. Its objective is to develop export markets for Irish food and drinks companies to bring the taste of Irish foods to more tables worldwide. Bord Bia has an extensive and in-depth knowledge of the food and drinks industry, which it is happy to share. It can provide interested parties with details of export production, quality standards, health regulations and controls and new developments in the industry. Bord Bia can act as a bridge to put parties in touch with companies appropriate to their areas of interest.

Food is one of the most important indigenous industries in Ireland. Irish producers have excellent markets throughout the world based on the standards in place which need to be maintained and further expanded. Irish multinational food producers are sufficiently viable to meet those standards and operate commercially. However, there is some concern throughout the country over the cottage industry in food. Many people who travel to continental Europe report that the regulations that apply to the Irish cottage industries are more strictly adhered to than on any part of the continent. Over the past ten to 15 years there was certainly need for regulations to ensure we had quality products. We have excellent quality products. Whether it is Cork, Connemara or anywhere else, a cottage industry exists that is second to none and small food businesses have flourished in the production of their own niche markets.

Perhaps it is time the regulations that apply to these small indigenous cottage food industries were reviewed. In many parts of the continent, food stands may be seen in the village centres every morning and they do not appear to adhere to any regulations. If this situation were to be replicated in Ireland, traders would be swamped with regulations across the board. This matter should be looked at, as we discuss this Bill, to ensure maximum support and encouragement is given to the many cottage industries here, which are a great source of employment. In times of difficulty as regards farm incomes such industries provide added value at the farm gate. As people desert the land in droves and opt for alternative employment, perhaps Teagasc and the bodies that encourage the young to take up farming should also emphasise the opportunities in the cottage food industries as regards added value. I recommend that this should be examined closely.

Over the years and especially since the foundation of the co-operative movement, dairy and other co-ops became the primary producers of food in Ireland. When PLCs are taking over these co-ops, something that should be looked at is their amalgamation. In parts of the country where some of the smaller co-ops have flourished and kept their independence, they still provide and maintain healthy balance sheets. There are reports which recommend more co-op amalgamations into larger groups, particularly in the dairy processing industry. I am not convinced this is the right way forward. This should be examined more closely to ensure that the independence of smaller co-ops is maintained.

There are three small co-operative movements in my area, the Duhallow region of Cork, Newmarket, North Cork and Boherbue. Each of them is doing well with their independent outlook and they are marketing their produce successfully. There are more independent co-ops in south-west Cork that are doing well. Perhaps we should examine that issue closely before we amalgamate all co-operatives into larger public limited companies. With the post-Fischler and mid-term review proposals and the implementation of decoupling, now is the time to ensure that the quality of farm produce improves considerably. The money will be made in producing top-quality food. As much encouragement as possible should be given by the Department of Agriculture and Food and organisations such as Bord Bia to ensure that we have top-of-the-range food. Years ago, there was a massive initiative to encourage people to buy and eat Irish. Parts of the catering industry are using imports instead of our own native food. We should try to encourage people — and they should also empower themselves — to ensure that we buy Irish and support indigenous industries.

Food is one of the strongest and most important industries in this country. As a people, as individuals, and as Members of the Oireachtas, we must try to encourage as much Irish produce as possible to be eaten wherever possible. There is no substitute for the food that we produce, and though the regulations are strict on cottage industries, perhaps the Department or Minister might consider those issues. The Bill is intended to improve market intelligence for the industry; develop horticulture quality systems in line with customer demands and business management training programmes for the industry; improve its marketing in home and foreign markets, liaison and interaction with all sections of the industry, and co-operation with the producer, wholesaler, retailer and the industry's service sector; and promote and increase investment in the food and horticultural industries and consumption, not just in Ireland but across the world. We have much to be proud of in our food and drinks industry, and I welcome the Bill as a move towards ensuring that we are competitive in our industry.

I thank Deputy Moynihan for sharing time. I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Bill, the principal provision of which is the amalgamation of Bord Glas with Bord Bia. I acknowledge the valuable work that has been done by Bord Glas since its establishment in nurturing the horticultural sector and recognise the special contribution of a Member of this House, Deputy Kirk, in his role as the first Minister responsible for horticulture. The industry has come a long way since 1989 and 1990, and in recent years we have witnessed the growing importance of the amenity horticulture sector. Edible horticulture exports were worth €180 million to the economy last year.

However, we must accept that the industry faces constant challenges in the areas of cost and competitiveness, so it is opportune to subsume Bord Glas into the larger body that is Bord Bia. Changes of this nature will always give rise to concerns, but I am satisfied that, given the level of consultation that has taken place and, specifically, the fact that the Bill provides for a sub-board for horticulture as exists for other sectors, that the dynamic of Bord Glas will not be lost in the new arrangement. It is also essential, however, that in the aftermath of the amalgamation, the level of support to the industry is at least maintained at its current level.

As other Deputies have said, important work is being done by Bord Bia. While primary responsibility for marketing Irish produce rests with the food industry itself, Bord Bia plays a leading role in developing and securing export markets. When we consider that the accumulated value of Irish food and drink exports amounted to €6.665 billion last year, as referred to by Deputy Michael Moynihan, we must accept the importance of that truly indigenous industry. Unfortunately, it has become popular in certain quarters to talk down the importance of the agri-food sector to the economy in recent times, but the public demonstrated its understanding of its significance with its magnificent and patriotic response to the 2001 foot and mouth crisis.

Statistics for the agri-food and drink sector are impressive. A total of 680 companies employ more than 50,000 in the sector, representing 20% of the country's manufacturing employment and twice that of the chemical and pharmaceutical sector which is often referred to very favourably. If one adds that figure to the 114,000 people in the primary agricultural sector, there are 165,000, or 9.5% of the total, employed in the country. Food and drink products make up 55% of exports. The agri-food sector accounted for nearly 8.5% of gross domestic product last year, and 22% of Irish consumer spending, or €13.3 billion, was on food and drink products.

Bord Bia states that its central mission is to deliver effective and innovative market development for the food and drink sector, so it is sensible that horticulture should be fully integrated into its remit. The food and drink export market has suffered in recent years as a result of reduced international demand and adverse exchange rates. In 2002, for example, the loss of exchange rate competitiveness was frightening, with the euro appreciating 41% against the dollar and more than 15% against sterling. The situation improved significantly in 2003, and the prospects for global trade in 2004 are good.

However, the marketplace is continually changing, and perhaps the greatest change revolves around consumer habits, with a greater emphasis than ever on convenience foods and the types of speciality foods to which Deputy Moynihan referred. The continued success of the food and drink sector in home and foreign markets depends on its capacity to innovate, adapt and change to meet the vagaries of consumer demand. Simply responding to changing demand is not likely to be sufficient in future. Instead, the sector must anticipate potential market developments.

Executives of Bord Bia recently attended a meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture and Food to set out their stall regarding their future marketing strategies for beef, and in an impressive presentation they stated that the board would concentrate its resources on three conditions which they considered key to the success of the industry. First, the board intends to support the industry in extending its market reach through the re-establishment of international market access and building new business within the newly enlarged European Union. Interestingly, the second stated objective is to improve the industry's position in established markets by targeting the highest-returning consumer segments. Third, the board proposes to establish a sustainable brand image for Irish beef to secure its long-term position with consumers and achieve a premium for producers.

It must be acknowledged that the board, working with the industry, has succeeded in maintaining a stable market share for lamb. Some 35% of our sheepmeat output is consumed at home, while nearly 75% of export sales are to France. There is clearly an ongoing need to target the important French market with promotional campaigns, and I am sure that that will be done successfully. There is also a need to support and promote the pigmeat sector which has experienced difficulties in recent years. There was a decline of 6% in pigmeat prices across Europe last year, yet this country achieved €250 million of export sales.

It would be wrong to refer to the meat trade without referring, as Deputy Michael Moynihan did, to the growing impact of imported beef, chicken and pigmeat on the home market. That is of major concern to producers who regularly bring it to our attention. The development might also be of some concern to consumers. Are they fully aware of the fact that the filet of beef put before them in a hotel or restaurant may not originate from a Mullingar heifer but have winged its way from the southern hemisphere? Producers of Irish meat and beef products may well have good reason to be concerned at the extent to which the home market has been penetrated by imports, and not least at the extent to which imported meats are used by the catering industry.

That is why the Féile Bia initiative of Bord Bia must be welcomed and encouraged. Féile Bia aims to enrol hotels and restaurants in a programme that guarantees traceability and quality assurance to the consumer. The programme is working well and I encourage all restaurants and hotels to participate in the programme. I commend Bord Bia on developing the scheme further to provide for the identification of the origin of all food products being sold in participating outlets. Moreover, the plan to put a comprehensive auditing system in place is also to be welcomed. Bord Bia reports strong growth in sales in the speciality food sector in the home and British markets. Most of the companies operating in the area are small, but their potential is considerable, and they deserve to be supported and encouraged.

The establishment of the TASTE Council has helped enormously. There is a complementarity between our successful tourism industry and our capacity to establish new markets for speciality foods. Most visitors to this country are highly impressed by the quality of the fare available in pubs, restaurants and hotels. We have reason to be proud of the high standards that prevail. The indications for the dairy export sector are good for the current year, with an increase of 5% to €1.6 billion having been achieved in 2003.

I wish to refer briefly to the mushroom industry, which is facing a particular challenge in the expanding European Union. Mushrooms are our main horticultural export product. A total of 75% of production is sold into the British market. Competition in that market is fierce and continued pressure is likely to face our producers from low cost Polish producers. This sector requires the ongoing support and attention of Bord Bia.

I compliment all those involved in bringing forward this straightforward legislation. It takes on board the interests of all stakeholders and follows a long period of consultation. It will help ensure that we have a more co-ordinated and integrated marketing approach for our important food products both at home and abroad. I commend the Bill to the House.

Tááthas orm deis a fháil labhairt ar an mBille seo. Is cúis bhróin dom go bhfuil, taobh thiar den Bhille an plean An Bord Glas a chur ar ceall go h-éifeachtach agus An Bord Bia a bheith mar an t-aonad amháin a bheidh ag plé le chúrsaí glasraí go mórmhór.

As a spokesperson on agriculture and a Deputy representing north County Dublin, I am aware of the untapped potential for field crop production throughout the country. There is a tradition of such production in north County Dublin. There is excellent soil around Rush and the area I represent but it is not unlike many areas of the country. However, there does not appear to be a tradition, or it might be a lost tradition, of field crop production in many other parts of the country. There is huge untapped potential.

That has not been helped by the paucity of farmers' markets in this country compared with other EU states. A survey by Bord Glas received coverage inThe Irish Times less than a year ago under the title, “Dublin leads the field in vegetable farming”. While the report appears to indicate that Dublin is amazingly unusual in that regard, all it really indicates is that the country is doing so badly in exploiting the potential of horticulture that Dublin is leading the field even though it is smaller than many other counties. The survey found that Dublin growers account for 41% of field vegetable production in the State and 50% of the total farm gate value. It excluded potato production but despite that these are amazing figures. They indicate enormous untapped potential throughout the rest of the country.

The survey indicated that the estimated farm gate value of field crops in 2001 was €43.9 million and that this represented a 6% increase in the total farm gate value since 1999. As the business has become more specialised there has been a 22% decrease in the number of growers to 294, a worrying trend, and 889 people are employed on farms, a 14% decrease since 1999. According to the report: "The decrease in the number of growers producing field vegetables, coupled with the relatively static area under production, is evidence of a greater degree of specialisation and scale within the field vegetable sector." That indicates a number of trends which we must examine closely. Specialisation in itself indicates a loss of connection between the grower and the consumer. When a producer is specialising to fulfil contracts with customers such as large supermarkets, he or she is less able to focus on the needs of the consumer. It leaves growers in a vulnerable position.

We have seen the figures for farm gate value but many farmers have not seen a rise in prices even though the consumer has. It is a most frustrating business for the grower. Growers tell me from time to time, and I do not know if this is a considered view or they are just having a bad day, that they do not see themselves continuing in the business for much longer because it is too difficult and the return is small. They foresee even more difficult times ahead. It is sad to hear them speak like that, particularly when one considers another survey by Bord Glas which indicates that vegetable field crop production is larger than sheep, pigs, poultry and cereal production. The report would be of interest to Deputy Ó Fearghaíl who spoke about pig meat production.

According to the report, only beef and dairying generate a greater value in primary production terms. In 2001, the field crop sector was valued at €369 million at farm gate level, according to Michael Maloney, chief executive of Bord Glas, and at retail level on the fresh produce side alone, sales of fruit, vegetables and potatoes are valued at €738 million annually and, as a category, retail spending on fruit, vegetables and potatoes is second only to dairy produce at €855 million.

The interesting aspect of the survey is that it indicates that the Irish consumer spends more each year on fruit, vegetables and potatoes than on fresh meat, frozen foods or any other category of groceries. From the health point of view, that is an encouraging statistic. However, it also adds to the frustration of many growers. When they read about the consumer spending so much money on their produce, they wonder why they do not get a greater cut of the financial return. CSO figures indicate that over the past seven years the price of groceries has increased by 26% but there has been virtually no increase in the return to the producer. Therein lies the cause of enormous frustration and, effectively, an Armageddon type meltdown for the horticulture sector.

It is vital that the Government deals with this. However, there does not appear to be a willingness to take action other than, in this case, to combine Bord Glas with Bord Bia. Bord Bia is a marketing agency focused on exports and the value of exports. Unless it is radically restructured, and there is no evidence of that yet, it will not deal with re-establishing the connection between the producer and the consumer. That is necessary if farmers are to find out what the consumer needs and how they can best serve those needs, thereby securing the best return for their produce from a business point of view. There is huge potential and we must convey that message.

Down the years local authorities have had an important but often overlooked role regarding the provision of local market areas in towns and villages. A farmers' market will open this weekend in Malahide and one opened a few months ago in Castlebellingham in County Louth. Markets exist also in Cork, around Dublin and in other areas around the country but these are the exception rather than the rule which is in contrast to other countries. Anybody who visits France, Germany or other continental countries will see the local market is a normal part of life in villages.

There have been many references to Napoleon in recent weeks, generally associated with the Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan. However, I want to show Napoleon in a good light.

Napoleon and he have a great deal in common.

When Napoleon Bonaparte was the top dog in France, he required that the mayor of each local town or village should determine where there should be a market and on what day it should be open. That became the rule for the area. We need to get each local authority to take on that job of organising markets for our towns and villages. They must determine where a market can be held. It is important to realise that wherever markets exist, they boost the retail business of established shop owners by bringing an attractive and vibrant retail environment into an area. They often add to the shopping experience for retailers and consumers.

Local authorities and the Departments of Agriculture and Food and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government need to work together to re-establish a tradition which was part of this country but which has been lost. Farmers are the poorer for that because they have no alternative for their produce other than the major supermarkets.

The remit of Bord Bia is closely connected to exports, and understandably it is focused on the export sector. I have just read an article covering an interview with Mr. Michael Duffy of Bord Bia in January of this year. He says the challenge for the Irish food industry is to compete successfully in this more open and competitive marketplace and that this will be the greatest challenge facing it in its history. He also says the industry's success will determine the nature and future sales of Irish agricultural produce which were previously maintained by the coupling of EU payments. He was responding there to the challenge of decoupling but completely overlooked an aspect of the food industry on which work needs to be done — the re-establishment of the connection between the producer and the consumer.

That connection has been increasingly lost as we have become part of a more globalised and open economy. However, food is not like software or car components which can be shipped around the world without a deterioration in the quality of the product. From both a health and macrobiotic point of view, food is something which benefits from a local production to meet local needs policy. When the producer knows what the consumer wants he can respond and adjust more quickly to market changes.

I urge the Minister to ensure that this Bill opens up the type of reform needed in the Department of Agriculture and Food. The current focus and reliance on exports is a recipe for further flight from the land, I visited Leitrim recently where, whether one reads theLeitrim Observer or talks to farmers, the thinking of those involved in agriculture is that in due course Leitrim will only be able to support two farms. Everybody is wondering who the last two farmers will be in the new environment of total decoupling and globalised food marketing. This situation is replicated around the country where many farmers feel they are at the end of their time as farmers. This is a sad indictment on this Government and others which have seen a flight from the land over decades.

In my area the glasshouse sector sees not just the influence of the open and global market on food marketing but also a rise in energy prices. Much of the sector relies on gas yet the potential for methane from anaerobic digestion through slurry etc. is quite untapped except in Camphill and a few other exceptional areas around the country where farmers have had the initiative to group together to establish something which is seen almost as a curiosity and is featured on "Ear to the Ground" occasionally as a way of doing things. This issue does not seem to feature when major statements come from the Department saying we must set a target of so much methane and anaerobic digestion to meet our needs. Whether we are talking about the nitrates directive or creation of energy it is a win win situation. The issue needs to be addressed but it does not appear to be at the forefront of the Department's agenda.

It would be well worth while to consider how energy costs and prices will rise in the future due to scarcity. We should consider this not on the basis of taxation or other influences but simply on the basis of the energy being unavailable. A considerable part of the price of food depends on the price of energy. Therefore, the more we can put in place local food production safety net parallel economy systems, the more likely we are to survive the type of energy price hikes which will form part of international geopolitics in the future. The less we support our local producers in terms of farmers' markets and the re-establishment of the connection between consumer and producer, the more we will have to rely on the importation of food which would bring with it the added cost of transport. Whereas we might buy cheap tomatoes from Holland or further afield, the transport costs of that produce will grow as energy costs grow. If the tomato growers of north County Dublin have to shut up shop and sell off their land and concrete over it, as has happened in many cases, we will have no choice but to buy more expensive food as local produce will not be available. This is not just a prediction. It is clear that this is the way things are going and I hope the Government can see the pattern unfolding.

Although we are talking about Bord Bia, agriculture must be broader than just a food producing sector and must also produce energy. Not only is the country falling down badly in regard to realising the potential of renewable energy through agriculture, it does not realise the potential of the organic sector, which is being outstripped by other countries. We see the frustration of groups, of which I am sure the Minister of State is aware from reading theWestern Organic Producer every month.

They are crying out for a national organic symbol. There is no point in replying that we cannot figure that out because there are three certification bodies. We had a buy Irish symbol which did not relate to one manufacturer only. In effect, it is a national symbol under which all certified organic produce can be sold, which is needed if marketing in the organic sector is to be successful. This sector needs aggressive marketing because it is up against it from other countries.

In eastern Europe, Poland currently has more farmland free from pesticides than most countries in Europe. Hungary already sells 95% of its organic output abroad and its exports are growing at a staggering 20% per year. Bulgaria is getting in on the act, as is Romania. We are not just talking about EU countries, but others in eastern Europe. Some 10% of Austria's agricultural output is organic. It has been predicted that a considerable amount of Austria will be GMO-free because the buffer zones around organic farms cannot grow GM crops, so in effect, it will be a GMO-free country. However, the Government has voted for the importation of GM sweetcorn to the EU, even though there has not been any testing in regard to human health. The Government is failing in its responsibilities. The Bill is an opportunity to highlight that, but I hope also an opportunity to see the potential which the Government has not realised.

I am pleased to speak on this important Bill in regard to the amalgamation of Bord Bia and Bord Glas. As one of our major industries, farming is important to the country and every effort must be made to preserve and enhance it. The agrifood industry plays a vital role in our economy and is part of Irish culture. Incentives must be introduced to stop the flight from the land and make farming an attractive career for those lucky enough to be in a position to take up the opportunity. We must do all we can to ensure farmers have a viable income. We must also make farming an attractive and feasible career for young people to entice them to make the most of their heritage, while enjoying a lifestyle comparable to those in urban industry.

Major threats to the industry, as well as modernisation techniques, appear all the time. While some are dealt with through the imposition of stringent measures, others such as the nitrates directive are placing enormous burdens on farmers in some areas in regard to compliance.

Threats to the live export market should not be allowed from any person or organisation who wishes to interfere with it or stop it. Live exports form the basis of many farmers' livelihoods and are a vital component of some farmers' income. If this industry were to be suspended, we would be faced with a major crisis for many top farmers. A business which had been viable for years, not to mention a tradition, would effectively become history. Many farmers would be forced out of business and into early retirement.

Different initiatives emerge from time to time and organic farming appears to be an attractive option. Many of our farming methods have been organic in nature throughout the years, but in my county of Clare this is not always a practical option as only a small number of farmers are involved. Few places are available for the selling of cattle and the cost involved is prohibitive. Rogue traders must be rooted out as they damage the farming community considerably.

Steps have been taken in recent years to label produce accurately, which is a positive thing for the industry in this country. It even crosses over into the promotion of Ireland to foreign investors and governments. Bord Bia has several offices throughout Europe and with its expertise and marketing knowledge there is surely a market for more Irish produce on mainland Europe, one that can entice the small farmer as well as the large players to put some of their eggs in the European basket. The lambs produced here are second to none and our beef is world class. In a time of health-related scares, it is important to be able to stand over the quality and standard of Irish meat. However, it saddens me to hear from different sources that sirloin and fillet steaks served in some of our top hotels are not of Irish origin but are imported. In a beef-producing country we should be in a position to supply the service industry with our country's produce at a competitive rate.

There may be parallels with the issue of horticultural production here, which was raised previously in the Dáil. As a farming country we are producing the goods, but our marketing strategies do not appear to be effective enough to attract large supermarkets and top hotels to buy Irish, although they are happy to set up and sell to us.

It will come as no surprise to state that there are trying times ahead for the farming sector with the accession of ten new countries to the EU, but we should be prepared for that challenge and not be like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Let us be proactive not reactive in regard to farming. The Bill is a positive step and I congratulate the Minister on the consultation process involved prior to its launch and for the setting up of a dedicated horticultural subsidiary board.

Farming is an Irish way of life; it is steeped in tradition and family history. It is too important to be allowed to decline in economic importance. It is time to re-focus on its potential and to pool the resources of Bord Bia and Bord Glas to maximise the benefits for the farming community. I wish the new board well and pledge my support to its forthcoming initiatives. I am confident it will use its marketing expertise at home and abroad.

Having heard the remarks of Deputy James Breen from the Banner county about An Bord Pleanála and planning permissions I am sure west Clare is safe in his hands.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, and congratulate him on his good work in the Department of Agriculture and Food. I am not a man who stands back from any matter and I consider that the Bill is shy of the real issue. It does not go anywhere near what is needed to develop the Irish food industry in terms of either development, promotion or marketing.

Why have we not had the foresight to incorporate all food agencies into one statutory body? There are not so many involved as to make this a difficult proposition. Teagasc has a food division. SFADCo comes from Deputy Breen's area and he may not like to tie it up elsewhere. Enterprise Ireland has a major input in regard to grants and the growth of the industry and CERT is involved with FÁS in training for the catering industry.

Reference was made in the Minister's speech to the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. The marine makes an important contribution to the food industry. The Minister proposed to update the nominating function of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and suppress for the present the nominating function of the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, as seafood marketing has not yet transferred to Bord Bia. When are we going to get our act together as regards food? I have a farm and a primary production site and am involved in all facets of farming, including dairy, beef and pig farming, and I can never understand why there is such a lack of commitment on the part of people in agriculture and in Government to get our act together.

The Irish Dairy Board, previously known as An Bord Bainne, has been criticised by many. It is led by Noel Cawley. Why do we not have a link with that organisation? I read an article in theIrish Farmers’ Journal yesterday in which Joe Rae, a former president of the IFA and well-known farmer very much to the fore in Irish agriculture, quoted the chief executive of Dairygold regarding the cheese market in the United Kingdom. He asked why we cannot all market under the umbrella of the Irish Dairy Board rather than having other types of links. If we do not go down this route we will only be dealing in half measures. Horticulture is going through a very difficult time because of our climate and many other factors. I know we have garden centres and major housing developments, to which Deputy James Breen referred.

To date, Bord Bia has done a good job in a very restrictive way. I compliment Michael Duffy, who has been an outstanding chief executive and a great diplomat on behalf of Ireland for the Irish food industry across the world. It would not be right if I did not compliment my neighbour, Aidan Cotter, who is now director of operations in Bord Bia. He worked abroad and did a great job. However, it is easy to promote when markets are good, as is the case in the beef market at present. It is progressing in terms of price and we will not have enough beef to supply the markets. Why could we not have found these markets three, four, five or six years ago, when the overall market was depressed?

For some time I have been arguing at party meetings and elsewhere about the country of origin. An article entitled Conditions for EU food production in theIrish Farmers’ Journal on 28 February 2004 stated: “BSE in the US, Avian Flu in Thailand and the US and a refusal on the part of McDonalds, the hamburger chain, to use South American beef because of lack traceability.” I have been told that the traceability of all the products coming in was so good that there was no problem. McDonald’s is one of the largest franchises in the world and it has refused to take Brazilian beef because of problems of traceability. There is no point in telling me that the aforementioned countries have no statutory measures to protect their beef and chicken industries. In Brazil, the average salary received by a beef industry worker on the factory floor is €100 per month. It is not so long ago since Dunnes Stores was boycotted for buying grapes from South Africa where workers were treated so badly under the apartheid regime. However, we are eating beef in Ireland that was also produced by slave labour and nothing is being done about it.

Traceability is very important. The front page of yesterday'sIrish Farmers Journal referred to a row between the Department of Agriculture and Food and a Cork farmer regarding the Department’s special investigation unit. Why does the Department not investigate what is coming through our ports? Why does it not examine Thai chicken, Korean chicken and products from Indonesia and Brazil, and compare them with the produce of Irish farmers? Irish farmers are not doing what producers in these countries are doing and they are not using the same feedstuffs. We have learned a lesson from what happened regarding Far-Eastern chicken. Were it not for The Sunday Times we would not know about the Kerry Group being hit by the ban on Thai chicken imports. It is the largest importer in the country, thus affecting Irish farmers. The Government will have to decide whether it is supporting big business or our farmers.

Telling me that the countries in question export to European and North American standards does not mean anything. In Ireland the way we develop our business and production is enshrined in law whereas that is not the case in the other countries. If there are 40 chicken growers, 40 beef growers and ten manufacturers and one falls out of line the whole system goes haywire. It is about time we addressed this.

This House, which makes the laws of the land, should ensure that the country of origin is specified on products. What is wrong with listing the country in which a product originated? The Irish consumer is being conned at an unprecedented rate. The Danes produce 1 million tonnes of pig meat in their slaughter houses. We slaughter pigs and produce 250,000 tonnes of meat. There are no significant imports of chicken into Denmark. They have about 7 million people, their dairy quota is the equivalent of ours but there are no significant imports into the country. Denmark exports on a massive scale. It imports 40,000 tonnes of whole pig meat and about 20 tonnes of pig fat. I am a pig producer and I know we produce 250,000 tonnes of pig meat and import over 50,000 tonnes. Will the Minister of State tell me how this can be justified?

It is about time somebody did something about the problem. I have two packets of rashers here, one of which is produced by Denny in Shillelagh. I would like to know the origin of this meat.

It is not in order to display items.

I am defending the national economy.

It is not in order to display items in the Chamber.

I understand the plant in Shillelagh is full of imported bacon products, yet the packaging refers to Bord Bia. I am paying a levy to Bord Bia. Am I paying it to import products? Farmers are on their knees and the Rip Van Winkle attitude to agriculture in Ireland must change. Subscribers to the Féile Bia issue provide customers with the following information:

Thank you for dining at this restaurant. We are committed to the Féile Bia charter, and use products from recognised Quality Assurance Schemes. Féile Bia — a celebration of quality food. Please call again.

However, this does not state where the products come from. I did call again but I probably did not stay.

The own-label phenomenon in every shop is a new con job. It does not mean a thing to me or to the vast majority of housewives. We now have many supermarket chains, including Lidl, Aldi and Tesco, all of which are looking for a market share. Walmart is the largest in the world. It is about time the European Union had a directive pertaining to the own-label phenomenon. There is no point in the Minister of State smiling up at me — he should take this issue more seriously because he is in charge.

I could start up a consumer food business, get a grant from Enterprise Ireland and obtain all the foods from abroad regardless of the existence of Irish farmers and producers. Every country has its own patriotic sentiments. We are importing while the Danes are exporting and therefore there is a problem. Irish farmers are paying Bord Bia levies. For what? It is about time the farmers and the IFA examined where our levies are going. I am a substantial payer of levies to Bord Bia. Let us be straight about the fact that this cannot continue. I am telling the truth about this.

The food industry is worth between €6 billion and €10 billion. I do not know exactly because it is hard to quantify on the basis of its many different elements, but it is a significant industry in the country. For what are farmers paying statutory levies? Is it so that advantage can be taken of them?

Farmers are being treated like peasants. I am a farmer and I know what is happening. What will happen in the future? We will have no sugar beet industry, no pig industry and no chicken industry — this is nearly gone anyway — and we will have a few ranch or dairy farmers. We are proud of this and boast about it in the mid-term review. We think it is great that the country is regressing to the time of the Firbolg and Tuatha Dé Danann. It is about time someone stood up for Irish farmers and Irish agriculture.

The Minister is responsible for Bord Bia. I do not know whether he receives delegations from Bord Bia or whether his officials get in touch with the board. I am not finding fault with the officials. Some of the finest officials in Ireland — practically all of them — work in the Department of Agriculture and Food. I was very proud to work with them and they are as bright a people as one will find in any part of the land. The board of Bord Bia is predominantly represented by big business interests. It should have a consumer chairman, preferably a woman. The ex-Secretary General of the Department of Agriculture and Food is on Bord Bia and on the board of Kerry Foods. That is an unethical contradiction that should be corrected. There is work to be done. The problem is that we have no agricultural debates in this House of the kind we used to have, where we can express our views. Agriculture is part of rural Ireland and in the early years of the State it dominated debate here.

I was surprised to read Tony O'Reilly's views on globalisation in yesterday'sIrish Independent which states:

Against that backdrop, Sir Anthony O'Reilly's call for a serious rethink and slowdown of the globalisation process takes on a fresh urgency. Yet there is an even more immediate competitiveness challenge which, in its own way, fits into the debate about globalisation and its threats.

I may have taken that out of context. I am proud that we are in the European Union and I have always supported the Union but farmers are not getting their fair share of benefits from it. We are not protecting ourselves. It is a two-speed Europe, whether we like it or not. Mr. John Hume, MEP expressed that sentiment in the Seanad last Wednesday when he said that three or four countries will decide the future of Europe: Britain under Tony Blair, who is the new Maggie Thatcher, and whoever succeeds him; France under Jacques Chirac, a very influential and able man; Germany and Gerhard Schroeder who is clinging to his leadership there, and Italy will probably get involved. They will decide our future. When a committed European like Mr. John Hume expresses that view we should heed his message.

The Taoiseach will preside over the greatest enlargement of the Community since its foundation. We are not protecting ourselves from the problem posed by the Pacific Rim. We do not need to import from those countries who do not have legislation to protect their industry. They have standards which are not enshrined in law. Can the Minister of State devote five minutes to explaining why we cannot have the country of origin marked on our products? Is it because Kepak wants to mix its beef with French or Scottish beef or Goodman wants to do something else? We have had enough of that behaviour. Let us put the country of origin on our products and protect the farmer-producer and consumer. The country of origin is the secret to saving our food industry and protecting our farmers from exploitation. I have another packet of rashers, Galtee, which does not carry any reference to Bord Bia because the company imports so much.

I remind the Deputy it is not in order to display products in the House.

They are very good for grilling. I am a member of the company's management committee and I am fed up with this. The company receives grant aid from Enterprise Ireland and scales down the purchase of local pigs in favour of imports. The Minister of State is in charge. Let him make a name for himself and be the Donogh O'Malley of agriculture by making an order tomorrow that the country of origin must be identified on the package, and forget about big business. He should put a board in charge of Bord Bia and support Michael Duffy who would have no vested interests. There is a vested interest at work here, no country should be ashamed of putting its name on its food products, whether a pound of butter, bacon or sausages. When I pick up items in the shops in Dublin I see that it happens in other countries. There is a message coming through loud and clear which I could not repeat, from Matt Dempsey, one of the most influential agricultural journalists in the country, a man well-recognised for his ability. The Minister of State has probably shared many platforms with him during his two years in the Department of Agriculture and Food. He has been fighting tooth and nail for some time for identifying the country of origin. I do not understand why an Irish Government, led by Fianna Fáil, would shy away from its responsibility to protect the consumer and the producer on such an important issue.

I would also like to know why the Minister of State did not develop a national food agency because he tells us we export 90% of our produce. If we want a successful food industry we should have a national agency to deal with it and maybe have a link into it. There is no problem legislating to incorporate the private sector into a State sector. I refer specifically to the Irish Dairy Board in light of Joe Rea's comments yesterday. This Bill does not go the distance to solve the problems of our food industry of which I have given several examples. Our farmers must produce food to compete with food coming into the country where there is no legislation to protect them. Irish farmers are disciplined and there are no rogues among them; their herds have a good disease-free status. Most of the diseases in the country come from imported stock. There is more supervision and argument with farmers at farm level than at the point of entry in our ports. I am told that one could bring an elephant into the country and he would not be seen until he put his head up somewhere but if I had a bullock with no tag and he strayed, half of the Department's squad would come after him. That is the truth.

The Minister of State himself would be down too.

The Minister of State would not come down. Why not have a standard?The Sunday Times on 1 February informed us about the avian flu among Thai chicken. We know what happened the chicken in Thailand, Korea and Indonesia and about the recycling and the kind of feedstuff they got. For the first time, the most conservative body in the world, the WHO came to the forefront in trying to explain the seriousness of this flu.

I see here Deputy Upton who is a microbiologist and one of the most qualified people in the country.

She is an outstanding woman.

The Deputy must conclude.

The Chair should give him another minute or two.

On her return from a conference in Denmark about animal disease Dr. Upton came to meet me in the Higher Education Authority and although I did not know anything about her politics or background, I was most impressed with the interview and information she gave me which was not the real issue on the day. Many of the things she told me about animal disease and the food industry stand out in my mind six years later.

I ask the Minister of State to explain why we cannot have the country of origin on our labels, to tell me how the levies are going and what is will do about them. Can he explain also why he backed away from creating a national food agency to develop an Irish food industry for the future, based on the looming crisis of the two-speed Europe.

It would be great to hear Deputy Ned O'Keeffe giving the agricultural speech at the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis this weekend to maybe 3,000 or 4,000 people. He might tell some of the home truths and say what the Minister should be doing.

Like Deputy O'Keeffe, I have some doubts about this Bill and many aspects need to be questioned. I hope that Bord Glas is not lost in the merger with Bord Bia and that, in two years' time, it remains as important as it has been up to now. When introducing the Bill to establish Bord Glas as a statutory body, the then Minister of State, Deputy Kirk, said: "The Government believes that the much needed development of our horticultural industry can be achieved only if responsibility for the development is put in the hands of a body with specific overall responsibility to carry out the task." It is more important now than in the past that Bord Glas does not lose the recognition it has.

As with many mergers, many promises are made as to how the business of Bord Glas and Bord Bia will be carried out. I hope these promises are not just made to keep the Opposition happy when introducing the Bill and will be kept. I welcome the decentralisation of Bord Glas and Bord Bia to Enniscorthy. As Members will be aware, Wexford in the sunny south-east is an agricultural county with a significant horticultural sector. Enniscorthy will be a fine home for the boards.

The food and drink industry has been important to us for many years. Agriculture was traditionally the cornerstone of our economy. Coming from a farming background, I understand the importance of agriculture. Work on farms, or in co-operatives or suppliers has created many jobs. It is sad that level of employment is slowly dropping. As Deputy Ned O'Keeffe and other speakers have said, younger people are afraid to farm because they see the decline in agriculture. Bord Glas and Bord Bia are important boards for the future development of agriculture.

In recent years there has been much discussion about the need for healthy eating habits. Bord Glas plays an important role in promoting our fresh fruit and vegetables. We have been warned about obesity and told how important it is to eat vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, etc. The level of obesity has increased by 67% between 1990 and 2000. More than 20% of men and 16% of women are now obese. It is now even more important to encourage healthy eating habits. When the new board is formed, I hope it will extend the campaign to get people to eat fruit and vegetables, especially those produced here.

It is sad that many vegetables for sale in supermarkets are imported. There is no need for this as there are many good Irish producers, including many in my county of Wexford. It is shameful that supermarkets in Wexford are selling imported vegetables that are also being grown two or three miles away. In the late 1990s, I was on a Macra na Feirme exchange to Thessaloniki in Greece where we brought a range of Irish food and drink. About 15 or 16 other countries participated in the exchange and they were most impressed with the range of fine food we produce, including salmon, vegetables and meat. We do not give sufficient emphasis at home to the fine food we produce.

It is wonderful to go to other countries and see Irish food displayed for sale. It is possible to see Galtee rashers and other meat on sale in America, England and in other places. It gives me a sense of pride to be from Ireland when I see such Irish food in other countries. There is great energy and enthusiasm about Bord Glas, which has a great sense of what it wants to do. I hope this will continue.

I was disappointed by the decision of Teagasc to close its food research station in Clonroche in County Wexford where much research was carried out over the past 30 or 40 years into produce such as strawberries, raspberries, teaberries, blackberries, etc. Yesterday when talking about the Teagasc facilities to be closed, the Minister said that no research had been carried out in the Clonroche station in recent years. An important Teagasc funded five year research study on varieties of strawberries was stopped after one year and transferred elsewhere. It is not possible to start a research programme on fruit in one place and transfer it to another county or even to another part of the county. I attended horticultural college for three years and know exactly what I am talking about.

The Teagasc research station in Clonroche actively carried out trials over many years with considerable success. Many horticultural students were employed there through FÁS. It will no longer be able to give young people the opportunity to enter the horticultural industry. I started by doing a course in Clonroche, went on to Kildalton Agricultural College and continued horticultural studies in England. The Teagasc functions have been decentralised with some going to Kilkenny, Johnstown in County Wexford and Oakpark in County Carlow. The loss of the Teagasc beekeeping work from the station is also very sad. It is a shame that the facility has been sold lock, stock and barrel. It was an important part of the community in the Clonroche, New Ross and Enniscorthy areas for many years.

Deputy Ned O'Keeffe referred to the country of origin stamp on beef, a matter about which I feel strongly. Butchers in Wexford, Dublin and elsewhere claim that they supply Irish beef, but that is not the case. These individuals get their beef from other countries. Many of them supply hotels and restaurants and a large numbers of them do not want to sign up to the Féile Bia scheme because they can obtain beef that is much cheaper than Irish beef. They should be penalised for not signing up to the scheme. We should be proud of the beef produced in this country. Traceability is extremely important. An onus should be placed on hotels and restaurants to the effect that a percentage of the meat they use should be of Irish origin. Perhaps the Minister will comment on whether the new board will be able to take action in this regard.

Are people employed to check whether hotels or restaurants which display the Féile Bia certificate use Irish beef? I feel strongly about this matter. Ireland produces some of the best beef in the world, a fact of which I am proud.

Other speakers referred to the difference between farm gate and supermarket prices for meat and vegetables. The IFA in Enniscorthy is trying to establish a country market and is seeking a location for it in the town. Farmers would be able to sell their produce direct to customers at such a market. The Minister of State will probably have seen the survey carried out some weeks ago by Deputy Timmins, details of which appeared on our website,www.ripoff.ie. Deputy Timmins went to a supermarket and bought a range of groceries, vegetables and meat and then carried out a comparison in terms of the amount farmers get as opposed to that obtained by supermarkets. He discovered a major difference, in monetary terms, between what supermarkets charge and what farmers get for their produce. As Deputy Sargent stated, that is why farm markets are far more prevalent now than in the past. Farmers have discovered that they are not paid the full amount due to them for their produce.

I hope that Bord Bia and Bord Glas will not lose their identities when they are amalgamated. Bord Glas is an important entity. The horticultural industry is vital to our economy and I hope it will not be lost. During the debate in the Seanad it was suggested that Bord Iascaigh Mhara should be incorporated into the new Bord Bia. I am not fullyau fait with the process in bringing boards together. Such boards are established to do a particular job and they should be allowed to do it. Bord Glas and Bord Bia have representatives in other countries who play in important role in terms of advertising the great food produced in Ireland.

I hope the Minister can bring about a return of confidence in the areas of horticulture and agriculture. Many young people are not interested in taking up a career in either sector because they believe they will be tied to their farm or whatever seven days a week for 15 or 16 hours a day. These people know that someone can work from nine to five and earn as much money as they would on a farm. I come from an agricultural background and there is a great sense of pride to be had from realising what can be achieved on a farm in terms of growing vegetables, rearing cattle etc. One sees nature at work on a farm. We should use that fact to encourage young people to remain in farming. They no longer wish to do so because they cannot obtain the price for their produce that they rightly deserve. In light of Deputy Timmins's survey regarding supermarket prices versus farm gate prices, it is no wonder young people do not want to remain in agriculture.

I ask the Minister to ensure that Bord Glas and Bord Bia do not lose their identities when the new board is established and that the great work they are doing at present is continued. Bord Bia is doing a fine job in promoting Irish beef and I ask that it continues to do so.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important Bill. We are all familiar with the saying that one cannot shove a round peg into a square hole, but that is what we are witnessing with the amalgamation of Bord Bia and Bord Glas. We oppose the amalgamation because we believe that Bord Glas, with a budget of only €4 million per year, will be severely limited in its ability to represent the horticulture industry, which is undergoing a difficult period at present. Amalgamating Bord Glas with the larger Bord Bia, with an annual budget of over €20 million, will place the former in extreme danger of losing its identity and having its agenda dictated by individuals who are not concerned with horticulture.

I acknowledge the great work Bord Bia does on behalf of the Irish food and drinks industry on the world market. It is represented at every food fair in Europe and throughout the world. However, Bord Glas can stand alone and do a better job to promote the declining produce market in Ireland which is faced with ever-increasing competition from other countries such as Poland and Holland, which produce mushrooms, and Spain and Israel, which are encroaching on Ireland's share of the potato market.

Bord Bia and Bord Glas have different identities and serve different areas of the agriculture industry, and have done so well during the past ten years. Bord Glas is concerned with a niche area of food development and I was delighted it won the best e-government website award for 2003. Over 260 websites were rigorously examined but Bord Glas's came out on top, which is an indication of the professional job done by the company. The board is to be congratulated on that award.

The horticulture industry is divided into two main concerns, namely, the production of fruit and vegetables and the growing of flowers, shrubs and trees. In terms of sheer gross agricultural commodity output, the industry is located third behind cattle and milk production. Bord Glas should be commended on the way it has promoted the horticulture industry and developed it into a strong market valued at €2.3 billion, with produce accounting for €1.9 billion. It has also done well in picking up the trends in the food market. In its most recent annual report it highlighted the immense changes the horticulture industry will face during the next decade. The habits of Irish consumers are changing and the tendency is to eat out more often or to order more take-away foods. There has also been an increase in demand for prepared organic food.

Members will recall that the Mid-Western Health Board recently objected to an application by an international fast food chain for a fast food outlet in Ennis. As everybody knows, every town and village has been taken over by the fast food culture and the board objected to the type of food served by the chain in question. It would be more appropriate, however, if health boards were to persuade these food chains to sell fruit, as this would promote awareness of fruit as a healthy diet. I heard on the news this morning that the chain in question has decided to introduce vegetables and low calorie options on its menu and phase out super-sized portions, which is a welcome development.

I was also delighted to learn yesterday that the Irish food and drinks industry has acknowledged that it has a major role to play in tackling the increasing prevalence of obesity, a worrying trend which needs to be addressed. Promoting Irish produced fruit and vegetables on television and in newspapers is important for the international and home markets. We have all seen advertisements promoted by the soft drinks companies using major sports stars to sell their products. These influence the type of diet our children choose. When a new board is established, it will be important that it promotes the value to our diet of fruit and vegetables.

Next week, the Minister for Health and Children will announce the composition of a new task force to deal with obesity. I welcome this group and hope the necessary finance will be made available to it.

Traditional staple Irish diet such as potatoes and vegetables face intense competition from non-traditional foods such as rice and pasta. While these commodities have health benefits, they are imported and, therefore, affect domestic production of foods such as potatoes. Foreign imports of vegetables, including cabbage from the Netherlands, carrots from Spain and potatoes from Israel, also present problems.

I was delighted that my colleagues on Clare County Council's strategic policy committee on the environment decided to abolish by-laws, part of the casual trading laws adopted by the council in 1998, which made vendors of vegetables liable to fines of up to €1,275 for selling unwashed vegetables or failing to trim greens. It is a general belief that consumers prefer vegetables with earth on them to washed vegetables because they look much fresher and many housewives now prefer to buy vegetables in markets rather than in supermarkets. As Deputies Kehoe and Sargent pointed out, the profit margins of producers are much higher if no middle man is involved and the consumer gets better value for money.

Fruit and vegetable markets in County Clare continue to thrive and have a long tradition. Many towns have market streets or squares and the Friday and Saturday market in the county town of Ennis is always buzzing as housewives and other consumers buy fresh vegetables.

I commend EIRÍ Corca Baiscinn in Kilkee for it efforts to try to bring back traditional farmers' markets. Last year, it successfully introduced a market in the square in Kilrush in west Clare, which has attracted local producers to the town to sell their produce directly to consumers. This is a welcome trend which is also emerging in other areas.

As Deputies will be aware, potato yields in 2003 were exceptional due to favourable weather conditions. There are about 832 commercial growers here but, as with all industries, the market has its ups and downs, with prices falling when the market is flooded with potatoes. I note that growers are being advised by Bord Glas to reduce production by 15% to realign supply. In many cases, potatoes are being fed to livestock and large stocks remain in cold storage.

It is sad that the market for potato chips and wedges is being supplied by potato imports when we have an abundant supply here. I read recently, however, that a group of farmers in Ballymoney in County Antrim — the Minister of State may be aware of this development — bought out a large plant manufacturing potato chips. It is hoped the plant will use Irish potatoes in its production process and bring some relief to the potato sector. I hope similar developments will take place around the country, thus improving the position of potato growers. It is also important that supermarkets choose Irish products for their consumers on the basis of quality, a key factor which Irish growers can offer, and price.

I will now address the unacceptable circumstances facing mushroom growers, of which the Minister of State will be aware. There are approximately 400 mushroom growers here, with the industry centred mainly in counties Cavan, Monaghan, Kildare, Wexford, Tipperary, Roscommon, Mayo and Donegal. Last year, the Irish Mushroom Growers Association ran a major promotional campaign to highlight the benefits of eating more mushrooms. It was launched by the then Miss Ireland who later went on to even greater things.

The mushroom business is under severe pressure. While 80% of households eat mushrooms and spend an average of €26 on the product each year, growers receive little benefit. During a recent visit to one of about four mushroom growers in County Clare, I was astonished to see the amount of hard work involved in mushroom production. The grower in question employs his sons and 22 others in his unit, which consists of 15 tunnels, a pack house an a large refrigeration unit. He incurs significant costs and were it not for the quantities of mushrooms he and other growers sell directly to supermarkets and local shops on the domestic market, they would have gone out of business long ago.

More than 70% of production is destined for the export market to Britain which is controlled by two major companies. Most of the growers are concerned about the manner in which mushrooms are graded by these companies. Sometimes as much as half their produce is not graded and is returned to them, which means they must try to find another market to dispose of their mushrooms. This is wrong and I call on the Minister to establish an independent grading system for mushrooms to ensure proper grading and acceptable prices for growers. The mushroom business is difficult and costly and many growers face financial ruin unless the Government acts quickly. Moreover, it is virtually impossible for producers to get out of the industry because of their current financial commitments.

Although the Minister established a mushroom industry task force last year, more action is required to protect growers and ensure they receive a fair price and have access to a proper grading system. I hope the task force will report to the Minister in the near future in order that we can deal with the crisis facing the industry. An illustration of its volatile nature, is that last January heavy snows in Poland, a leading producer of mushrooms, led to the price of mushroom seed here rocketing. Such volatility pressurises growers, who already face difficulties trying to secure new business. The sterling-euro exchange rate and Internet auctioning by multiples place small producers under further pressure.

Farmers in general face major challenges arising from the accession to the European Union in May of ten new member states, many of which are largely dependent on agriculture. Fear and uncertainty are widespread among the farming community. West Clare, from where I come, has experienced significant erosion of the number of young farmers, many of whom are leaving the land because they see no future in farming.

We should be trying to protect these farmers. Many young dairy farmers who attend my clinics say their temporary quotas are very low and that they will be selling milk from now to next April for almost nothing. The problem is further compounded by the nitrate directives and slurry storage. I hope the new committee, in conjunction with Teagasc, will put forward sensible proposals to deal with the problem of slurry on our land and that the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, will negotiate with the EU a good package to ease the proposed restrictions.

I would like to refer briefly to the live export of cattle to international markets. The IFA has organised a meeting in Ennis on Monday next to discuss the issue of animal welfare during long distance travel. Live cattle exports are important to the beef industry in Ireland in the context of maintaining essential cattle prices. I, like many of my colleagues, including some on the Government benches, are anxious that cattle be transported to overseas markets in supervised and humane conditions. Having spoken to many people about this, it is my understanding that current arrangements governing the transit of cattle are good. While those who raise concerns in this area mean well, it is important such exports are not interrupted.

Bord Bia and Bord Glas come from different traditions. Bord Bia deals with the drinks industry, cattle, lamb, sheep and pig products and Bord Glas traditionally deals with small farmers involved in the production of trees, shrubs and flowers. Bord Bia's finances are dependent upon levies paid to it by producers while Bord Glas receives its funding from Government. What will this amalgamation mean to the producers who have traditionally worked for Bord Glas? The following illustrates the different focuses of the two organisations: Bord Bia deals with large producers and their markets and Bord Glas deals with small producers and their markets.

The type of product promoted by the two organisations comes from producers working on different scales and with different concerns. Bord Bia does not focus on products with which Bord Glas deals. Bord Bia is in a market on the brink of overflowing while Bord Glas stands on the threshold of a growing market. With increased demand for its products and other healthier foods, Bord Glas needs a strong independent voice to pitch its products. It needs to be able to stand on its own and to address the issues facing it in the future. There are many issues with which Irish agriculture and horticulture will be faced in the future, not least the addition of ten new countries traditionally dependent on agriculture into the EU. The Bill provides no guarantee that Bord Glas will be allowed independence in terms of preparing to face these issues. There are no guidelines for its board members and staff in terms of their role in Bord Bia.

The Bill includes measures to ensure Bord Glas will have a place in Bord Bia. I welcome the stipulation that membership of the board will include at least two people with horticultural experience. However, one must be concerned about whether that is sufficient and with the dangers this merger can bring about. I do not believe there is a need to amalgamate the two boards. The Bill states there will be no significant financial implications in doing so. Why then are we shaking up a good and proven organisation like Bord Glas?

I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding the easing of planning restrictions for one-off housing in rural areas. It is a step in the right direction. I hope we are beginning the process of easing housing restrictions. I would like to know how the Minster intends proceeding in this regard? Will he engage in discussions with senior planners regarding changes to county development plans? I hope the process commences immediately so that we can build up rural areas which have been eroded down through the years.

I thank the House for the opportunity to speak on this Bill.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on this Bill. I live in north county Dublin, an area with a great tradition, given its soil and climate, to facilitate the growth of horticultural produce and to meet the demands of the people of the greater Dublin area.

I have grave concerns about this Bill which proposes to amalgamate Bord Glas with Bord Bia. The Minister's contribution on this Bill when compared with what was said during the debate on the establishment of Bord Glas indicates a complete change in attitude by the Department of Agriculture and Food and the Minister. The general functions of the new board shall be to develop, promote, facilitate, encourage, co-ordinate and assist the production, marketing and consumption of horticultural products.

I have spoken to those involved in the horticulture industry and they are mystified and deeply concerned about the implications of the amalgamation. It has been acknowledged that Bord Glas has done an excellent job in difficult times. It does not make sense to amalgamate Bord Glas, which deals with amenity horticulture, with Bord Bia which deals with products such as butter, steak and pizza.

My colleague, Deputy Upton, made an excellent contribution to this debate. I have no doubt that this amalgamation is based on financial considerations. It is a proposal drawn up by the so-called three wise men. The Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, gives the impression he fights the cause of Irish farmers and horticulturists in the EU. Yet, it appears he was unable to stand up to the three wise men and their recommendations. That does not say much for the Minister and his commitment to Irish farmers and horticulturists.

Horticulture has been, for many years, the Cinderella of the agricultural business. It has been used as a sop. In the context of Bord Glas, there was a belief that the people on the ground felt that progress was being made but there is now a fear in terms of where we are going.

Obesity is very much an issue. It is a complex issue which needs to be addressed through education as well as exercise, but fruit and vegetables have an important role to play in terms of a proper diet. I am talking about high quality products that we can produce here. In the context of the various bodies set up by legislators, we have a role to play in curbing obesity and as we try to meet ongoing demands that issue will have to be addressed.

I asked earlier why we were amalgamating the boards when there is no doubt that there is a whole range of boards and agencies dealing with food. We now have another Bill and more boards are being set up but it will not be in the interests of consumer or growers.

Various contributions were made in regard to labelling. If we are to protect the people on the land, whether those in farming or horticulture, it is vitally important that we try to assist them because they are trying to ensure there is a future for those industries. The labelling aspect has to be addressed and the country of origin must be part and parcel of that process. That is essential to protect home produce and guarantee quality. That is what we are talking about and what we demand. I referred earlier to obesity and it is important in that context that the ingredients contained in food is identified in a more positive way. That area has to be examined.

In the context of Teagasc and the future of those involved in horticulture, the sale of Corduff, in my constituency, was a disaster for farmers and growers. This was a centre for training and education where courses for farmers were made available, but what was done with it? It was decided, solely on the basis of finance, to close the centre despite the fact that it had all the amenities and the potential to be extended — I understand there are another two acres which could have been availed of as part of the overall reorganisation, if that is what one would call it. The growers are now very much inconvenienced and this closure has not been to their benefit. It is proposed that these services will be transferred to Kinsealy. One could say that is only an extra seven miles, but that would be all right if the facilities were available there.

In examining that transfer we also have to consider the sale of the headquarters in Sandymount, and this gets back to what we have been saying about decentralisation and the move to Oakpark, where 90 people out of a staff of 100 have indicated they will not move. Ten out of the 100 are willing to go to Oakpark. After selling Sandymount and Corduff, we now have the problem of where to put the 90 staff from Sandymount. If 90% of the staff are not willing to move from Sandymount to Oakpark, that does not say much for the future of the Government's decentralisation programme.

What did they do then? They had to provide accommodation in Kinsealy for the 90 staff from Sandymount. The area that was used for experimentation on mushrooms is now being utilised to accommodate the staff. Over €100,000 will have to be spent to accommodate the transfer of staff and at the same time we are being told the growers from north Dublin who used to go to Corduff now have to go to Kinsealy. That shows a lack of planning and commitment to the horticulture industry. The work involving experiments on mushrooms now has to be transferred to Belfast at a cost of over €100,000 this year. That is totally unacceptable. It is bad planning. I want a commitment from the Minister that this experimentation work which has been transferred to Belfast will be carried out here.

The situation has changed in regard to small growers, there is no use saying it has not, and it will not get any better. The big supermarkets are dictating what consumers want and what they will demand in the future. There are small growers who would not be in a position to meet those demands but who can supply excellent products. Facilitating small growers to sell their produce direct to consumers at markets should also be examined. Oil prices are still an issue for glasshouse growers. I hope that our EU competitors will be operating by the same guidelines and that there will be no subsidisation for growers in, say, Holland. At the same time, every effort and support should be available to enable traditional suppliers to be in a position to meet market demands in the greater Dublin area and the rest of the country. There should be further development of niche markets in vegetables such as tomatoes and potatoes with a view to exports. The market offers possibilities. Members have raised concerns about the mushroom industry and I too have concerns of other EU competitors undermining the mushroom market which has done well in recent years. On the basis of what has been outlined in this Bill, I am not convinced that the amalgamation of Bord Glas and Bord Bia will be in the interests of consumers and growers.

There is a lack of planning by Teagasc in the closure of some of its offices, which I previously noted with the closure of its Corduff offices. People have deep concerns about the closure plans. There has been a campaign against the proposed closure of the Teagasc station at Ballinamore. It is fine for the Minister for Agriculture and Food to say he has no responsibility for Teagasc. However, the Minister has a responsibility to resolve this issue. There is a perception that Teagasc has turned its back on the most disadvantaged areas in the country. The 2002 grass yields, obtained in a standardised measurement system for different centres, including Ballinamore and Ballyhaise, published in theIrish Farmers’ Journal leave no doubt on this issue. Every farmer struggling with soils and climate conditions on high grounds like those in Ballinamore knows this. I received a report from the Leitrim action committee which claims that the Ballyhaise farm yield is near average for the country, which may surprise people who use the Moorepark farmland. Ballyhaise is actually nearer to Sollihead as a farm resource. In the 2002 grass yield table, it even outyielded Sollihead. One must also consider the type of climate and soil in the Ballinamore area. The action committee is not aware of any region research probes in place in Teagasc. The pretence of this has been uncovered and can now be seen as a charade to hoodwink farmers in disadvantaged areas to support dairy level funding. The sad consequence of this failure is that when Teagasc comes to apply new technologies to problem areas, it will have no local knowledge of the very problems these technologies can solve. For example, in areas such as Ballinamore, normal rye grass does not survive long because of early spring frosts.

The case has been made for the retention of Ballinamore's Teagasc station but a decision has already been made. However, the people have also spoken on the implications of the closure of the station. The Minister of State, Deputy Treacy, and the Minister for Agriculture and Food should use their positions to have this issue resolved amicably so as to ensure a united approach to the future of farming rather than having all parties at each other's throats. We have won important battles on Europe but now it is time to be united on this matter. I appeal to the Minister of State to resolve this issue.

I too acknowledge the dispute in Ballinamore where local farming interests are concerned by the proposed closure of the Teagasc station. This is not a unique incident as it has been happening elsewhere for the last 12 months. It is the result of the slow strangulation by Government of the research and development wing of the agricultural and horticultural sector. The attempts by the Government to explain away and minimise the Ballinamore situation, are one more step in its plan to eliminate the important element of research and development in the food producing sector. It also eliminates the role fulfilled and encouragement given by Teagasc in the past. As the Minister of State is well-versed on the subject, I hope he will take into account the damage that will be done in the event of a further repetition of the Ballinamore situation. The numbers employed in such stations are small but areas such as Ballinamore depend on the influence of having a testing station. Ballinamore is certainly not in the prime lands of the countryside but having the influence of a local testing station is crucial, particularly for local people.

I wish to register my concern about the proposals in this legislation that will see the merging of Bord Glas and Bord Bia. I congratulate Deputy Ned O'Keeffe for speaking out in the forthright manner in which he did earlier. Coming with a considerable knowledge——

The last time he did that he got no congratulations.

——of both inside and outside the Department of Agriculture and Food, he is to be lauded for the manner in which he spoke out. He recognised that the Government, of which he is a supporter, is doing nothing to support what was once a basic and fundamental industry — the food producing industry. Anyone who has studied the food producing sector over the past number of years will note the negative developments that have resulted in a diminution of the sector's influence, particularly on world markets.

Going back to what Deputy Ned O'Keeffe was saying, there was a time that we Irish could boast about the place of origin of all our food. Our food was sent worldwide with a proud label on it. Irish foodstuff still goes abroad with a proud label, for example, Kerrygold and many other dairy products. However, we keep whingeing and whining about competition, the changing marketplace and new entrants to the market. We do nothing to improve our position by investing further in research, development, marketing techniques and singling out products that of themselves can achieve a standard in the international market that will further benefit the economy.

In so far as this sector is concerned, there appears to be a death wish on the part of Government. It seems to be withdrawing from the scene. Deputy Ned O'Keeffe appeared to underline this by indicating that the Government seems to allow the downward trend to continue without interruption. The only action that has taken place in recent times is the fundamental review with the aim of introducing an integrated plan for agriculture in the future. It is about seven years too late.. Much damage has been done. I have spent a great deal of time tabling parliamentary questions to extract information on food imports into this country from the EU — with which I have no problem — and non-EU countries. Both Deputy Ned O'Keeffe and Deputy Timmins dealt with this at length. We must be clear that, if we are in the business, we must compete on a number of grounds such as quality, traceability and price. It is up to us after that.

I heard a gentleman from An Taisce on "Morning Ireland" talking about how all payments now come from Brussels. I hope Government has not fallen victim to that kind of indoctrination. If it has, the situation is much more serious than we think. Once any industry falls into the hands of bureaucrats, one can forget about it. The gentleman from An Taisce thought that the job of the agricultural sector and the rural community was to keep the countryside looking well for people like him to enjoy. That is not what it is about. This is an area where we can employ people and in which people have been productively employed. It is a resource that we need to continue to work on and support, not only for our own population but to ensure we can produce for international markets. For any country with a climate like Ireland's to allow itself to slip in that area is a disaster.

A number of years ago I heard one commentator on agriculture refer to the need for a major review of the sector which would take us into the 21st century in terms of what we produced, how we produced, prepared and marketed food, and how we should change to meet the requirements of today's world with oven-ready products ready for the table as opposed to just for storage. I presume the current review will incorporate all that. If it does not, another problem will arise. What concerns me most about the agricultural and horticultural sectors is that costs are increasing in this country at an alarming rate. We keep asking how the costs can increase so dramatically despite an allegedly low inflation rate. I can never understand how we can have such low inflation and at the same time price ourselves out of markets everywhere. In this type of situation, what happens is that, in the beginning, producers become somewhat less competitive. Suddenly they come to a juncture where competition is too great. Unfortunately, we are now heading in that direction. We became a little uncompetitive a few years ago. We are now seriously uncompetitive, not only in the sector under discussion but also in a number of other areas. I do not see any initiative being taken by the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Walsh, to address the issue.

Will this new joint board have teeth and be effective? Will it be able to provide adequate time and resources towards pursuing the objects of research and development and selling and marketing the product? I do not know. Other speakers have no confidence in it and I agree with them. Once the purpose of the exercise is to save money, there is little hope for the future.

Years ago we set great store in spending money on marketing, research and development and producing products that could compete worldwide. I recall visiting the World Food Fair in Anuga, Germany, in 1988. I remember various Irish producers there. Mr. Goodman had a stand under the UK flag at that time. What impressed most was that countries such as Argentina, Italy and Brazil — whether in the beef or dairy industry — were well-advanced and marketing aggressively. They had both volume and quality as well as consistency.

Up to then I used to think, in my innocence, that because of our particular climate in Ireland and ability to produce quality food, we held all the cards and were playing them to the best advantage. I then realised that was not the case and that there were others in the market as well. In many cases they were larger than we were, put more resources into the effort and had the ability to go further in terms of marketing. As some of these competitors were from non-island nations, they could, with beneficial consequences for themselves, gain access to markets much more quickly than the Irish could.

I do not know whether Irish efforts over recent years in terms of quality and traceability have improved the position. I have this sinking feeling, however, that the Government and the Department of Agriculture and Food in particular have thrown in the towel. They have accepted the suggestion from other parts of Government that this is now a high-wage, sophisticated economy with technology present everywhere. We have electronic voting in the Dáil and will soon have it installed throughout the country without any concerns about the expenditure involved. We are sophisticated and slick. My only response is that slickness has come a cropper many times in the past. Let us not run away with the notion that, now we are slick, we are all-conquering and all-powerful. We are not.

I am not certain the proposal the Minister is bringing before the House to merge the two elements in the food sector will work. If it is intended to allow part of one sector to disappear and concentrate on another area, it will not work. The horticultural sector is growing rapidly. It should be very easy, as we have an ideal climate for it. We have garden and greenhouse centres all over the country. Every town and village has one. I even do a little dabbling in that area myself from time to time. It is something for which we have a natural ability because of our climate. I wonder whether that is generally recognised. We must remember about horticulture generally that it can be eco-friendly, financially rewarding and pleasing to the eye — beneficial in every way to those involved. I urge the Minister to keep an eye on it.

Before I conclude, I would like to refer to something mentioned by other speakers. As Members will know, a great bone of contention in recent years has been people's inability to obtain planning permission to live in their own countryside. Immediately before the great bringing together of that group which gathers once a year for the Fianna Fáil Ard-Fheis, whom we wish well over the weekend——

If the Deputy wishes to come as a delegate, we can accommodate him.

I have no intention of allowing myself to be encompassed in that group. If what I heard on "Morning Ireland" today is correct, what we have heard in the last few days regarding planning matters in rural Ireland is a total sham. There was no intention of improving the situation and neither is there any now. The situation appears worse than before and all the Government was doing was creating the situation. Having codded the people of the country for the last ten or 12 years, it is now turning on those at its Ard-Fheis by giving the impression that it had suddenly come to their rescue and would allow them to live in their own place at some time in the future.

In my own place.

Nothing could be further from the truth and the Minister of State knows as well as I that his party's delegates — God love the poor creatures — will be at that Ard-Fheis for the whole weekend, where they will be told again and again by two of his ministerial colleagues, who have been very loquacious in the area over the last few years, that they have at last been saved and that redemption is at hand. That is all nonsense, since nothing is changing. There has been an alleged change in guidelines, but An Taisce came forward this morning and reassured everyone that nothing would change. Of the appeals which An Taisce brings to An Bord Pleanála, 98% end in refusals. I had a case a few weeks ago——

I hope the Deputy will be making the same speech next year.

Deputy Durkan is going into too much detail.

This is apropos of the legislation.

The Deputy should relate what he is saying to the Bill.

I assure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle that it is closely related to the Bill, as he will see in a moment. The person in question made a horticultural proposal concerning less than an acre of land. He envisaged glasshouses and tunnels, for which he sought planning permission. He had a house too. However, the authorities said that it was inconsistent with the type of development that one could allow in such an area, though it was agriculturally zoned. I do not know what the local authority was talking about. The man was refused planning permission. He had proposed to grow tomatoes and all the usual greenhouse vegetables, as well as poultry. He had been doing that since he was a child. He was born in rural Ireland and, having temporarily been away, wished to continue to live there. However, the great bureaucrats came on the scene and said that it was not for him, since the horticultural activity which he proposed to carry on was inconsistent with the area, which was within 200 m or 300 m of an urban settlement. They told him to settle down and forget his nonsense about growing vegetables and keeping poultry.

That is what is being said by the Minister and his colleagues to the unfortunate innocents whom they are bringing to the Ard-Fheis to lead astray. Previously they led the country astray and the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, as a compassionate and caring man, will understand my perspective. They have codded the people of the country — the multitudes outside — and now they have finally turned on their own and are about to cod them too. That is deplorable, and I know the Leas-Cheann Comhairle will feel as sorry for them as I do. I also know that the Minister of State sitting opposite knows that what I am saying is true, and that is the saddest part.

The Chair has no feelings one way or the other.

That is just as well, since if he had such feelings, he would burst into tears. I was very close to that myself when I saw what was happening this morning.

The points raised by several other speakers are valid and should be borne in mind by the Minister. The whole question of the future of food and food products in this country must be measured against the competition that we face from importers. When one tables questions inquiring about this, one gets bland answers about our being in the European Union and having to accept competition. That is not the question. All we want is to be able to monitor such developments so we can measure the growth in imports and determine whether exports are keeping pace; it is as simple as that.

I am not happy with the proposal or with many other things that have emanated from the Minister's Department. I hope that redemption will come for the poor victims of such policies in recent years. I wish those at the Ard-Fheis every success, but I beg the Minister of State not to do to them what he has done to the rest of the country.

Is onóir mhór dom an seans a bheith agam freastal ar an díospóireacht seo chun freagra a thabhairt ar son an Rialtais, na Roinne agus an Aire Talmhaíochta, Bia agus Foraoiseachta. Tá muid ag plé an Bhille um an mBord Bia (Leasú) 2003. Tá muid ag aontú An Bord Glas agus An Bord Bia chun eagras nua cothrom a chruthú le freastal ar sheirbhísí bia agus thalmhaíocht na tíre.

I thank Deputies, particularly those whose contributions were positive. The Bill is well balanced to ensure the continued development of the Irish food and horticulture sectors. It ensures that future promotional actions at home and abroad will be fully synchronised to provide the best service for the producers, consumers and taxpayers of this country. Combining the expertise of Bord Glas and Bord Bia will make them even more effective in facing new challenges. In the words of the Irish proverb, ní neart go cur le chéile. Both organisations have performed exceptionally well, owing in no small measure to the calibre of the staff involved, and the respective staffs will also benefit from broader possibilities under the merger. I will now deal with the issues raised by the various Deputies.

Several Deputies expressed concerns that the identity of the horticulture sector would be submerged in the new body. The legislation as drafted will ensure that horticultural development will not be diluted. The two organisations have similar marketing and promotional remits, and the functions of Bord Glas regarding horticultural production are carried over directly into the new organisation. By providing for horticultural representation on the main board, and by the establishment of a statutory subsidiary board for horticulture, we are clearly guaranteeing full parity of esteem within the new strengthened organisation. It should also be acknowledged by the House that, over the years since the formation of Bord Bia, it has had responsibility for exports of all horticultural activity, meaning that there has been a dovetailing and duplicating of operations, which are now being synchronised.

Many Deputies referred to the question of healthy living and the role of Bord Glas in promoting that concept. Both agencies, Bord Bia and Bord Glas, have comprehensive programmes in place to promote the virtues of good nutrition and healthy eating habits. There has been much debate recently about the rise in the level of obesity in the western world. Figures point to a marked increase in the prevalence of obesity among Irish people. This is strongly influenced by a number of lifestyle changes, not least of which is the lack of daily physical activity. Perhaps Members of the House are also victims of this. While people are not necessarily eating more, they might not be eating a balanced diet and are not burning off energy. This leads to a change in body energy stores and weight gain. My colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, will shortly publish a strategy on this complex and important issue.

With regard to further amalgamation in food promotion, Deputies will recall that the expert group on the food industry, whose work led to the establishment of Bord Bia with a remit across the dairy, meat, consumer and speciality foods sectors, recommended a single food promotion agency. I am on record as favouring maximum coherence in the activities of State agencies in promoting food products, particularly overseas. Formal co-operation agreements are in place between Bord Bia and BIM and also between Bord Bia and Enterprise Ireland. The Bord Bia-Enterprise Ireland inter-agency agreement covers co-operation on the full range of activities of both of agencies and is particularly useful for Ireland on the US market.

Deputy Ferris mentioned support for the organic sector. In November 2000, an organic development committee was established to recommend a coherent strategy to achieve expansion in the production, processing and marketing of Irish organic produce and to secure an increased share of both the growing national and export markets. The committee presented its report in April 2002 and I have established a national steering group to oversee the implementation of its recommendations. A key aspect of our approach is to promote the acceptance of organic farming as part of mainstream agriculture. It is not in anyone's interests to play one off against the other. Much of the strength of the organic sector derives from the high principles and philosophy of its practitioners, with the result that consumers have a high degree of confidence in their produce. That reputation for integrity must be defended at all costs.

However, the organic sector will grow substantially only when the most go-ahead and innovative farmers are prepared to consider it as a commercial opportunity, worth the effort in meeting the exacting standards demanded. I have involved a range of stakeholders in policy development. Organic farmers and processors are represented, as are mainstream farming organisations, the food processing and retail sectors, consumer representatives and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. The organic market development group, which has overall responsibility for developing a national marketing strategy for organic food, is chaired by Bord Bia.

Deputies have referred to the emergence of farmers' markets. Bord Bia's useful web-based guide identifies the benefits of these markets to producers, consumers and local economies, lists their locations and trading days, offers clear advice on what makes for a successful market and outlines the benefits and expansion opportunities in farmers' markets. I support these initiatives. With regard to making specific reference to the exclusion of genetically modified crops from the scope of this Bill, to prevent the promotion of GM foods, this legislation is not the appropriate vehicle for making general policy on this matter.

Deputy Timmins asked about the need for subsidiary companies. This is an enabling provision to facilitate legal compliance with the requirements of certain food quality assurance schemes. Separate certification and inspection bodies to ensure third party verification of standards are required as a prerequisite to the achievement of the highest standard, EN 45011.

Some Deputies suggested including specific gender requirements in terms of numbers on the subsidiary board for horticulture. The Bill's formulation on gender balance is appropriate. I hope to see a proactive approach by the nominating bodies to gender balance issues. The problem for the Government is that nominating bodies do not seem to consider the gender balance. I am, however, reluctant to make this legislation more restrictive and prescriptive than similar legislation in other areas.

Deputy Timmins asked about the number of responses the Department received from the 34 organisations, including institutions, representative of the horticulture sector which were asked to submit their views. There were 20 responses from the different organisations and their areas of concern have been addressed in this Bill. Deputy Crawford asked about the enabling provisions to amend the system by which the export levy is collected. Deputy Ned O'Keeffe also referred to this. This Bill simply provides that alternative means of payment may be put in place without the need for further primary legislation. The current system of payment, which is the only means of payment and which has some merit, is by means of stamps purchased in advance. Any regulations made under this provision would be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas.

Deputy Sargent spoke about north County Dublin as a major horticulture producing area. I accept that. It has huge advantages, such as deep and warm soil, good climate, seasonal rainfall and a massive and growing consumer market in the capital. Long may that continue. In counties Louth, Meath, Kildare, Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Waterford, Cork and Tipperary the soil and climatic conditions and the topography lend themselves to the development of horticultural and tillage production, as distinct from other parts of the country. We must compare like with like and bear in mind marketing opportunities, low cost access to markets and consumer demand. We must be realistic.

There has been a major change in the demographics and consumer habits in this country. The small corner shops and general stores have been replaced by massive multiple retailers and some independent medium to large stores. The small corner shop is largely confined to larger towns and motor fuel stations. That is a major change which leads to changes in production. We must take that into account.

Deputy James Breen referred to exports. We must realise the importance of agriculture, the food and drinks industries and horticulture to this country. Contributors to this debate have said they are in decline, but I do not accept that. They were never better in terms of volume of production, efficiency and cash value. There are more employment opportunities and greater opportunities for people to secure a financial return for their skills and abilities than ever before. The value of food, drink and horticulture exports is €7 billion per annum and that is growing. We decided it was better to proceed, on the basis of the track record of the two boards and in view of the opportunities in the global market, with a strengthened organisation.

Deputy Ned O'Keeffe made a wide-ranging contribution. He showed us a number of product samples and spoke about the country of origin. We established a major group during the past two years to consider this issue. The group could not get agreement between the farming organisations, the processors and the marketing organisations on making a clear recommendation regarding country of origin. Until an agreement can be secured, the advice available to us is that it may be detrimental to Irish marketing if we insist on that position. We have established a sub-group of the main group to try to draft a conclusive recommendation so we can hang a single flag for Ireland on all products leaving this country for sale on global markets.

I agree with Deputy O'Keeffe's remarks regarding Kerrygold. Kerrygold is a major brand name for Ireland. It is a brand product and the green label gives it the Irish flavour without the distinctive label of Ireland as the country of origin.

Deputy O'Keeffe referred to the situation pertaining to the Irish Dairy Board. In the past it was Bord Bainne but, under State aid rules when we joined the European Union in 1973, we were obliged to change it and it became a non-State aided private company operating in a commercial global marketplace within European Union rules. It has been a major success since.

The Deputy also referred to the own-label situation. This is based on providing transparency and an assurance for the consumer from the multiples that the product being sold is from a clearly identified location. It is important and has worked well and it is to be hoped that we can capitalise on it and develop it further in the future.

Deputy Kehoe said agriculture was in decline. I cannot understand why Members of Parliament or the farming organisations say agriculture is in decline. All over the world the numbers involved in agriculture are fewer. This situation is not unique to Ireland. In the United States, New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe, etc. the same situation prevails. In a global economy with newer sectors and streams of opportunity, the situation is bound to change. Mechanisation, technology and other advances all have a major influence. People have fewer working hours and shorter working days and weeks——

And less income in recent years.

I do not accept that. Some people in farming in Ireland make more money today than ever before.

Very few.

If we want to live in utopia, put a steel wall around the country and say we will produce and consume our own, we will have a 90% surplus of agricultural produce in the country. That would be a crazy way to run this island. We need a situation where we have access to the European Union market. The Fianna Fáil party led this country into the Union in the 1970s and negotiated from the 1960s through the 1970s to change everything. Prior to joining the European Union in 1973, we exported 75% of all our produce to the United Kingdom. Since then we have quadrupled our exports to the UK but these now only form 24% of the total volume of our exports. This demonstrates the distance we have travelled, the production capacity we have achieved, the number of people involved in a productive capacity, the number of jobs created and the great opportunities in the industry. We need optimism and assurances from everybody involved in the agriculture and food sector that they will remain positive and recognise this achievement.

Let us look at our international performance. The Kerry Group is probably one of the leading food companies in the world on the global stage. Glanbia, Green Isle, Anglo Irish, Dawn and Bailey's are companies which export and operate throughout the world. We should be proud of them and recognise that they have played a huge role and have been flagship companies for Ireland.

Féile Bia was denigrated in the discussion. Féile Bia gives an important assurance to the consumer that the product on the table is quality assured and traceable to the producer. Bord Bia has a clear auditing system to ensure that we have that guarantee.

People referred to the importation of food into the country. We live in a global marketplace. We open markets across Europe and the world and are part of a World Trade Organisation situation and must, therefore, accept that a certain amount of products will come into our country. I did some research into the reason other food products are imported here, whether beef, chicken or whatever. They come because we have a good economy and people want a choice.

More particularly, they come because suppliers are able to get a guaranteed price on the product for a 12 month period and can do their planning and accounts, know their profits and conduct their business. We cannot get that on the market here. In our flexible market, when the price rises, the purchasers are charged a higher price but when the price goes down, the purchasers are charged the same price. The people here involved in production, supply and procurement will have to look forward and give this same 12 month guarantee on prices. This is the only way forward.

Working together as a nation we must accept our responsibilities and try to reduce competition. We can never eliminate competition because it is always good to have some. It would be a serious matter to be in a position where competition was eliminated. However, we must ensure that we work together to provide stability in the market by giving continuity of price over a 12 month period and taking the ups and downs and flexibilities of the market to ensure trade and business can compete.

I am delighted Deputy Timmins is present. He carried out a wonderful survey onwww.ripoff.ie. His survey did not take account of processing costs or the difference between wholesale and retail prices. He took base price production and took no account of processing costs, staff costs, overheads or insurance. Who is supposed to be responsible for those margins or who should pay the staff?

My survey was on farm gate retail prices.

It is easy to create confusion for consumers.

The Minister of State is defending the supermarkets.

I am not defending them. I would like the Deputy's website to be accurate and not to confuse the people.

The survey asked whether farmers are getting fair prices.

I hoped to respond to the various issues raised by Deputies but have run out of time. Bord Glas was founded in 1990. Opposition parties said then we were creating a quango which would make no contribution to the country. Bord Bia was founded in 1994. A review of both organisations carried out in 1998 recommended the two organisations should be amalgamated in five years' time. The five years ended on 31 December 2003. For the Estimates of 2003, the three wise men looked at all State agencies, examined the review and recommended that the amalgamation proceed. This legislation is a result of those recommendations.

They also recommended us to stop culling full herds for BSE but that is not being done.

The interests of concerned stakeholders, staff, the horticultural sector, including amenity, are adequately safeguarded within the proposed new strengthened organisation. Maximising the potential of the food and horticultural sectors in a competitive environment will not be easy and will require clear vision and the joint commitment of all stakeholders. Bringing together the expertise and professionalism of Bord Glas and Bord Bia offers better long-term prospects for the promotion of this key indigenous economic sector which is based on renewable natural resources, a unique landscape and a committed capacity to deliver what the consumer wants with greater integrated promotion, development and marketing programmes in the exciting years ahead. I commend the Bill to the House and look forward to dealing with specific issues on Committee and Report Stages. I thank all the Deputies who contributed to the debate.

Question put.

In accordance with the order of the Dáil yesterday, the division is postponed until immediately after the Order of Business on Tuesday, 9 March 2003.