I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important issue for debate. The publication on 1 November 2013 of the TSE (fallen animal) subsidy scheme and, more particularly, the revised terms and conditions contained therein have been a cause of great concern and angst among the farming community, the Animal Collectors' Association and knackeries. This arises because of an invitation for expression of interest for inclusion in the relevant panels in the revised scheme. The major changes focus on clause 7.8 of the proposed scheme, which proposes, in effect, to limit the haulage of category 1 material to a plant less than 125 km from the intermediate plant or knackery and which would, for example, for many such operators exclude the availability of approved rendering plants located in Northern Ireland. Many such operators have contractual agreements with these approved renderers and have been provided with extremely efficient, effective and compliant service over recent years. The question arises as to why such mutually advantageous arrangements should be fractured by the implementation of a new set of rules and guidelines which will effectively be the death knell for many knackeries as they will find themselves subject to significant price increases because of the smaller number involved. This will lead to cost increases.
What is more serious is that these new rules are being introduced unilaterally without any recourse to consultation with the relevant industry stakeholders, which I find very surprising coming from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. It seems to be a new departure and one I certainly hope will not be a precursor of things to come.
Indeed, the 125 km have been calculated as the crow flies and do not take cognisance of the actual road distance involved. What inspired this great work of art? The Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, has branded this restriction anti-competitive and said it will increase the cost of animal disposal. Although I do not always agree with the IFA when I speak in this House, I wholeheartedly agree with its contention in this regard. This proposal effectively limits the subsidy for over 48 month old animals to operators rendering product within 125 km of their base and will therefore knock out a significant number of rendering plants that are normally available. At a meeting with the Department's officials in March, the Animal Collectors' Association was assured that any proposal relating to knackeries would proceed by way of discussion and agreement, but clearly no consultation took place.
A number of issues arise. On what basis are the changes being made to exclude the availability of fully compliant major renderers? Reducing competition will inevitably lead to an increase in costs. What is the basis or rationale for the 125 km calculation and exclusionary zone? It is specified that this stipulation cannot be breached except with the express permission of the Department. If there are not two or more rendering premises inside the 125 km radius from the knackery, delivery is permitted to either of the two nearest rendering premises as measured by road. This is making a scheme that should be simple complicated. It appears the Department wishes to ensure that lawyers will never be idle. Will the Minister revisit this scheme before it becomes operational on 30 November next? The scheme appears to be quite workable aside from the 125 km restriction. Why not take clause 7.8 out of it altogether?