Other Questions

Aquaculture Development

Michael Moynihan

Question:

6. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the temporary restriction on development grants included in the text of the Irish seafood national programme is still in place; whether a decision has been taken to reverse the decision in this programme to defer until after 2013 the targets for the increased productive capacity for salmon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21497/13]

The Irish seafood national programme 2007-13 is a framework programme under the national development plan covering supports to the seafood sector that are not co-funded by the EU. Most support to the seafood sector is co-funded by the European fisheries fund and is covered by the Seafood development programme 2007-13.

Financial supports for the construction, installation and modernisation of aquaculture enterprises are provided by Bord Iascaigh Mhara, BIM, and Údarás na Gaeltachta through the commercial aquaculture development scheme. This scheme was originally part of the Irish seafood national programme, but was moved into the co-funded seafood development programme in 2012 as part of a revision of that programme following its 2011 interim evaluation.

As part of the original development of both programmes, a strategic environmental assessment, SEA, was conducted. During the course of the public consultation on that SEA, the central and regional fisheries boards, now Inland Fisheries Ireland, raised concerns about the possibility of sea lice emanating from salmon farms negatively affecting migrating wild salmon. The Minister for Communication, Energy and Natural Resources supported these concerns.

Rather than delay the finalisation of the programmes, it was agreed to exclude marine salmon farms from financial support under the Irish seafood national programme until such time as the sea lice issue has been satisfactorily resolved. This temporary restriction on development grants was included in the text of the Irish seafood national programme, on page 99. There is no restriction on the development of the salmon farming sector itself.

With the transfer of the commercial aquaculture development scheme into the co-funded seafood development programme in 2012, the text of that programme was amended to provide for the continuation of the temporary restriction on financial support to the marine salmon farming sector. The temporary restriction was also included in the eligibility criteria approved earlier this year for the 2013 call for applications under the commercial aquaculture development scheme. The temporary restriction, therefore, remains in place. It remains intact because there are ongoing discussions between my Department and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on this issue.

The European Commission has been very clear that it now accepts that the systems in place in Ireland to control sea lice and salmon farms are probably the best anywhere in Europe. As far as we are concerned, the sea lice issue is no longer significant. However, we need to convince our colleagues in the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the IFI that this is the case. If and when this is achieved, we will remove the restriction.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

The Irish seafood national programme included a table specifying targeted increases in production by 2015 for the main aquaculture species, including salmon. Owing to the temporary restriction on financial support to the marine salmon farming sector, arising from the SEA, the programme acknowledged that the targeted increase in production of salmon would be adversely affected by the absence of development support. As that temporary restriction remains in place, the targeted increase in production of salmon continues to be affected. My Department’s policy on sea lice controls is strictly evidence based. The control protocols are operated by the Marine Institute on behalf of the State and are more advanced than those operated in other jurisdictions for the following reasons: the inspection regime is totally independent of the industry, data obtained as a result of inspections are published and treatment trigger levels are set at a low level.

In 2008, the State introduced a new pest-management strategy, supplementing the control regime already in place. This has resulted in a steady decline in average sea lice numbers on farmed salmon since its inception. The protocols have been the subject of detailed investigation and testing by the EU Commission in response to a complaint from a member of the public in respect of the effects of sea lice on wild salmon. On 11 October 2012, the Commission closed its investigation of this complaint in the State's favour following its examination of all relevant matters. The Commission has also indicated that it regards the sea lice protocols operated in Ireland as representing best practice internationally.

Can the Minister confirm whether any money was given to Bord Iascaigh Mhara for the licence and, therefore, the development process pertaining to fish farms in Galway Bay and others in respect of which it is carrying out environmental impact assessments? There is one in north Mayo, for example. Does the Minister agree that if money was given to Bord Iascaigh Mhara to do this, it would at least be in contravention of the spirit of the statement in the Irish seafood national programme?

No. Bord Iascaigh Mhara is a semi-State body responsible for the development of the seafood sector. This includes salmon farming, other elements of aquaculture, wild sea fisheries etc. The body has applied, in its name, to develop a large salmon farm in Galway Bay. As the Minister who makes the decision under licence, I will have a very detailed set of recommendations on the application based on the expertise available to me in my Department and the Marine Institute primarily. We will be making decisions when the recommendations are issued. It is the job of Bord Iascaigh Mhara to seek opportunities in regard to the seafood sector, to encourage the private sector to avail of these opportunities and to facilitate development as an entity in itself. We have not given the body extra resources to do that.

The money Bord Iascaigh Mhara is using is State money, obtained from the Department; it is not private sector money. It seems strange that the Department will not grant aid a private individual or company to develop a fish farm although it is happy that its money may be used by a State entity to develop the biggest fish farms ever in the country, in respect of which the risk of sea lice will be many times greater than it would otherwise be. Can the Minister confirm this? Can he explain how this is within the spirit of the statement in the programme, whose clear intent was to place a moratorium on the development of fish farms?

No; it was not.

It seems very Jesuitical to be arguing that it is okay for Bord Iascaigh Mhara to use State money to develop a project while it is not okay to have fish farm development of a much smaller scale on the part of a private entity because of the sea lice issue. As the Minister stated, the exclusion was on the basis of the sea lice issue identified in the environmental impact statement.

Either the Deputy does not understand the policy or he is deliberately trying to misrepresent what it is about.

I do understand it.

There is no moratorium on the development of salmon farms.

There will be no money available until the restriction is moved for any farm, be it in Galway Bay or anywhere else.

Money is being given to Bord Iascaigh Mhara.

There is no grant aid available to put infrastructure in place.

The Minister should have been a Jesuit.

The Deputy is trying to muddy the waters for political reasons, as usual, and is trying to cause division.

The Minister is the one trying to cause division.

The problem is that the Deputy does not listen and does not want to hear the actual truth. He would much rather create division between people.

I would like to reassure Members in regard to sea lice. My Department's policy on sea lice controls is strictly evidence based. The control protocols are operated by the Marine Institute on behalf of the State and are more advanced than those operated in any other jurisdiction in the European Union. The inspection regime is totally independent of the industry. Data obtained are a result of inspections and they are published fully regularly. We have treatment trigger levels that are set very low by international standards. Therefore, we have deliberately put in place a gold standard in regard to the treatment of lice because of issues that arose in the past that had to be addressed in policy.

There is no moratorium on the development of salmon farms but the licensing system to facilitate salmon farms is rigorous. It will continue to be rigorous, regardless of the applicant, be it Bord Iascaigh Mhara or anybody else. I strongly defend the entitlement of Bord Iascaigh Mhara to use its initiative in trying to develop the seafood industry with a view to creating jobs. This is the thinking behind what it is doing. Whether it gets a licence is an entirely different issue on which I must make a very independent decision.

Horse Passports

Derek Keating

Question:

7. Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans to introduce a centralised system for horse passports; if horse passports will cover those of certain breeds and who are for export or will every horse in the State be required, like canine registration, to be chipped and hold a passport irrespective of travel, transportation, sale or movement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21406/13]

Derek Keating

Question:

20. Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his plans for passports in respect of horses in the State; if he will outline the terms and conditions of his plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21407/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 20 together.

My response will be technical but I will give the Deputy a more direct response to supplementary questions he might have.

The identification and registration of horses is governed by EU Council Directives 90/426/EEC and 90/427/EEC and Commission Regulation (EC) No. 504/2008 of 2008. The EU legislation has been transposed into national legislation. Regulation 504/2008 came into effect in July 2009. It provides that if an equine animal has not been identified within six months of the date of its birth, or by 31 December in the year of its birth, whichever date occurs later, it cannot be admitted to the food chain. It also provides that all equine animals registered after that date must be identified with a passport and a microchip. However, equines identified prior to that date in accordance with EU regulations then in force are not required by EU legislation to be microchipped, and it is not open to me to impose such a requirement on them.

With regard to the issuing of passports, Regulation No. 504/2008 provides that, in the case of horses that qualify for registration with a breed society, the passport must be issued by the relevant breed society. At present, nine passport-issuing organisations are approved to issue passports in Ireland, although some have been suspended temporarily.

I announced in March that I would like to see the establishment of a single passport issuing organisation. I noted, however, that this would necessitate an amendment to EU legislation. Subsequently, the EU Commission published an action plan for dealing with the fall-out from the horsemeat issue, indicating that it intended to submit a proposal to the agriculture Council of Ministers and the European Parliament to amend existing legislation to provide that competent authorities take over responsibility for issuing passports. A formal Commission proposal is expected in the second half of 2013. I will move to the final stage in the establishment of a single passport-issuing agency once EU legislation provides me with the overarching legal base to put this into effect. In the meantime, my Department is engaged in discussions with the passport-issuing agencies with a view to enhancing the controls on passports at all stages of the process, including veterinary certification, quality of the paper used and security features.

In line with a commitment I gave earlier in the year, my Department has taken significant steps to establish a central equine database on the animal identification and movement, AIM, system. Data for over 70% of equine animals registered with the passport issuing organisations since 1 January 1980 were downloaded onto the central database in recent days. The central database will include information from records obtained at slaughter plants, knackeries, sales and live exports. The information on the central equine database will be used by my Department's veterinary staff to supplement current checks at slaughterhouses, in particular that horses presented for slaughter have been correctly identified and are eligible for slaughter and the human food chain.

I am satisfied that I have acted swiftly, as I promised I would do, to deal with the issues arising from the equine DNA issue.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. A major problem has arisen in parts of my constituency, Clondalkin and Lucan, and in other urban communities in recent years in regard to wild and uncontrolled horses. I have had the sad experience of witnessing the removal of dead horses on a number of occasions. It is a problem that is not going away. While many groups in my area have, because of their special love of horses, taken an interest in this issue, ultimately, it is left to the local authorities to deal with it. It is a costly and time consuming exercise and requires ongoing security when horses need to be impounded, etc.

With regard to the illegal export of horses for the food chain, I congratulate the Minister on his work in this area.

A question, please.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister. Is he and the Minister for Justice and Equality satisfied that there is sufficient legislation in place to deal with the issue of uncontrolled and wild horses? In terms of financing, how is it proposed to address this issue? Will local authorities continue to be burdened with the cost in this regard? On the sale of horses within the State, will the exercise of this control be obligatory? For example, will the proposed system be similar to that in place for the registration of a car or a truck?

Uncontrolled horses present an issue, as do abandoned horses. The number of horse owners has reduced dramatically in the past five years. Many people bought horses either for themselves or their children when they could afford to do so. One of the consequences of the recession is that many people can no longer afford to keep horses. In some cases, this has resulted in the abandonment of animals. Another issue is that of people who own horses but do not own land and are using public land on which to graze them. In many cases, there is not sufficient grass available for them, particularly this year.

I have been involved in a number of extreme horse welfare cases in Cork city, in which the Department had to intervene and put down a number of animals because of the condition they were in and in which horses had been found dead in fields in urban areas, which is totally unacceptable. Some of the horses were taken to the horse pound, reclaimed by their owners and found for a second or third time in an emaciated condition, which is also totally unacceptable.

The Animal Health and Welfare Bill 2012 which some Members may have been involved in amending and which, following approval by the Seanad, will be enacted introduces significant new powers in holding animal owners to account. Also, we are providing additional funding for local authorities to microchip impounded horses. This will ensure, should horses be claimed and we need to prosecute in the future, that we will know who owns them. This is about holding people to account in terms of their responsibilities in animal ownership. They need to know there are consequences for the abuse or abandonment of animals. Developing systems to manage the problem of uncontrolled or stray horses is a delicate process because one must balance people's right to own an animal and all of the benefits that come from this with ensuring animals are not abused.

I thank the Minister for his understanding of the problem which people in my constituency and other urban areas are experiencing. I appreciate that the new legislation will be of great assistance in holding animal owners to account. I also welcome the Minister's announcement that additional funding will be provided to assist local authorities in addressing this issue. The Minister referred to the use of microchips in endeavouring to control this problem, which I welcome. I thank the Minister for engaging in this subject and his satisfactory reply.

I will allow brief supplementaries from Deputies Anthony Lawlor, Pat Deering, Thomas P. Broughan and Mick Wallace.

The Minister has stated that among the information stored on passports will be information on drugs administered to a horse and, where necessary, a veterinary stamp indicating the animal is not fit for human consumption. Has account been taken of drugs which could be out of the blood stream prior to an animal being passed fit for human consumption?

I welcome the additional funding provided to assist local authorities in dealing with this issue, which is a problem in every local authority area. Does the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine communicate with local authorities on how best to alleviate it? Also, how many horses, without passports, are there in the country? Would it be worth considering an amnesty for the owners of horses without a passport in order to alleviate the problem? Come next winter, the same problem could arise again.

I too welcome the Minister's announcements on mircochipping and passports. When I first raised this issue with him last autumn, I was struck by how little he knew about the horse industry.

The Minister could not give me an answer.

To what question?

The Minister did not know how many horses were slaughtered, the level of exports, production levels in different slaughterhouses and so on. He did not have a clue.

The Deputy never asked me those questions.

They are on the Dáil record. It is shameful, given the role of the horse in the agriculture sector and our culture generally. What is the timeframe for the introduction of microchipping? Will the racing industry which we continue to subsidise considerably make a contribution towards the protection of horses?

How does the Minister respond to the statement by Dr. Thomas Reed of The Warmblood Studbook of Ireland, one of the organisations approved to issue horse passports, that the proposed database is a creature of political necessity and will be a band aid effort, rather than the response needed to protect the food chain, that the database will not improve human health or stamp out fraud and that new control measures and regulations are required?

I will respond first to Deputy Mick Wallace's point on the statement made by Dr. Thomas Reed. He is not the person who decides on policy in Ireland. However, he is correct that the database will not solve all problems. However, I never claimed it would. We are introducing a database because it is the right thing to do and we said we would do so. We want to have a handle on the numbers of horses in Ireland. In time, every horse in the country will be microchipped and have a passport. This will ensure we will have the same knowledge of the horse sector, in terms of the types of horses owned, where they are and who owns them, as we do of the beef sector. That is the reason for having a centralised database. I want to go further, which is what I believe people like Dr. Reed would like me to do. We also want to have a centralised body for issuing passports in order that we can impose the controls and standards required in terms of the need for accuracy.

Some of the current issuing bodies are very good at what they do. Some such as Weatherbys, Horse Sport Ireland - I do not want to pick and choose between the two of them - and others do a very good job and we will be working with them but, ultimately, I want my Department to have central control of the standards for the issuing of equine passports, microchips and any other identification systems we may introduce. I have said clearly in my answer today that once the European Commission gives us the green light to do that, we will press ahead and do it. It will bring forward a proposal to change EU regulations in this area to allow us do that in the second half of this year.

Deputy Broughan is clearly a great horseman. I do not recall not being able to answer questions he asked.

The Minister has no answers or figures.

All I can do-----

The Minister does not even know how many animals there are.

-----is stand over my record in terms of responding to a horsemeat crisis that became a European crisis that began in Ireland and I think we dealt with that in a professional, detailed and very accurate way.

I am talking about the substantive issue.

The substantive issue is what?

It is the animals and their welfare.

Yes, it is, which is why we-----

The Minister knew nothing about it. He could not even give me the information.

For a man who is so concerned about animal welfare I do not recall one contribution he made on the Animal Health and Welfare Bill which was debated in this House for about ten hours.

I am not allowed to speak on Second Stage.

The Deputy probably did not even know it was being taken.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows that and so does the Minister.

If the Deputy was concerned I am sure he would have made contact with me informally.

I did. I tried my best.

The Deputy is a bluffer on this issue and that is the reality.

I have asked the Minister questions which he has not answered.

To answer Deputy Deering's point, there was in effect an amnesty in Ireland when the new requirements on passports and microchips were introduced to give people a chance to catch up with that new regulation. We cannot introduce another amnesty. The rules are the rules. Everybody understands, or should understand, the rules at this stage. We need to educate people and implement them. Getting a microchip and a passport for a horse is not a particularly expensive process. We must be clear and uncompromising in terms of imposing the rules and regulations.

On the use of drugs in horses, testing can be done in factories, as we do for phenylbutazone in particular, to ensure horses do not go into the human food chain if they should not go into it. That is because "bute" remains in an animal's system for many years once it has been applied. The reason we only use "bute" testing is that it is a test to determine whether animals have been given veterinary medicines that may be inappropriate to enter the human food chain. However, I will examine what the Deputy requested, namely, whether there are more detailed and comprehensive tests that could be used in an affordable way to try to screen horses more directly because there is a problem now in Ireland in terms of what to do with sport horses that have been treated that are reaching the end of their days. The number of horses that have been going to knackeries has significantly increased. That involves a cost for the owner rather than the opposite being the case, namely, getting payment for a horse if it is brought to a factory for processing for human consumption.

Animal Welfare Issues

Bernard Durkan

Question:

8. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the degree to which animal welfare requirements continue to be met with particular reference to the extent to which his Department and the relevant local authorities have joined in their efforts to ensure that farmers, who are required to undertake expensive development costs in the course of meeting the animal welfare criteria laid down in the pig and poultry sectors are treated in a reasonable manner in respect of compliance with approval in regard to buildings that are in accord with plans to the nearest square metre and that local authorities are not expected to issue confirmation to this effect other than in the normal way; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21513/13]

With regard to planning matters, the Deputy will be aware that these are the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government. However, I am aware of the challenges faced by farmers in respect of new developments to meet animal welfare directives and my Department has been working with all stakeholders to ensure that this transition goes as smoothly as possible.

New EU animal welfare rules setting down new standards on the housing of sows came into force on 1 January 2013. My Department introduced a targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, better known to farmers as TAMS, for sow welfare in June 2010 in order to assist pig farmers in converting existing pig units or constructing new units to comply with the requirements of this directive. I introduced a revised TAMS sow welfare scheme in July 2012. The revised scheme increased the previous investment ceiling of €300,000 per holding to €500,000 per applicant for the first sow house; a further amount of €300,000 for each of the next three houses was also introduced. A total of €13 million has been allocated to this scheme under the rural development programme. It follows two earlier schemes in 2005 and 2007 and payments of €6.2 million have already been made to pig producers.

A significant number of pig producers have undertaken the necessary work required to upgrade their facilities in order to comply with the new rules. The deadline for receipt of valid applications was 3 May 2013 and all work under the scheme must be completed by the end of September 2013.

With regard to the poultry sector, the enriched cage production system, which prohibited the sale of eggs produced in older un-enriched cages, was introduced in January 2012. Some €16 million was allocated through the TAMS, under the aegis of Ireland’s rural development programme, to assist existing producers to convert their production systems. The deadline for completion of work was the end of September 2012 and, to date, more than €11 million has been paid out to farmers under the scheme.

In conclusion, I am satisfied that my Department has made substantial resources available to the pig and poultry sectors to enable producers in these sectors to comply with EU legislation in the animal welfare area. In addition, both I and the Department are in regular contact with farm bodies and various banks concerning the availability of credit to pig and poultry farmers. Farmers who are not satisfied with the service provided by their banks can ask for an internal review by the bank but I would also encourage them to talk to my Department because I would like to hear if they are not getting the kind of treatment they need to get from their banks at the moment.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply, for the work he has done under the animal welfare headings and for the support he has given to farmers in the pig and poultry sectors. Farmers who are actively trying to comply with the September deadline and are well on course to do so find themselves at slight odds with the local authorities in terms of planning permission and often the devil can be in the detail. The old standard that is applicable is that if a development is largely compliant with the design submitted to the planning authority, that is acceptable and can be signed off by a competent architect or engineer. This apparently is not acceptable to the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which has required a certificate from the local authority, but the local authorities do not provide that in respect of any development. The Minister might engage with the relevant sectors to find out what exactly is happening because an administrative blockage is resulting unfortunately in a more serious one to the effect that some sow owners have been threatened with the possibility of not being compliant with regulations and may have to forego their farm support grants even though the September deadline has not yet been achieved.

I call the Minister for a final reply.

We are trying to be as helpful as we can to the pig sector in particular. What is being asked of farmers here is to move from an intensive, essentially, tethered system for sows to loose housing for breeding sows, which is a welfare issue. This is not before time; it should have happened years ago. In some countries in the European Union it did happen years ago but the capital investment required to do that is significant for many farmers at a time when those in the pig industry has had a pretty tough few years in terms of the price of feed in particular and some margins have been very tight. We are trying to be as helpful as we can by maximising the grant aid and we have increased it as I outlined. If there are other issues around planning or approvals in terms of engineering certificates or whatever that are a blockage in the system, perhaps the Deputy could give me the details of those and we can talk about the matter afterwards, but I would be anxious to try to facilitate this because we are trying to keep as many pig farmers in business as we can. We will lose some because of these changes but I hope it will be a very small number because this is an industry we want to grow and expand. Perhaps the Deputy could give me some details on this and I assure him we will follow up on it.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.