Other Questions.

Grant Payments.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

28 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the discussions she has had with the European Commission regarding the impact of the special beef premium overshoot on farmers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17331/05]

Ireland was the first member state to opt for full decoupling of direct payments when, in October 2003, it was decided to introduce the single payment scheme with effect from 1 January 2005, the earliest date that the new regime could be implemented. The overshoot issue arises from transition from the animal-based to the decoupled system.

Each member state has a regional beef ceiling for bulls and first-age premium animals, and Ireland's regional ceiling for the 2004 special beef premium scheme was 1,077,458 animals. It was expected that the numbers of animals submitted for premium in 2004 in Ireland under the special beef premium scheme would show an increase compared with previous years, as farmers would wish to benefit from the premium on their eligible animals before the scheme ended on 31 December 2004. However, the level of applications was such that the regional beef ceiling was exceeded by 18%.

The decision to opt for full decoupling was arrived at following careful consideration of all options and a widespread public consultation process. A very persuasive factor in that process was the suggestion that farmers in those member states that decoupled fully would not be disadvantaged during the transitional period. The level of the overshoot of the regional ceiling is attributable to the ending of the special beef premium scheme in 2004, and application patterns, both in total numbers of animals applied for and the timing of lodging applications, strongly suggest that to be the case.

I am seeking a solution to this issue and will continue to do so with the European Commissioner. I have already raised the issue with the Commissioner on a number of occasions. My Department has also forwarded a detailed submission to the European Commission dealing with the matter. I am urging that appropriate measures be put in place to alleviate the difficulties encountered by beef farmers in Ireland.

I thank the Minister for her response. Perhaps I might focus on the fact that the Minister claims to have raised this issue several times with the Commissioner. Why did she know nothing about it when the Commissioner was interviewed here? If the Minister had raised the matter on not only one but several occasions, surely, when the Commissioner arrived in Ireland, she would have been up to speed, but that does not seem to be the case from her interviews.

The Minister stated that she is urging that appropriate measures be taken. Perhaps she will outline what she is talking about. When the Minister made the point to the Commissioner and explained to her the commitment given by her predecessor that Irish farmers would not lose out by opting for full decoupling, especially beef producers in this instance, what was her reaction? What is the Commission's position regarding that commitment?

The Deputy has described the issue regarding the Irish Farmers Journal incorrectly, since the Commissioner was asked about the question before I had approached her — interviews often take place before conversations. Second, she was not here, and that interview took place in Brussels. I have met the Commissioner three times on the issue and departmental officials have met at secretary general and director general levels, as well as within the Cabinet. I have met all the farming organisations on this issue, some of them twice, if not three times.

The Deputy is right that something must be done, both for reasons of equity and because, as the former Commissioner said to the former Minister, there should be no disadvantageous decisions as a consequence of the transformation to a decoupled system. Those are the very strong points of view that I have put forward to the Commissioner and the Commission, and that has been followed through in several examples of its impact on farmers, many of whom, to be fair, have not changed much their production or methods. There are others who have done otherwise, as we all know.

The Deputy will also know that the people on the second punch are being penalised because the scheme is an overall one between the first and second punches. In addition, many farmers did not castrate their animals this year because they were entitled to the bull premium. It is a very serious issue in my constituency and, I am sure, in County Roscommon, where there is a great deal of beef production. There is a 28% reduction on first-age premium animals and 23% on second-age animals. That is a very large differential. The Deputy is correct to point out that if decoupling did not occur, then we would not have this problem. On that basis, I have made strong representations to the Commission on this issue. This does not affect anyone under 25 and I have paid the money thus far to those over 25. The Deputy should check out a copy of the Irish Farmers’ Journal the following week where the Minister clarified this.

The Minister met the Commissioner on three occasions. What did she say about the case the Minister put forward? Did she agree, disagree or did she express any opinion? By the time the Minister spoke to her on the third occasion, she surely must have checked out the situation.

In Europe, it takes quite a while to have everything evaluated. Initially, the issue goes to the DG and its officials are also involved. I advised the Commissioner on the political ramifications of this issue. She has been in consultation with her own officials to look at this issue. I will speak to her again next Monday and I will impress upon her the necessity of a favourable decision on the basis of equity and due to decoupling.

Legal Settlement.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

29 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will make a statement on the agreement between her Department and a company (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17330/05]

The case the Deputy mentioned arose from a dispute between a company, the Department of Agriculture and Food and two codefendants. This related to the storage of tallow at its premises going back to 1997. A settlement was reached with the plaintiff on 6 December 2004. The settlement was agreed on the basis of legal advice from State counsel and with the sanction of the Office of the Attorney General. It was without admission of liability by the defendants. It was also agreed between the parties that the terms of the settlement would remain confidential except as required by law.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. How did the Department get it wrong? The Department defended this case but subsequently settled it out of court. Why did it proceed with the case if it got additional legal information from the State counsel? Did the sands shift during the case?

What are the legal costs involved in proceeding as far as we did before a settlement was agreed? Why should this remain confidential when State funds are involved? It looks like the State and the Department of Agriculture and Food have been hung out to dry on this issue.

I do not accept that the Department got it wrong. A company initiated legal proceedings against the Department. I said at the outset that the terms of the settlement would remain confidential and that is how I intend to leave it. The taxing master has yet to determine the legal costs.

Is it not the case that the Department felt that it was on a strong footing when the initial challenge was taken? The Department was going to contest this vigorously right to the bitter end. On 6 December 2004, a settlement was suddenly reached. How did that come about? Why did the Department change its tack? The public needs to know the answer to that question, even if the Minister is not going to disclose the money that has been spent.

The Department followed the legal advice available from the State counsel. That advice had the sanction of the office of the Attorney General.

I have some concerns about the confidentiality clause that seems to be built into this. The money spent is public money so it should not be confidential. The Department was willing to defend its position at the outset, yet suddenly an agreement was reached and the whole issue became confidential. Even though we do not know the amount involved, there is clearly a great amount of taxpayers' money involved.

The Department was not the only party to the proceedings. A company initiated the proceedings and another party was also involved along with the Department. The settlement occurred without admission of liability by the defendants, which were the Department and the company. The agreement reached included the stipulation that the terms of the settlement would remain confidential. That is how it will remain.

I know the Minister cannot disclose the details of legal advice and I am not looking for that. Can he clarify if the original opinion of the State counsel changed prior to the settlement?

The advice available to the Department was that the best outcome would be to bring finality to the case. That advice was given to the Department by the State's legal team and with the sanction of the office of the Attorney General.

Did that happen during the case?

The opinion changed, therefore, during the case.

The case had to take its course.

There are insinuations from the other side of the House which are completely inappropriate, as well as scaremongering by members of the Fine Gael Party. I read an article written in a Drogheda based newspaper which was scurrilous and factually incorrect. Decisions must be made to proceed in some cases. As there was a third party involved in this case, it was not a direct case between my Department and another person. There should be finality to any case. Given the circumstances, the legal advice was that this was the best outcome for all. The decision was also taken in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General. It is futile to spend time, energy, effort and money if we are not to bring a situation to an end. The decision made was the best one and I stand by it.

Grant Payments.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

30 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans for cross compliance under the single farm payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17304/05]

Under the new single payment scheme farmers receiving direct aid are required to respect the various statutory management requirements set down in EU legislation on the environment, food safety, animal health and welfare, and plant health and to maintain the farm in good agricultural and environmental condition. There is also an obligation on the member state to ensure that there is no significant reduction in the amount of land under permanent pasture by reference to the total area under permanent pasture in 2003. These requirements are known as cross compliance.

The EU directives and regulations referred to in cross compliance have been in place for many years. Producers are familiar with them and are complying with the standards set in implementing them in Ireland. The Department prepared a consultative document on cross compliance in October 2004 and invited views from interested organisations. Department officials met the main farming organisations in December to discuss their submissions and these discussions have continued more recently during the review of the protocol on direct payments.

An information booklet on cross compliance has been issued to all farmers and it sets out the principle features of cross compliance such as the standards that must be met by farmers and the control arrangements that are necessary. To coincide with the issue of the booklet, a series of nationwide farmer information meetings took place in April and were organised by the Department in conjunction with Teagasc. These meetings focused not only on cross compliance but addressed the various other issues associated with the introduction of the single payment scheme. In implementing that scheme, I aim to minimise the number of inspection visits and to move towards a situation where eligibility and cross compliance checks will be carried out during a single farm visit. It is envisaged that the 22,000 inspections, which were carried under the old regime, will be significantly reduced to around 10,000 under the single payment scheme. This approach should minimise the level of inconvenience to farmers. However, in certain instances more than one inspection of a holding may be unavoidable.

I thank the Minister for her second reply on this issue. Will farmers be informed in advance of the category under which they will be inspected? Will they be inspected in regard to identification or under the single farm payment or will the category be decided by the inspectors when they arrive on site? We have been told that the majority of inspections in regard to cross-compliance, most of which will relate to the issues of permanent pasture and the areas claimed, can be done by satellite and will not require on-farm inspections. On this basis, why are we proceeding along these lines for on-farm inspections?

The Minister raised the issue of tolerance. We have the indicators only in regard to cattle but what she has said is contrary to what has been indicated in the media in that tolerance levels are higher the smaller the number of animals. The more animals a farmer has, the lower the levels of tolerance. This seems to be contrary to what should be the case. The Minister spoke about clerical errors and so on. I understand that unless farmers have corrected any errors by 31 May, they will be in breach of the cross-compliance regulations. Does this mean, for example, that a person who omits his or her date of birth on the form will be in breach? How will an error such as this be treated?

There has been no finality in our discussions on the protocol with the farm organisations but I hope they will conclude next week. As often happens, leaks from the committee appeared in newspapers. Although the substance of these leaks was incorrect, I could not do much about them once the newspapers had gone to print. I will make the paper publicly available once it has been agreed.

Farmers will be notified but it will apply for 48 hours rather than the 14-day period which farmers had sought. The clerical errors to which I referred relate to the difficulties caused by the previous experience of the need to complete so many forms dealing with such issues as retention periods and so on. This caused significant anguish for many farmers and we are all acutely aware of this from our constituency work. The introduction of a single application form will greatly alleviate difficulties in this regard.

I commend the farming organisations, farmers themselves, my Department and Teagasc on their tremendous efforts in support of the single farm payment scheme. Few mistakes were made and many people worked hard to get the system right and ensure applications were submitted on time. People have the opportunity to amend their applications up to the end of this month and anyone with concerns can contact the Department. I commend those involved on the forthrightness and exuberance they displayed in ensuring these forms were available and received on time by the Department.

There has been much comment to the effect that these inspections will be different from what happened heretofore. They will be different to the extent that inspection was previously based on the number of stock but will now be based on one's land. Identification has not been a major issue. The cattle movement monitoring system, CMMS, has worked well and people generally keep good records. I am introducing further technology to ensure people have access to their farm profiles, an issue previously raised by Deputy Naughten. This means farmers will be able to identify easily any mistakes that have been made in regard to their herds.

All this will facilitate farmers in ensuring they get the payment to which they are entitled. I am not here to prevent people from getting their due but rather to ensure they do. There will sometimes be a personality clash at the gate. This is why I introduced training and is the reason the system will be kept under review. The first lot of inspections are taking place and that experience will be examined. The bottom line is that I must ensure people are paid in the first week of September and on the first day of December.

Will farmers know in advance the category under which they will be inspected?

Yes, there is a list. Categories include environment, birds and habitat, sludge and pollution, nitrates — if the relevant directive is ever implemented — and identification.

Will farmers be aware whether the inspections of their farms come under the category of cross-compliance or identification?

Yes, they will be told.

I take this opportunity to compliment the staff in each office who worked so late and over the weekends to ensure applications were submitted on time.

Food Safety Standards.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

31 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she has satisfied herself regarding the origin and traceability of all imported beef, lamb, pigmeat and poultry products; if certification and standards applicable here and throughout the EU are assured; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17404/05]

Detailed EU legislation lays down the conditions that member states must apply to the production of and trade in products of animal origin, including meat and meat extracts, as well as to imports of these products from third countries. Under harmonised legislation, a series of health and supervisory requirements are applied in the member states to ensure animal products are produced to standards that guarantee the safety of food and the protection of human and animal health. The application of these standards in the member states is monitored by the Food and Veterinary Office of the EU.

It is a requirement that animal products imported from third countries meet standards at least equivalent to those required for production in and trade between member states. All such imports must come from third countries or areas of third countries approved for export to the EU. To be approved as an exporter to the EU, a third country must appear on a list drawn up and updated on the basis of EU audits and guarantees given by the competent authority of the exporting country, have veterinary controls equivalent to those applicable in the EU, particularly in terms of legislation, hygiene conditions, animal health status, veterinary medicines controls, zoonoses controls and other food law, and have in place a residues programme approved by the European Commission.

The animal products must be sourced from establishments that are approved and must bear an EU-approved health mark. Exporting establishments must have standards equivalent to the requirements for EU export establishments, effective control systems and supervision by the competent authorities, and traceability or labelling in accordance with the systems approved by the FVO and accepted and notified to the EU member states.

The FVO carries out inspections to ensure only establishments that meet hygiene and health standards equivalent to those operating within the EU are approved. Where the FVO considers that public health requirements are not being met, an establishment may be removed from the EU approved list. If outbreaks of animal diseases occur in a third country, approval to export to the EU is suspended for the infected regions of the country or the entire country, as appropriate, until the disease risk has been eliminated.

Importers of animal products must be registered with the Department of Agriculture and Food. They are required to give advance notice of importation and, following import, are required to keep records of importation available for inspection by the Department for a period of three years.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Imported animal products must be accompanied by the appropriate commercial documentation showing the country and approval number of the establishment of production and, in the case of meat and meat extracts imported from third countries, a health certificate conforming to the models set down in EU legislation.

While there is free movement for trade within the EU, all consignments from third countries must first be landed at a border inspection post that has been approved by the FVO and must undergo documentary, identity and physical checks. These latter are carried out at frequencies laid down in EU law. In Ireland, BIPs approved for the processing of imports of animal products are located at Dublin Port and Shannon Airport. The FVO carries out monitoring and inspection of each member state's BIPs to ensure the conditions for import of animal products into Europe provided under the harmonised legislation are correctly applied.

Once it has been established that imported animal product has met all the required conditions it is released for free circulation within the Community. Copies of the BIP clearance document and the health certificate must accompany the consignment to its destination. Imports failing to comply with these veterinary control checks may be detained for further examination. If non-compliance is established, they are returned to the exporting country or destroyed.

Where there are concerns with regard to the effectiveness of controls being operated in an approved third country, the Commission, in consultation with the Standing Committee on Animal Health and the Food Chain, may introduce specific controls by means of a safeguard measure to ensure the protection of human and animal health. Safeguard measures limiting or banning the export of animal products from EU countries or regions of countries may also be implemented where, for example, the conditions of an animal disease outbreak could seriously effect production and trade in animal products in the EU.

What happens in reality if premises or countries do not come up to standards? In this context, will the Minister of State explain what has happened since last October in regard to Brazilian beef coming into the EU? Brazil abandoned its tagging and traceability scheme at that time. Does this mean Brazilian beef is no longer being imported into the EU?

I have two difficult questions for the Minister of State in regard to the issue of substantial transformation and I hope he can provide the information I seek. This is an extremely difficult issue and it leaves Irish producers open to a challenge at some stage in the future in regard to products with an Irish label which may not have been sourced in this country and which do not meet the required standards. In this context, can the Minister of State outline the timetable for his proposed legislation on this matter? One must be aware that the Department of Health and Children may not be prepared to amend the Health Act 1970, given its reluctance to do so in the past in regard to other issues. How does the Department of Agriculture and Food propose to address the issue of substantial transformation within this State and subsequently to put those proposals forward at EU level?

With the co-operation of the Department of Health and Children, it is hoped the necessary amendment to the Health Act 1970 can be progressed as quickly as possible. All Members know legislation does not come to the floor of the House as speedily as we would like. It is important that we get this legislation right. If there should be any delay in bringing forward the amendment to the 1970 Act, my Department will examine whether there is a quicker mechanism to bring the necessary primary legislation before the Oireachtas. Deputies Naughten and Upton spoke yesterday about the need to bring forward this legislation as quickly as possible. The Government is of the same view. We recognise the importance of adequate labelling for our industry and our citizens, and for consumers worldwide.

Transformation was the final recommendation of the food labelling group. It was agreed that this should be clearly defined and harmonised across all European Union member states. No more than a month ago, the Minister, Deputy Coughlan, raised this issue with her colleagues in the Council of Ministers and she has kept it on the EU agenda.

I described the exacting standards of the export and import requirements as set out in EU legislation and regulations. The Food and Veterinary Office of the EU is responsible for ensuring that these standards are adhered to and implemented. If products are imported from areas which do not meet the relevant criteria, the right to import into the EU is removed and the products are banned.

That is not happening in practice.

The Food and Veterinary Office implements these standards on behalf of the EU throughout the member states. These standards are implemented strictly.

Have any countries or factories within countries been removed from the list? Although detailed figures may not be available, I am interested to know whether sanctions are applied. Are spot checks conducted by the Food and Veterinary Office or is advance warning given? The inspector is similar to a teacher determining whether a student's homework is completed, and after he or she leaves upon being satisfied that matters are in order, the prevailing standard is restored until the next inspection two years later.

Advance notice of inspections is not given. I will revert to the Deputy on the imposition of sanctions, their dates and locations.

Is consideration given at EU or WTO level to set the limits based on the number of carcases rather than tonnage imported? It appears that premium cuts rather than carcases are imported.

That matter has been subject to discussions between farmers' organisations, in particular the IFA, meat factories and the Minister.

Research Funding.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

32 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if, in regard to her speech at the opening of the Teagasc biotechnology centre on 6 May 2005, she intends to take steps to promote or encourage investment in research and development for the food and agricultural sector; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17385/05]

As I outlined in my speech at the opening of the Teagasc biotechnology centre, my policy priority for the agrifood sector is to support the development of sustainable, competitive and multi-functional agricultural production and a food processing sector which is export oriented, innovative and consumer focused. To ensure this, agriculture and food research must provide a strong scientific foundation and capability to the farming and food sector. This requires a base of scientific excellence, knowledge and expertise all along the food chain. My Department is the primary funder for agrifood research encompassing primary production, food safety and new and innovative product and process development in the food industry. I am committed to building on the progress made to date in these areas and to strengthen agrifood research activity to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Opportunities exist for the food industry in the areas of consumer foods, functional foods and beverages, food ingredients and speciality foods. Health concerns are now a major influence on consumers, and functional foods, that is, food for health and pharma-foods, are forecast to become key drivers of growth within the sector. The well-being and vibrancy of our agrifood industry is heavily dependent on being continually and rapidly responsive to emerging consumer demand. Without investment in research and development, Ireland's food industry will be outstripped and outpaced by others who already possess the necessary research capability to meet these demands.

The substantial state investment in internal company research and technology transfer has driven and supported the research and development agenda within food companies. These supports, together with tax incentives to encourage research and development, demonstrate the Government's ongoing commitment to the innovation agenda. Irish food companies, for their part, have encompassed the innovation challenge and are increasingly focused on accelerating their research and development activities to meet the growth opportunities. I welcome the fact that a number of leading food companies are engaging with Enterprise Ireland in advancing significant innovation and research and development projects which are market led.

The investment made in public good food research since 1994 has created a critical mass of expertise and capacity which has equipped Irish researchers with internationally respected capability. This investment is continuing under the NDP food institutional research measure which to date has provided funding of over €50 million for food research by public research institutes to support the food industry and underpin food safety.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Such research programmes are essential to promote innovation, new product development and competitiveness in the agrifood industry and underpin the maintenance of the highest standards in food quality, safety and nutrition. A well resourced research infrastructure and good national competitive programmes also provide Irish researchers with the capacity to compete for funding in EU framework and other international programmes.

Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority, has responsibility for the provision of research training and advisory services for the agrifood sector. The Teagasc statement of strategy sets out a new vision for its research service, of which a major part is the expansion of research on food and health, as well as ensuring competitiveness of the agricultural sector through cost reduction technologies and sustainable production systems. Part of this expansion is the new alimentary pharmabiotic centre at Moorepark, which is a development between Teagasc, Moorepark, UCC and industry to conduct research at the interface of food, pharmacology and health. Funding by my Department has contributed significantly to this centre. The centre possesses international expertise in biotechnology and probiotic technology and addresses one of the key recommendations of the agrivision 2015 foresight exercise in developing a strategic alliance between the Irish food and bio-pharmacy industry. Furthermore, the Moorepark biotechnology centre, which represents an investment of approximately €6 million since 2000, offers enormous scope and potential to companies which wish to engage in the challenge of research and development and the substantial rewards it offers.

I thank the Minister for her reply, which contains all the appropriate buzzwords, such as innovation, nutritious foods and pharma-foods. However, the reality is that we lag slightly behind Europe and significantly behind the United States and Japan in terms of the percentage of GDP invested in research. In the future, these countries will be important competitors. What actions may be taken to ensure more investment in research and development, particularly in the food area?

It is important that there is interest and investment by the food industry in food research, and that should be encouraged and promoted. I am concerned to ensure such valuable research becomes widely available and is not contained within the food company. A broad and widely available research base should exist for research programmes.

Deputy Upton tapped into the intellectual issue, which is of great concern and on which there has not been much agreement. Moorepark and the universities have conducted a lot of public good research, in particular under the FIRM programme, which will be available to all. I agree that driving research and development within the food industry is paramount if we are to compete. Large companies have been in a position to make investments. Moorepark provides access to its facilities, particularly to smaller companies. Perhaps we will all have an opportunity to visit the centre. Recently, I had the opportunity to open a new centre, which is second to none and is more than helpful in addressing the issue of supporting personal and public good research.

Public good research under the FIRM and other programmes will be important from the broad intellectual perspective. Equally, however, it will be incumbent on companies to conduct research. Enterprise Ireland and my Department have supported investment in a number of companies. Deputy Upton is correct that we must increase our investments in research. The Government has brought a number of Departments together to ensure that we reach our capacity.

On the rights issue raised by Deputy Upton, has the Minister investigated the strategies of the other big players in the United States and Japan? China's research and development budgets have gone through the roof, with significant implications. We are lagging behind not only the US and Japan but dramatically so in the case of China. Greater investment should be made at EU level. We need to examine the rights issue and events in other countries.

Considerable investment has been made, through Teagasc, in research. For example, investment for non-capital purposes was €118.5 million and for capital purposes, €4.5 million. Much work has been done in food research. Teagasc employs 200 scientists in nine centres. I had the opportunity in the United States to discuss the issue of intellectual property. We are prepared to look as favourably as possible on the necessity of increasing our investments. However, we also need to drive that agenda within the food industry.

Like Deputy Upton, I was impressed by the number of buzzwords used by the Minister. I did not, however, hear the term "import substitution", which one finds is often missing from Government policy statements. Will the research and development to which the Minister referred address the failure to exploit the full potential of the organic sector? In a €35 million sector, 70% of product consumed domestically is imported while the last five years have seen a fall in organic acreage. Is there a case for research and development to improve technology and organic methodology to increase production and advance import substitution to exploit potential of the type the Minister pointed to in other sectors?

My Department does not usually talk about import substitution as Ireland is a significant exporter of its food and drinks products.

We are importers too.

Very little of what we produce ourselves is not exported.

We import 70% of organic goods.

There are some products we cannot produce, which is a matter we can do little to address unless we get a new climate. That could happen, God knows.

Climate change is not necessary to grow food.

I am disappointed about organic production for a number of reasons. The price of organic produce, which we have all discussed, is high because a great deal of it is imported. We acknowledged at a committee meeting yesterday that there is nothing more organic than our grasslands and domestic methods of production. There has been significant investment in support of organic food through education and research through my Department, which provides substantial funds, and Leader companies. We have brought together quite a number of people and initiated a specific REPS programme for organic producers who are the only group in the scheme given special treatment.

I am prepared to drive the organic agenda forward as quickly as possible as I agree that there is a need for greater urgency. We will take the opportunity presented by the steering group to make further progress as I am not happy with the return on the investment we have made to date.

Pesticide Control.

John Deasy

Question:

33 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures which the pesticide control service of her Department is taking to restrict the illegal importation and sale of agri-chemicals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17300/05]

Damien English

Question:

46 Mr. English asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the measures which the pesticide control service of her Department is taking to restrict the illegal importation and sale of agri-chemicals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17299/05]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 33 and 46 together.

The House will be aware that it is an offence, punishable at the discretion of the courts by imprisonment for a term of six months or a fine not exceeding €3,000, or both, to import, place on the market or use a plant protection product which has not been registered. The regulatory system is designed to ensure a high level of protection for man, animals and the environment. While products included on the register are made available to end-users by a large number of distributors, distributors and farmers are free to source products from elsewhere provided they are registered in Ireland and subject to approval of their importation in each instance from my Department. The approval process for parallel imports involves simple checks to ensure the products to be imported are the same as those registered for use in Ireland and are appropriately labelled.

The enforcement programme involves routine and targeted inspections at the premises of wholesale and retail distributors and end users. Recent reports of illegal importation of plant protection products are being investigated. Where illegal products are found on the market, they are seized and subject to destruction at the owner's expense. Operators may also be subject to prosecution and fines up to €3,000 or six months imprisonment.

The suggested illegal importation of plant pesticides would, if true, represent a blatant abuse of legislation. Can the Minister of State provide the House with a little more information on the steps being taken to address the matter?

There are indications that the pesticide control service does not have adequate powers to ensure thorough investigations can take place. It is claimed that the service does not have the power to enter a premises without the approval of the owner. Are there plans to amend legislation to provide ease of access to premises to carry out inspections?

While a representative association of companies in the sector alleged that certain products had been imported illegally, investigations to date have produced no evidence to support the claim. I emphasise, however, that investigations continue in parallel with the normal inspections programme. The Department's pesticide control service is very vigilant in implementing the regulations and legislation on the use, importation and labelling of pesticides.

Is the Minister of State satisfied that the legislation is adequate?

I am.

Written answers follow Adjournment Debate.