I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity of raising this important issue. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House — I hope he can give me a positive reply.
There is an urgent need to re-examine and change the way the Department of Agriculture and Food deals with BSE cases. It is impossible to understand or justify why the Department should continue with a total herd slaughter policy when it is clear from all evidence that this disease does not affect the rest of the herd. I welcome the drop in the number of herds that are being slaughtered owing to the presence of BSE. However, the loss of a total herd to any disease is traumatic for any farm family and is almost akin to a family death. To lose a herd because of one BSE-infected animal, when there is no scientific or other evidence to justify it, is unfair and entirely irresponsible. Other EU countries have re-evaluated their structures and only slaughter the infected animal and cohorts. Ireland needs to satisfy health and export regulations and that is what this is about.
The three wise men who advise the Minister for Agriculture and Food advised that the process be re-examined — they obviously saw room for major savings as that was their brief. This was the only aspect of the report the Minister ignored. It is unfair that farmers, many of whom had closed herds before BSE struck, are forced into the open market where, even arising from the Department's advice, they have found other serious disease problems.
More than ten years ago, Fine Gael warned the then Minister about the dangers of Johne's disease and other problems imported into this country. Are depopulated farmers advised of these potential problems? A number of farmers whose herds have been depopulated and restocked have found their animals have serious disease problems for which they can get no compensation.
I know of a farmer whose farm was destocked for a second time. He was unhappy about this and requested that only the diseased animal be taken out. He is now under all sorts of investigation and he still has not been paid even though 15 months have passed. We must be sensible about this.
I know of a farmer, not from my constituency, whose farm was involuntarily depopulated in 1997. He made all kinds of efforts with his DVO in seeking personal and health advice. He bought animals under the DVO's regulations. At no time was he advised of a problem such as Johne's disease. He now finds that his herd is suffering from this serious disease. While a number of his animals have been disposed of and others are locked up, he cannot get compensation. The moneys being wasted on the destruction of entire herds should be used to evaluate the problems presented by the other disease. Another farmer in my constituency was forced to restock. He has incurred enormous veterinary bills arising from the diseases he found in his herd.
I urge the Minister of State to reconsider this scheme. If other EU countries have re-evaluated their schemes it is time we reconsidered ours. As president of the European Council on Agriculture, the Minister, Deputy Walsh, is in the strongest position he has ever been in. Surely he will have an opportunity to re-evaluate this to ensure people understand what it is all about. If other EU countries that do not depopulate can sell their products in the same markets as we sell to, surely we can do the same.
Depopulation is traumatic for farmers. I spoke to a woman yesterday whose herd is under investigation but has not yet been deemed to be BSE-infected. She begged me to raise this matter in a positive way.