29 Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the progress made to date in relation to reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. [17630/11]
29 Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the progress made to date in relation to reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. [17630/11]
I am pleased to have an opportunity to comment on the state of play regarding the Common Agricultural Policy review. Given the general nature of the question, I could respond for a long time, although the Leas-Cheann Comhairle would not allow me to do so. It is noteworthy that we will know by this evening what is the opening positionvis-à-vis the Common Agricultural Policy budget. The Commission will hold what is probably its most important meeting in a long time this evening to decide and confirm the opening statement on the financial perspectives for the European Union. As part of this process, we will find out what proportion of EU funds it is proposed to allocate for the Common Agricultural Policy and in support of food production.
The Agriculture Commissioner, Mr. Dacian Ciolos, will make a strong case for maintaining the current budget level following the end of the current CAP process as well as allocating an additional amount of money to take account of the accession of Croatia should it join the European Union in the next two or three years, as is likely. Rather than trying to secure agreement to maintain the agricultural budget as a percentage of the overall budget, the Commissioner is seeking to have a specific figure maintained. I support his position which is more likely to be achieved.
The proposed Common Agricultural Policy for 2013 will be €61.2 billion and we are seeking to have this amount carried over into 2014, 2015 and beyond. In addition, we are seeking further funding to take account of the possibility of new member states acceding to the European Union. Croatia, as I noted, is first in line. While we will make a case for increasing the agriculture budget, if the starting position is that €61 billion will be provided for the CAP annually, we will be able to work with such an outcome. This is a positive story which we should welcome if it is achieved. While I am not saying this scenario will be the outcome, it is the result sought by the Commissioner. We will have the relevant information this evening. If this is the starting position, we will try to build on it in the 18 months or thereabouts during which negotiations will take place.
This evening will be the starting point and we will then deal with the manner in which Common Agricultural Policy funding is distributed to farmers and farm families. Over the years, 20% of farmers have received 80% of the premiums from the European Union. In the long and protracted negotiations over the next 18 months, the Government must ensure it obtains the greatest possible amount of funding to encourage Irish primary producers to continue producing top level product. I ask the Minister to be mindful that individuals, companies and organisations should not receive disproportionate funding while those at farm gate level are not given a fair deal. The possibility of changing the system whereby 20% of farmers receive 80% of funding should be seriously examined.
Six months ago, people inside and outside the House were talking about a reduction in the Common Agricultural Policy budget of between 15% and 30% in actual terms. We are now talking about maintaining the position as is and trying to build on it. We have, therefore, come a long way and this progress should be recognised. We have not yet achieved this outcome and it is possible we will be disappointed by the results of the Commission meeting this evening. Let us wait and see what will be the outcome.
We have managed to gain some traction around issues such as food security and the need to protect food production and the farming base in the European Union in the years ahead. France and Germany have come on board in this effort. I pay tribute to officials in my Department who are working every week at European level to get the point across to people who have not shown a significant interest in the food industry and farming that food is a very important industry for the European Union from a food security point of view and must be protected.
On the issue the Deputy raised, there will be a long debate on how the overall fund is distributed and redistributed among countries which have done well in the past from the Common Agricultural Policy and countries which have not done so well. There will also be a debate on how Ireland spends the overall national envelope from CAP. I will continue to argue that we should have the flexibility to decide the most appropriate way to spend the funds we receive from the European Union to promote our priorities for farming, which are different from the priorities of many other countries.
30 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the damage that was done to the agriculture sector in relation to the E.coli outbreak in Germany; if financial compensation has been applied for to the EU; if so, the amount of same; the reason for same; the lessons if any that can be learned from the way the issue was handled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17637/11]
The recent E. coli outbreak resulted in significant loses for horticultural producers and traders across the European Union. Thankfully Ireland was not affected to the same extent as the main exporting countries such as Spain and the Netherlands. The sharp fall in consumer demand in light of the crisis resulted in a significant surplus of produce on the EU market.
I attended a specially convened Agriculture Council meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday, 7 June 2011 to discuss both the public health and the market related issues involved. The Council was briefed by both Commissioners for Health and Agriculture. There was an extensive discussion on the need for a fully funded EU market measure and I am pleased the Commission responded promptly to that demand.
In an effort to remove the surplus product and contribute to the restoration of market balance, the Commission introduced a scheme with an EU wide budget of €210 million. The scheme, which is fully EU funded, runs from 26 May to 30 June 2011 and covers cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, courgettes and sweet peppers. The rates of EU aid on offer are specifically targeted to attract unsold product on the market. In addition, an EU-wide co-efficient will apply to reduce the rates of aid payable if the budget is oversubscribed.
To date more than 48 tonnes of unsold Irish cucumbers have been destroyed under supervision by the Department in line with the EU scheme. A significant proportion of this produce was destroyed in the immediate aftermath of the E. coli crisis when Irish demand for cucumbers fell significantly. As the scheme remains open until the end of June, a final figure for product withdrawal is not yet available. With the exception of cucumbers, the Irish market has now strengthened to the extent that most of the reduction in demand for salad products is more due to changeable weather than E. coli. Cucumber sales have been slowly recovering but the recovery will take some time.
There has been a second outbreak, this time involving bean sprouts in France. There has been a blame game. Did the discussion with the Commissioners address the issue of how this was handled? I believe it contributed significantly to identifying something that was not ultimately the culprit. Did they address that issue and did they suggest a way of dealing with this type of situation in the future? If one does not learn from a mistake, one is likely to repeat it. That is the key issue. We will continue to be obliged to draw down funds for these occurrences if we do not learn from that mistake.
The Deputy is correct. The implications for Spain were that tens of thousands of seasonal workers lost their jobs and the industry has been decimated this summer. All that happened on the basis of a false accusation that the source of this problem was cucumbers from Spain.
The food safety implications of the crisis were also discussed at yesterday's meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers in Luxembourg, which I also attended. We heard a further report from Commissioner Dalli that there was a decreasing trend in new infections and that all batches of product from the German farm at the centre of the outbreak had now been traced. The European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, together with the French authorities are in the process of investigating the outbreak in France and a special task force has been established. To date, investigations are focusing on seed grown outside the EU and imported during 2010. Commissioner Dalli emphasised that there was no danger from the consumption of salad vegetables such as cucumbers, lettuce, courgettes and tomatoes. Consumers need to know that.
The Commission acknowledged that there were lessons to be drawn from the outbreak in terms of co-ordination and the need for clear communication to the public. As is standard practice, the Commission will engage in a full review of early warning and response procedures over the coming months. It will also consider whether there is a need to strengthen EU hygiene rules on the production of seed for food for human consumption.
The Commission also announced that the difficulties for EU exports of fruit and vegetables to Russia had been resolved following detailed discussions with the Russian authorities. A number of countries in the European Union are heavily reliant on the Russian market and its closure was causing huge commercial problems across the EU.
31 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food further to Parliamentary Question No. 321 of 21 June 2011 and 514 of 3 May 2011, the contact, if any, he has had in relation to the licensing of a new product to treat varroa destructor; the number of alternative products to control varroa destructor here which are being examined under the national apiculture programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17639/11]
The Deputy has been raising this issue for some time and I hope I can now finally give him an answer that is satisfactory. I will send him a more comprehensive briefing note as well, as I will not have time to provide all the information.
Bees play an essential role worldwide by pollinating many of our commercial food crops. They also maintain biodiversity in the wild by pollinating wild plants which then provide shelter and food for a wide range of insects and animals. The honey bee is by far the most important insect pollinator in the world. The varroa mite is the most devastating pest affecting honey bees in Europe. Since its introduction into Ireland in 1998 it has become endemic and is now a major problem for Irish beekeepers.
Currently, two products are authorised to control varroa in Irish honeybees. My Department has identified two more products that should be suitable for treating varroa mites in Ireland. One of these is authorised in another EU member state. However, the other, which is considered the most suitable, is expected to be authorised shortly in another member state. If this is achieved it will allow my Department to consider issuing a special import licence permitting usage of that product in this jurisdiction in time for treatment against varroa later this year as recommended.
The national apiculture programme on bee pathogen research is being carried out by the University of Limerick in conjunction with Teagasc. This three year research programme, running to August 2013, has a budget of €300,000 and is jointly funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the EU.
The obstacle to getting the necessary treatment into Ireland is that it takes a long time to get approval within a country for the treatment to deal with this pest. However, there is an arrangement in the EU whereby if a country goes through the necessary processes and gets approval for its use, it can then be transferred to other European countries without having to go through the approval process again. As we are close to securing approval in another member state, the advice I have been given is to allow that process to be completed. When it is, and I understand that will be in the not too distant future, we will apply for a special import licence to import it into Ireland and make it available at the appropriate time of the year, which is the autumn.
That is as much detail as I can give at this stage, but I will send a further note to the Deputy.
I appreciate the Minister's acknowledgement that it is a very serious problem. Will the Irish Medicines Board be involved in this process? How long will it take to have a special import licence issued if the approval is granted in another member state? Does the Minister agree that it is quite late now given that early August is when this treatment should be administered? Is he satisfied that this new product will be available on time this year or should beekeepers make provision for next year? Does the second product the Minister mentioned contain oxalic acid?
I am not sure about the acid but I will forward all the information I have on the matter to the Deputy. I have asked for extensive information because the Deputy has raised the issue twice and has not received satisfactory answers to date.
The special import licence can issue quite quickly once approval is granted in a member state. Obviously, I am anxious for Ireland to get the most effective treatment available globally for this problem. The advice I have received is that the most suitable product is expected to be authorised shortly within another member state. As soon as that happens we will act quickly. I am advised that the Department hopes to get sanction for the product for this year's season. I accept that we are operating within a tight time constraint but I will try to push the matter within the Department given that the Deputy has been raising it for some time.
In the event that the second product mentioned by the Minister is not made available on time, can he give information on the other product he mentioned, as it might contain oxalic acid? I am told oxalic acid is very effective against this destructive mite, which has the potential to devastate hives throughout the country and cause terrible damage. What advice would the Minister give beekeepers who are waiting to import a product that will have an impact?
The two products that are currently authorised for the control of varroa in Ireland are Apiguard and Bayvarol. There are two alternative products which are oxalic acid based. One is Api-Bioxal, which is at its final stages of the authorisation process in Italy and is expected to be authorised shortly. That is the one we think is most suitable for Ireland and which we are anxious to get here as quickly as possible.
I was listening to media coverage of the bee industry on RTE Radio One last night. It was mentioned that we spend €9 million each year on imported honey while food producers are willing to buy up all the honey produced in this country. Budding entrepreneurs should know that the honey industry is one to be in. The demand for honey is growing and there is not enough home-grown product.
32 Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the progress made to date in bringing about an EU wide milk quota system instead of a national quota. [17625/11]
We return to the issue of the EU-wide milk quota system replacing the national quota. I have answered this question, to a certain extent, but I must reinforce the message.
We are seeking a resolution that will allow flexibility for countries like Ireland exceeding their milk quota without having to pay superlevies. However, we are a long way from resolving the matter and we are unlikely to get a resolution for this milk quota year. I caution dairy farmers not to press ahead and produce milk above their allocated quota on the assumption that a Minister or politician somewhere will achieve a resolution to this problem by next March. The last thing we want to see are heavy superlevy fines being imposed on dairy farmers who are trying to expand their dairies in preparation for 2015.
With other EU countries that have a similar agenda, we will continue to seek a soft landing. Denmark and the Netherlands are obvious examples, both of which had to pay a superlevy fine this year. There are other member states that would like to see expansion of their own dairy industries in advance of 2015 while, at the same time, Europe as a whole would still be under its overall quota. That is something we want to achieve, but we are a long way off it at present.
The case for allowing Ireland to produce more milk is strong. It is nonsense that we are not allowed to produce more infant formula for the Chinese market because of dairy quotas that are intended to control the pricing of dairy product in the EU. However, that is what we are working with. There are countries in the EU that are uncomfortable with doing away with quotas at all after 2015, and they are slow to facilitate any flexibility in the existing agreement to allow a soft landing between now and 2015. That is the problem.
33 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the amount of milk produced by dairy farmers here each year respectively from 2006; if the amount produced was over or under quota each of these years and the percentage by which it was over or under; if he will give details of any milk production estimates he has calculated for each year respectively up to 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17640/11]
This question deals with a similar issue. Deputy Stanton wants detailed figures, which is his style. I should explain that the quota year runs from March to March rather than from January to December.
For the quota years 2005-06 to 2009-10, the breakdown of the amount of milk produced by Irish dairy farmers, and the subsequent quota position, was as follows:
Available Quota (Litres)
Milk Deliveries (Litres)
1.76% under quota
0.26% under quota
0.75% over quota
2.52% under quota
10.34% under quota
The figure has been increasing steadily but slightly year on year. Part of the health check agreement was that we would be allowed to increase our quota by approximately 1% each year in the build up to 2015, when quotas would be abolished. This was the supposed soft landing for quotas. We were to be allowed a slight increase in quota which would facilitate a reduction in the fiscal value of the quota as we moved towards phasing out quotas entirely.
The soft landing is not working for Ireland. The value of quota is still high here, in Denmark and in the Netherlands. In fact, it is higher in Denmark this year than it has ever been. The soft landing might be working for some member states but it is not working for us. That is why questions like this continue to be asked, correctly, by Deputies on both sides of the House who want to make sure I am pushing this issue as hard as I can on behalf of farmers. I can assure Members that I am doing so. Moving to flexibility measures outside the existing health check agreement will be difficult.
There will be an opportunity to raise this issue in the autumn. Following the collapse of milk prices in 2009, the EU Commission established a dairy group to look at ways to support prices and prevent a recurrence of the fluctuations we saw in that year. The Commission is now acting on a report produced by that group and will present proposals in the autumn in that regard. However, nothing in those proposals will suit Ireland.
I thank the Minister for his answer. This is a difficult and complicated subject. The Teagasc campus in Moorepark is holding an open day today on planning for 2015.
What can be done to increase milk processing facilities in Ireland? What is the current situation? Are we close to capacity or are there plans to increase processing facilities so that we can cope with the increase in milk production?
That is a very good question. There is no point in producing milk unless it has somewhere to go. The processing sector in Ireland is at full capacity during the high season when cows are out on grass and producing milk at their highest levels. At those times we do not have any excess capacity. The processing sector is looking at investing substantial sums of money in increased processing capacity.
Other exciting things are happening that will allow for an increased take of volume of milk. For example, outside Macroom a big plant is being built by Danone to produce infant formula. The Macroom plant currently produces 35,000 tonnes of infant formula, predominantly for export. Ireland produces 16% of the entire globe's infant formula consumption. By the end of next year Danone will be able to produce more than 100,000 tonnes of infant formula, which uses considerable milk volume, in Macroom. Things are happening.
Given that we have had quota since 1984, the processing sector stagnated in terms of volume output. Processors did not have to invest because they knew there would be no increase in milk volumes for the foreseeable future. There has been no investment in output capacity, in terms of volume, since the mid-1980s. Processors have invested in other areas but not in terms of volume. Processors know they will have to spent tens of millions of euro, if not hundreds of millions, to prepare for 2015.
What is the current position regarding quota? The previous Minister advised us that we would be 8.67% over quota. What is the current position? Has the Minister figures for April and May of this year?
I do. For the current milk quota year, which is 2011-12, returns to the Department by milk purchasers for the period from 1 April to 31 May indicate that the country is currently an estimated 4.92% over quota, when account is taken of butter fat content and milk deliveries. We are already practically 5% over quota for this year.
That is a huge problem. I do not know how to get this message across to farmers. People need to put the reins on producing volume over and above quota levels.
34 Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in relation to payments, if he will give a guarantee that all inspections be completed, processed and cleared in order to deliver payments on schedule within the Charter of Rights and that disadvantage area payments will be paid in mid-September and single farm payments advanced on 16 October; in a year of significantly higher costs if he will guarantee that all payments due will be made to farmers by year end; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17619/11]
The single farm payment forms a significant part of the annual income of the farming community in Ireland. It is clear that the timing of this payment is extremely important to farmers, particularly those farmers with low farm incomes. It is also important in the current difficult financial circumstances where farmers, like other sectors in the economy, are finding it difficult to access credit.
The answer to the Deputy's question is "Yes". I issued a press release earlier stating we have been successful along with other member states in lobbying the Commission to facilitate the early payment of 50% of the moneys under the single farm scheme on 16 October. Farmers will receive 50% of their payments in mid-October rather than having to wait another few months for reasons the Deputy can outline. There have been many problems with drought in Europe this year and there are specific problems in Ireland relating to credit and cash flow. Ireland along with a number of other countries made the case to the Commission that it should facilitate early payments of the single farm payment this year and we have been successful. Only an hour ago, I issued a press statement to that effect.
I thank the Minister. Are the agri-environmental options scheme, AOS, payments included? Some are still due from last year. Is it true that the EU funds 50% of these payments and the Exchequer must make up the remainder? Farmers are wary because if all the payments are not made this year, there is a fear that the Exchequer may be under even more pressure next year. If farmers do not get the payments this year, they are worried they may not get them next year.
The single farm payment is in a different category. The money for this does not come under my expenditure ceiling. The scheme is 100% funded by the Union and it is paid every year. Normally we make a case for an early payment of a portion of the money. Sometimes we are successful and other times we are not. We were successful this year in securing early payment of 50% of the money, which is good.
Farmers are right to be frustrated that they have not received their AOS payments for the final three months of last year because they should have had them by now. Since taking office, I have worked hard to find out what is the blockage. They are likely to get the outstanding payments from last year at the end of July or the beginning of August. That is not the first time I have said this. I have outlined this to the farming organisations, which are also frustrated about this. We are trying to put in place systems to ensure payments can be made as early as possible.
The Deputy is correct that we will be under much more pressure next year in the context of expenditure and, therefore, we are trying to finalise as many payments as possible this year, not only under environmental schemes but also under other grant-aid schemes. For example, if we grant-aid developments on farms under the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, TAMS, we will seek to get that money spent this year.
Does the Minister agree small farmers are the most reliant on these payments? The State has taken the least care of them over the years. We have been much better at looking after large milk farmers rather than small farmers who are more reliant on these payments.
We need to look after both. The big guy will deliver the targets we are setting for ourselves in providing the volumes of milk we need for infant formula, cheese, yoghurts, liquid milk and other products and that is just in the dairy sector. Small farmers are also important. They are the backbone of rural Ireland and, in many cases, they provide quality beef to factories because they deal with suckler herds. It is my job, therefore, to ensure small farmers can stay in business and large farmers, who have the capacity to expand and deliver growth, are encouraged to do so. It is about trying to do both.
35 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the recourse open to a horse owner whose animals were alleged to have been severely abused by a trainer with residential stable facilities; the legislation which governs such a series of events; the bodies responsible for monitoring and enforcing the legislation; the provision made for compensation in the event of income loss and proven abuse; his views that policy and legislation in this regard is inadequate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17617/11]
This question is similar to Priority Question No. 28, as it deals with the welfare of horses and my Department's responsibility in this regard. If people have specific complaints and they think their horses or somebody else's horses have been or are being abused, they should report that to the Garda, which has an obligation to act on the complaint if there is evidence to suggest animal welfare legislation is being breached. We are trying to consolidate legislation in this area and, hopefully, everybody will see this before the end of the year to address problems in this area. We will debate this issue again when the legislation is published and processed by the House.
It is my intention to introduce comprehensive animal welfare legislation, which will address any ambiguity and lack of understanding that may exist because of the various Bills that are the responsibility of different Departments.
I am familiar with the details of this case, as is the Department. The previous Minister was also familiar with them. The man affected has described an horrific series of events regarding how his horses were abused in training. It is not good enough to refer people to the Garda in cases such as this.
Will the Deputy please put a question? We are running out of time.
Will the Minister consider a meeting between his officials and this man as part of the review of the inadequacy of the existing legislation? We would end up with much tighter animal welfare legislation, particularly as it pertains to horses. The officials would see the gaps in the current legislation.
The person to whom we are referring is Mr. William Treacy. He has been in correspondence with my Department for some time, long before I came along. I have spoken to my officials in this regard and they have tried to be as comprehensive as they can in the context of what my Department can do but we are limited under the legislation available to us. My Department does not have legal responsibility for horses in racing stables and if there is a case to be made, it should be made to the Garda. We gave him that advice. Everybody, including Mr. Treacy, will have an opportunity to lobby and to express his or her opinion or concern when the animal welfare Bill is published. I look forward to hearing what he has to say. I am an approachable Minister, as I hope people have experienced, and I am willing to speak to him in the same way as anybody else who feels he or she has a significant contribution to make to the Bill.
My problem is that because of the inadequacy of the current legislation, Mr. Treacy has no recourse for what happened to his animals. Owners such as him do not have direct sight of their horses and they cannot know whether they are being well trained. There is no monitoring, yet he is legally responsible for the welfare of his horses. Due to the lack of legislation, it is wrong that a person like Mr. Treacy should be left to his own devices and abandoned by the State, in the sense of going to the guards and hoping that everything will be all right.
This is not a case of going to the guards and hoping that everything will be all right. As recently as 27 May, senior officials from my Department met with Mr. Treacy to discuss his case and his concerns. There is no lax attitude towards animal welfare in my Department. Actually, it is full of animal lovers. In case anybody misunderstands the situation, we have tried to help Mr. Treacy, but we are limited under law in what we can do. When we put new legislation in place, we will publish it before it is introduced here and there will be an opportunity for consultation with people who have experience of animal welfare issues, such as Mr. Treacy, and we will try to take on board his concerns. I am not sure that meeting me or anyone else in the Department will progress the issue any further until we have a Bill on the table.
36 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the steps he will take to save the Dingle ice plant in view of the fact that it is a vital part of the infrastructure for the fishing industry in the greater Dingle area. [17602/11]
This issue has been raised by one of my own colleagues for some time. The contract for producing ice for fishermen at the ice plant in Dingle is held by BIM, and it ends at the end of this month. At the moment, there is no clear resolution on who will take over that ice plant to ensure that there is a consistency of supply of ice to the fishing industry. It is ultimately the responsibility of BIM, during the transition, to ensure that fishing interests in the town are safeguarded.
We are looking to extend the current contract, whereby BIM would continue to operate the ice plant until we have a satisfactory alternative to take over that ice plant, which will be offered by tender to another operator. I hope that operator will be a consortium of fishing interests in the area to ensure that the ice plant remains intact.
BIM has made a strategic decision to get out of ice provision for good reason, namely, its current limitations on staff. This is new to Dingle, but it is not new nationally. BIM has got out of ice production and put in place an alternative structure for providing ice to fishermen in other ports. I hope that we will be able to do the same with the co-operation of fishing interests and stakeholders in the Dingle area. It is in everybody's interests that there is a consistent supply of ice there.
I would like to acknowledge the great co-operation I have received from the Minister to date on this issue. The ice plant is a strategically important facility in the town of Dingle. Local councillor, Councillor Seamus Cosaí Fitzgerald has been very active on this issue as well. Can the Minister give a guarantee that the contracts for the two workers in the ice plant, which are due to expire tomorrow, will be extended for the two months required to allow for a smooth transition to an alternative operator of the ice plant?
I am not in a position to give that guarantee at the moment. My Department has applied to the Department of Finance, which is the body that can give sanction to extend a contract like that. My Department cannot do that. We made that application today. BIM requested that our Department do it and our request has gone to the Department of Finance. I am hopeful that we will get a quick response so that we can give BIM the breathing space to make the transition, as I have already outlined.
Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.