I welcome the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Michael Creed, the Minister of State, Deputy Andrew Doyle, Deputies and staff as we begin another day's work on behalf of our people. I remind all speakers that there is a six-and-a-half minute time span for each question with 30 seconds for a Deputy to introduce a question, two minutes for a ministerial reply, one minute for a supplementary question, one minute for a ministerial reply, one minute for a final supplementary and one minute for a final response from the Minister. I ask all Members to stick rigidly to the time in order that we can get through as many questions as possible.
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
1. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the contingencies being operationalised and the supports that will be in place to safeguard farmers and the agrifood sector here in all scenarios, including a no-deal, hard Brexit by 29 March 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5798/19]
In light of Brexit being only six weeks away, what contingencies and supports are being put in place by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to safeguard farmers and the agrifood sector in all scenarios including, and in particular, a hard Brexit?
I have been addressing the immediate Brexit challenges through a range of budgetary measures aimed at improving competitiveness and developing market and product diversification. These measures include a €150 million low-cost loan scheme in 2017 to help reduce farm gate business costs and a dedicated €50 million Brexit package in budget 2018, which included further additional funding to Bord Bia and Teagasc, as well as a contribution to a €300 million Brexit loan scheme, at least 40% of which is available to food businesses. In budget 2019, I announced a €78 million Brexit package for farmers, fishermen and food SMEs to cover additional costs related to Brexit. My colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, also announced the future growth loan scheme, which will be rolled out in 2019 and for which I had made provision of €25 million in 2018. The scheme will provide long-term unsecured investment finance for farmers and small-scale companies in the food and seafood sectors.
On market and product diversification, the additional funding I have provided to Bord Bia has been used, inter alia, to provide targeted advice to individual companies, as well as to conduct a market prioritisation exercise that is now informing our approach to market diversification activities, including the choice of destinations for trade missions. Product diversification also has been supported through additional funding of €8.8 million to Teagasc to develop its national food innovation hub and funding to support investment in the prepared consumer foods sector.
I, and my officials, have been working hard for some time to sensitise other member states and the European Commission to the potentially highly severe impacts of Brexit on the Irish agrifood and fisheries sectors and to the likelihood of specific supports being required to deal with these impacts. Most recently, I held a bilateral meeting with Commissioner Hogan last week to discuss the potential impact of a disorderly Brexit on the Irish agrifood and fisheries sectors. Commissioner Hogan reiterated the EU's readiness to respond and support Ireland and we will remain in contact on these issues as the situation evolves.
As regards contingency planning, my Department has been actively participating in the whole-of-Government approach to preparedness and contingency planning. We have fed into the overall Government contingency action plan, which was published on 19 December, and we have been working closely with colleagues in other Departments and agencies to address, in particular, the requirements that will arise in relation to the implementation at ports and airports of import controls on agrifood products coming from the UK. These requirements are significant and arise in respect of the carrying out of documentary, identity and physical checks on imports of animals, plants and products of animal and plant origin, as set out in EU legislation. Work in this regard has been focused on three key areas, namely, infrastructure, staffing and information technology and in three key locations: Dublin Port, Rosslare Port and Dublin Airport.
Throughout all of this work, the focus of the Department will continue to be on the need to discharge its legal responsibilities while ensuring the minimum possible disruption to trade.
Most of the Minister's response to my question is old news in the sense that it is the same response we have been getting for two years, particularly with regard to market diversification and the loan schemes that have been put in place but which, in many ways, have not been delivered up until now. The response does not give any sense of the urgency associated with the fact that we are six weeks away from a potential hard Brexit or set out the measures being taken to ensure that the agrifood and farming sectors are protected in the event of a hard Brexit. As things stand, businesses do not know what the arrangements will be in six weeks' time. They are being left to try to prepare as best they can but without clarity from the Minister or his Department in regard to the financial supports that might be available. In the beef sector, for example, €750 million worth of tariffs could potentially be placed on our beef exports to the UK, which would amount to, on average, €400 of tariffs per animal. That is a scary vista for the agrifood sector. We need clarity from the Minister on what preparations are being made and what we can expect in six weeks if no deal is reached in the interim period.
Our endeavours to date have been to build resilience within the sector. We have invested in measures such as the environmental efficiency programme in the beef sector announced this week and restoring cuts to the areas of natural constraints scheme while working with the industry on the food innovation hub, the prepared consumer foods initiative, the meat technology centre and low-interest loans. That is building resilience within the sector here.
The premise of the Deputy's question seems to be that preparedness can mitigate all of the impacts of a hard Brexit; it cannot. The situation will change irreversibly once the UK leaves the EU. We hope that it leaves with a transition agreement and future trading relationship in place. However, even if we get to that optimum position for its departure, the situation will never be as good as it currently is. In addition to building resilience inside and outside the farm gate, we have engaged with all of our EU partners to create awareness of our exposure, which is unique in terms of its extent relative to other member states, and to prepare them to respond.
The Deputy mentioned the issue of tariffs. Unfortunately, we do not currently know what the response of the UK will be - tariffs, no tariffs or something in between - and that limits our ability to protect the value of the market. Until that becomes clear, it will not be possible to respond in a meaningful way. I am satisfied that we have prepared the groundwork in terms of latitude to the State and EU awareness in terms of the common organisation of the markets regulation and exceptional aid measures in order to be able to respond as needed.
Of course, preparedness cannot mitigate all of the massive disturbances that Brexit will bring but that is no excuse for not being fully prepared. Unfortunately, it seems that although the national message has been that we must prepare for the worst but hope for the best, the approach of the Government over the past two years has been to spend far more time hoping for the best than preparing for what might happen in six weeks' time. There has been minimal engagement by the Government with the agrifood sector in terms of giving any clarity on what to expect in six weeks' time in the event of a hard Brexit. That has simply been absent from the Government's preparations on this issue.
Last September, following a Cabinet meeting in County Kerry, the Minister and the Taoiseach announced that 300 sanitary and phytosanitary inspectors would be employed in order to be prepared for Brexit. That was later downgraded by the Minister to 116. As of today, we do not know how many will be in place by the end of March. That is another reflection of the fact that we are not particularly prepared for Brexit. Over the coming days, we need absolute clarity on what the agrifood sector is facing and how it will operate in terms of revenue and standards after 29 March in the case of a hard Brexit. We also need a clear plan on how we will respond in terms of market supports and maintaining our trade to the UK market in the event of a hard Brexit.
The accusation that there has been no engagement with the industry is entirely wrong. I understand why the Deputy might make that charge but it is entirely wrong and the industry would not support such a contention. There has been extensive and ongoing engagement and consultation on an almost daily basis with various aspects of the industry. The Deputy is seeking clarity in respect of what the impact will be but, unfortunately, no such clarity exists. It entirely depends on how the UK responds when it leaves the EU. We have prepared insofar as we can for all eventualities, including action on exceptional aid measures, State aid flexibility etc.
On contingency planning and preparedness, if the UK leaves without a deal we will be in a position to meet all our obligations in terms of treating the UK as a third country and how we deal with imports from there. One must bear in mind that we are the biggest trading partner of the UK agrifood industry. All of the staffing arrangements needed to meet our obligations in regard to the necessary portal inspections for agrifood products, animal products and by-products of plant and animal origin, including portal inspectors, veterinary supervision and so on, will be in place by the required date at the aforementioned locations of Rosslare, Dublin Port and Dublin Airport.
It took almost nine minutes to deal with that question. Even for Priority Questions, six and a half minutes is the maximum allowed. As Brexit is a very serious issue, I was reluctant to intervene. However, I appeal to Members to stick to the time limit of six and a half minutes.
Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations
2. Deputy Martin Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the national Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, strategic plan and individual schemes his Department is designing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5762/19]
One issue on which there is certainty is that there will be a new Common Agricultural Policy. Farmers need details of what that will involve and what new schemes are being developed to look after them into the future. That is particularly the case in regard to Pillar 1 because we know there will be changes involving a new environmental section to replace the greening measures. We need details of how that will work, particularly in the context of the current GLAS schemes. I ask the Minister to provide details of the plan. We need to address the nuts and bolts of the policy at this stage.
Under the draft CAP 2021-2027 proposals, each member state is required to submit a CAP strategic plan by 1 January 2020. The new delivery model proposed by the European Commission is performance-based. All schemes under Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 are to be delivered under a single plan. In recognition of the climate change challenges facing the EU and its international commitments in regard to climate action, the new CAP proposals outline a greater environmental ambition post 2020.
The development of the draft CAP strategic plan will be a complex process involving a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats analysis, a needs assessment, scheme design, an ex ante evaluation including a strategic environmental assessment and an appropriate assessment. My Department is currently tendering for the ex ante evaluation of the draft plan, which is an integral part of the process.
Another key element is stakeholder and public consultation. My Department has concluded a series of external stakeholder events and sought public submissions on the draft CAP regulations in January 2018. I hosted a series of public meetings in February 2018 and a national consultative conference was held on 4 July with all key stakeholders following the publication of the Commission’s legislative proposals. The Department also held a series of meetings with key stakeholders.
The next stage of formal consultation is under consideration and its timing will be related to the progress of discussions on the proposals. This consultation may involve requests for written submissions, stakeholder forums and meetings with individual stakeholders. We expect to hold formal public consultation at several stages of the process.
In the meantime, the Department will continue to engage with relevant stakeholders and interest groups through existing forums and structures to update them on the progress of discussions and to hear their views. Most recently, on 22 January my officials updated Oireachtas colleagues at a joint meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committees on Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Rural and Community Development.
My Department will continue to work towards meeting the 1 January 2020 deadline in tandem with continuing discussions between member states and the European institutions regarding the funding of the next CAP and the detail of the current draft CAP regulations, including in regard to the CAP strategic plan.
The Minister is basically telling us that a tendering process is in place to appoint a consultancy firm to develop the plan and that it will be the subject of consultation. There is less than a year to get the contingency plan ready and we need to act quickly to get something in place. I ask the Minister to provide detail on what is envisaged, particularly in regard to Pillar 1. Many farmers have concerns about whether regard will continue to be had to reference years that date from 20 years ago. Will that continue to be the case? Will payments be based on the level of activity engaged in almost a quarter of a century previously? A greater level of certainty is required. What will be done in regard to convergence and how quickly will that be progressed? As the Minister is aware, many farmers currently receive a very low basic payment based on what they were doing in the year 2000. Those payments must be increased in order to allow farmers to protect the family farm.
On biodiversity, the Minister mentioned the issue of greening and environmental concerns. Some farm organisations have raised, for instance, the issue of the keeping of bees as a livestock unit. Has that been considered?
The Deputy will have a further minute to respond.
Are there matters such as that which need to be considered under the CAP?
The Minister may smile but we need to consider how we move things forward because many farmers are concerned.
I have not heard of bees as a livestock unit, but biodiversity and environmental sustainability will be a much more central element of the next Common Agricultural Policy.
The regulations as published require us, in getting to a strategic plan, to do a SWOT analysis of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for Irish agriculture. This analysis also places an obligation to carry out a needs assessment for Irish agriculture into the future and to have an external evaluation of that process and of those two steps. That is why we are going to have a consultant look at what we have done, which itself is as a consequence of engagement with stakeholders. It is a complex process involving external oversight, with a consultant looking at what we are doing, but ultimately it is an issue that will be signed off by the Department, in consultation with stakeholders.
I have heard that criticism of the reference years, but looking at agriculture and entitlements today relative to 20 years ago, they bear little or no resemblance. Bearing in mind that, under the CAP, more than €100 million will have moved from farmers with high per hectare entitlements to farmers below the average level of entitlements, it is my view, which is contained within the document as published, that that journey of convergence will continue. It will be external, in that other member states will be looking for a greater share of the cake, and internal, in that, whatever the size of cake we get, there will be greater convergence. I have heard some people mention upward-only convergence, which baffles me to an extent as something of an oxymoron. There will be a continuation of the journey of convergence, however, which represents a greater equalisation and sharing out the spoils of the Common Agricultural Policy between all farmers.
What plans are there for Pillar 2? GLAS has been a successful scheme, to some extent, but many farmers want certainty into the future. They are concerned that in Pillar 1 there is an element of environmental measures and actions in that regard. What actions are going to be left when a person enters GLAS? We need to be at the stage of getting some certainty on this and on the level of payments that will be available. One of the big criticisms of GLAS is that the level of payments, compared with the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, and other schemes in the past, was significantly less for the actions that the farmers had to take.
I accept that the continuation of that environmental ambition that GLAS has will be part of the next CAP, whether it is a GLAS 2 or a different structure. The Commission says the new CAP will be performance-based with payments approved on the basis of quantifiable outcomes. In terms of the journey of continuing greater sustainability and climate-friendly policies in agriculture, it appears the Commission is looking for quantifiable outcomes upon which payments will be based. The Deputy would be equally critical of me if I were to be overly prescriptive now when we are doing a SWOT analysis and a needs assessment, and if I were to say this is how it was going to be. We will do the SWOT analysis and needs assessment, we will have that oversight by the external consultant, and we will engage with stakeholders. We need successors to GLAS-type schemes and beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, type schemes so that we can continue the journey. It will be an accelerated journey in the new CAP.
Pat the Cope GallagherQuestion:
3. Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the progress made in redrafting an acceptable system for penalty points for serious fishing infringements since a previous statutory instrument was revoked by Dáil Éireann in May 2018; the extent of consultations he has had with the fishing sector, Opposition parties and other interested bodies since May 2018 on the matter; the timeline for dealing with the matter in partnership with all interested parties to meet Ireland's EU obligations on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5899/19]
I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise this question with the Minister, which goes back to 29 May when this House rescinded the statutory instrument placed before the Dáil by the Minister. Since that time, which is 253 days ago, there has been no political engagement whatsoever by the Minister, despite the fact that, on that evening, he was presented with an alternative which I believe would have been acceptable to the European Union. There has been no engagement with the sector or with the spokespersons in this House, with only an interview with a national newspaper trying to apportion blame.
As the Deputy is aware, on 20 March 2018, I signed into force the European Union (Common Fisheries Policy) (Point System) Regulations 2018, SI 89 of 2018. However, SI 89 was annulled by Dáil Eireann on 29 May 2018. SI 89 would appear to be the first SI to be annulled in the history of the State. Given this complex situation and combined with the infringement proceedings taken against Ireland by the European Commission, I requested legal advice from the Attorney General on the matter. This advice has been received and I am considering the next steps with my legal advisers.
The EU Fisheries Control Regulation 1224/2009 and the European Commission Implementing Regulation 404/2011 introduced points systems for serious infringements of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy, CFP, committed by the licenceholder of a fishing vessel and, separately, the master. These are intended to complement sanctions and promote compliance and were required to be in place on 1 January 2012. Both regulations went through the ordinary legislative procedures at EU level, which would have included widespread consultation with interested parties, including the member states, advisory councils, NGOs and the fishing industry. The matter has also been discussed at industry liaison meetings over the years. The EU regulations are highly prescriptive in relation to licenceholders, leaving little room for further negotiation.
Ireland is facing EU infringement proceedings for non-implementation of the required EU points system. In addition, the European Commission has formally notified that all or part of the EU interim payments related to control and enforcement, worth €37.2 million in EU funding, may have to be suspended indefinitely until Ireland complies with the requirements of the control regulation and implements the required EU points systems. I am fully committed to delivering on Ireland's legal obligations in this regard at the earliest possible date.
Will the Minister state in his reply when he got advice from the Attorney General? There has been no consultation, despite what he is saying. The Minister must show respect for the Members of this House whose support he needs to ensure we get a statutory instrument. He made no response in his reply, despite the fact that in his interview with a national newspaper he said he was going to introduce primary legislation. Threats from the European Union or from the Minister do not work. The fact is that he and his predecessor had to go to the Supreme Court, and we know what happens there. We do not have enough time to discuss that.
We want to ensure that the case is proven beyond reasonable doubt and that the individual has a right of appeal. That was not allowed for, despite what the Minister may say. I ask him to consult the spokespersons and other Members of this House. I wish to make it very clear that there is no Member of this House, in particular in my party, who does not want to put either the 2009 or the 2011 regulation into effect, but we must ensure that it is fair and equitable and that there is a right of appeal. It cannot be bulldozed through this House.
We hear that there is a problem with €37 million. That is the very money that the European Union and the Commission want to put into an emergency fund and to suck it out of it. The Minister has to protect the industry and the fishermen. He should let us know when he got the advice from the Attorney General and should not hide behind him.
I do not hide behind anybody. The purpose of this statutory instrument is to deal with serious infringement. It is not an issue, as the Deputy knows, that should be a concern to the industry as a whole. As he undoubtedly also knows, serious infringements are not widespread in the industry.
We are working with the Attorney General's advice, which was received in late 2018, and it is under consideration. The Deputy will also be aware that the choices are to activate the 2016 statutory instrument, which has been approved by this House, or a variation of the 2018 statutory instrument. They are the matters that are under consideration.
I point out to the Minister that we have no difficulty with a penalty points system. There is the issue of common courtesy, and I was first elected to this House in 1981. Not once did the Minister's office even acknowledge that it had received what we describe as the amended statutory instrument which would be acceptable. This failure to provide an acknowledgement is a total insult to me and to other Members of this House. In saying that this was the first time a statutory instrument was annulled, does that mean it was wrong, that we did not go along with the common statutory instruments being placed before the House for 21 days? We are in new politics and we are representing the interests of those, but the Minister is prepared to bring in legislation that does not give a right of appeal to the individuals and does not go to prove an issue beyond reasonable doubt.
I have asked the Minister to state the date on which he received the advice and the position on the primary legislation he was going to introduce.
The points system is for serious infringements. I received the Attorney General's advice in late 2018 and it is under consideration. We have consulted extensively. The Deputy knows, although it may not suit his purpose in the Chamber, that there has been considerable engagement with him and the Fianna Fáil Party leader on this matter.
The Minister has not consulted. He should not try to suggest to the House that he did. I came with the facts.
4. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if fur farming will be prohibited in view of the concerns of an organisation (details supplied) about the farming of captive wild animals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5952/19]
Has the Minister seen and read Veterinary Ireland's Policy Document on Fur Farming 2018? It is extremely significant because it recommends clearly that there be an immediate ban on the farming of mink and similar wild animals for the production of fur. Veterinary Ireland joins a chorus of opposition. I am sure the Minister hears this every Tuesday when there is a protest outside the Department calling for an end to fur farming. According to a poll conducted by RED C Research, those concerned are in line with the 80% of the population in Ireland who believe there should be a ban on fur farming.
My Department has statutory responsibility for the welfare and protection of farmed animals under the European Communities (Welfare of Farmed Animals) Regulations 2010 (Statutory Instrument No. 311/2010) and the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013. In that regard, Irish fur farmers are subject to the same animal welfare legislation as other livestock farmers.
A review of all aspects of fur farming in Ireland was commissioned in November 2011. The terms of reference of the review group were: to review fur farming in Ireland, taking into account existing legislative provisions for the licensing of mink farming; to comment on the economic benefits of the sector; to consider the effectiveness of existing welfare controls; and to make appropriate recommendations. The review group invited submissions from the public and interested parties and considered over 400 submissions. The group concluded that it did not find the arguments in favour of banning the farming of fur animals in Ireland compelling and recommended that instead, fur farming be allowed continue under licence and subject to official control. I accept the findings of the review group and its recommendations. On foot of its deliberations, my Department introduced more rigorous controls on licence-holders in the areas of animal welfare, animal accommodation, security and nutrient management. Licensees are subject to regular inspections, including unannounced inspections by departmental officials. Notwithstanding the position in a number of other European countries, given the recommendations of the review group, there are no plans to introduce a ban on fur farming in Ireland.
My Department has drafted new codes of practice for fur farming, the requirements of which include that each fur farm must have its husbandry plans signed off on by its private veterinary practitioner.
I could have told the Minister that he would say that because, unfortunately, that is what he has said repeatedly, word for word, in response to every question on this issue for a long period. Will he take into account the policy of the expert, Veterinary Ireland? It states it is not possible to farm mink in a way that is not incredibly cruel. It has a very useful table outlining the conditions of mink in the wild: they are solitary animals; have territories ranging between 1 sq. km and 3 sq. km; are semi-aquatic; and stereotypes do not occur in nature. By comparison, farmed mink live in close proximity to other mink and cannot avoid abnormal social contact. They spend their entire lives in wire-mesh battery cages, typically measuring 90 cm by 30 cm by 45 cm, and cannot run, swim, dive or hunt, preventing them from exhibiting basic natural behaviours. Depriving them of swimming water is the equivalent to the stress caused in being deprived of food. There are 200,000 mink at any one time in Ireland. Some 150,000 are killed per year. There is no way this can be done in a way that is not barbaric to produce what is only a luxury product made for profit. Does the Minister accept that he should change the position he has held from 2011 and accept that fur farming should be banned?
I am aware of the report from Veterinary Ireland to which the Deputy alludes. I am aware of the review that took place and the improved regulations the Department has introduced in this area. I am also aware of the employment in the industry, a fact that is rarely commented on. I do not have any imprimatur by virtue of the programme for Government or a mandate from the people to proceed by way of closing down what is a legitimate, highly regulated and inspected industry.
I take account of the points made by the Deputy and the view expressed by Veterinary Ireland and a host of others, but, ultimately, I have to take into account the regulations and rules, including domestic and EU law. I must adjudicate, based on the enhanced regulations we have introduced, on what is, on balance, the most appropriate way to proceed. Neither on the basis of the programme for Government nor the Government's election do we have a mandate to proceed along the lines advocated by the Deputy.
Studies such as the ISPCA's Fur Free Ireland indicate that there is no substantial permanent employment associated with fur farming. If there was to be an impact of a ban on fur farming, I would be in favour of measures to ensure it was counterbalanced and offering opportunities to those affected. While it is not in the programme for Government and the Minister might not want to ban fur farming, he is not going to be able to escape this issue for long. We have a Bill which seeks a ban on fur farming and which is listed as being at First Stage. We will be taking it on Second Stage before the summer recess and there will be significant public campaigning on it. It has been designed to make it absolutely clear that fur farming is illegal. An EU directive states no animal shall be kept for farming purposes, unless it can reasonably be expected that, on the basis of its genotype or phenotype, it will be kept without a detrimental effect on its health or welfare. Under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2013, mink farming is arguably already illegal. Our legislation will simply aim to clarify the position.
As the Deputy is aware, we are obliged to operate within EU legislation and our own animal welfare legislation of 2013. Since the review was conducted, we have, in fact, strengthened the legal framework within which fur farmers operate. According to figures I have seen, about which I cannot be definitive, there are in excess of 100 people working in the industry in Ireland. That cannot simply be disregarded as an irrelevance in the context of what the Deputy is asking for. Other countries have paid substantial compensation to close down fur farms. Other countries have banned fur farming, although they never had it. Such a measure is used to prove or maintain momentum in this area, but it is not as simple or straightforward as the Deputy suggests.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
5. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if policies to decrease the beef and dairy herd and diversify farming output in order to reduce emissions from the agriculture sector will be introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5931/19]
The meat and dairy herds are to Ireland what the coal industry is to Poland and the fracking gas industry is to the United States, namely, a short-sighted cash generator, the expansion of which is undermining the chances of survival of the planet and the people of the global south and in less than a generation the people of the global north. We are food insecure in Ireland. We have been a net importer of food since 2000. The climate is changing as a result of our agricultural policy. What is worse is that we are not preparing for the change. Why is the Minister not moving away from the monoculture that threatens agriculture?
The analogy between Irish agriculture and the coal industry is rather unfortunate. Ireland has a comparative advantage in grass-based, carbon-efficient livestock production. The European Commission Joint Research Centre report of 2010 found Ireland was the most carbon-efficient producer in the European Union per unit of dairy production and the fifth most carbon-efficient producer of beef per kilogram. Notwithstanding this, inherent challenges remain for the sector in contributing to Ireland's climate change and renewable energy targets. It should also be noted that policy development regarding the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, has seen the decoupling of CAP direct payments from livestock numbers since 2005.
The Government's current policy position for the agriculture sector is an approach to carbon neutrality that does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production. There are three strands to my Department's approach to carbon neutrality: reducing agricultural emissions; increasing carbon sequestration; and displacing and substituting fossil fuels and energy-intensive materials.
An example of my continued focus on ensuring the lowering of the carbon footprint of the agriculture sector is my recent launch of a beef environmental efficiency pilot scheme specifically aimed at further improving the carbon efficiency of the beef sector. Sequestration has a key role to play in reducing the carbon footprint of the sector. My Department has made a significant investment under the forestry programme. In 2018, €106 million was made available by my Department to support afforestation and other forest initiatives.
The sector also has a key role to play in the supply of biomass materials, adopting energy efficiency measures and renewable technologies on farm, as well as on-site energy generation, all of which can provide profitability gains which underpin the sustainable production system.
My Department continues to review options that will enable farmers to transition to a low-carbon economy. The recently published Teagasc report, An Analysis of Abatement Potential of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Irish Agriculture 2021-2030, is key to informing the type of measures on which we need to focus into the future to continue to reduce the carbon footprint of the sector. While the mitigation potential for agriculture is limited, agriculture can and must play a key role in contributing to Ireland's climate change and energy targets in the years ahead.
The report dating from 2010 on the green credentials of the dairy sector which has been cited by the Minister for years was rated only satisfactory in terms of the reliability of its data. Saying we produce beef and dairy products better is like saying we frack gas better. Both the beef and dairy sectors and the gas fracking sector are disastrously carbon emitting and must be significantly scaled back if we are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally. In terms of being climate or environmentally friendly, the Origin Green farm sustainability and quality assurance scheme is starting to look like a joke. Origin Green certifies companies which routinely show up on the Environmental Protection Agency's worst offenders list for regulatory compliance issues such as pollution and wastewater offences. I have not seen any scientific evidence which shows that the beef data and genomics scheme has anything to do with reducing emissions significantly. If the Minister has any empirical evidence to that effect, I would like to see it.
I will show it to the Deputy.
What we have seen is emissions rise in parallel with herd numbers. This morning I spoke to a farmer and meat producer from Limerick. His name is Noel O'Connor and he told me that beef farming was on the brink. That is a direct by-product of the Government's decision to increase the size of the dairy herd.
The Deputy will have another opportunity.
There are too many beef animals in the country and the Government is killing the beef farmers.
The Deputy must mind the clock.
Deputy Wallace is trying to get rid of them.
I am trying to help agriculture in the long term.
The Deputy does not understand it. That is his problem.
The Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, should leave it to the Minister to respond.
Good Lord, what ignorance.
Good Lord is right.
If the Irish agriculture sector was transposed lock, stock and barrel to the United Kingdom, France, Germany or any other industrialised country where the average profile of emissions is about 10% of its total, it would halve the equivalent of what the United Kingdom and other countries are at. We are leaders on our journey to sustainability. Deputy Wallace argues that the livestock sector and the dairy industry are akin to fracking or the coal industry and that we should dismantle the herd. What would be the purpose of dismantling a carbon-efficient system that can and must do more when we would only see product displacing it on supermarket shelves with a far higher carbon intensity? What we must do in our production systems is become more and more efficient. We must drive down the carbon intensity per unit of output and maximise sequestration through afforestation and appropriate soil management. As the third leg of the three-legged stool, we must ensure the displacement of non-renewable energy sources in the agriculture sector.
Even the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, and the Taoiseach are coming around and seeing sense in terms of the fact that we must deal with our emissions problem. I can understand it is difficult for the Minister, given that the IFA is so powerful.
The Minister of State should, please, not interrupt.
I am not talking about dismantling the herds but about a change of policy in order that we can get to a better place. I am not talking about doing it overnight, no more than the Poles are going to stop taking coal out of the ground overnight, or the Americans will stop fracking gas. We must move to a better place and change how we do agriculture. The agriculture sector is worth saving. It is the only strong, indigenous industry, but the Minister is going down a cul-de-sac with it, unless he starts to take remedial measures and move in a different direction. It just does not make sense. He can deny it until the cows come home, but the way we are going is just not sustainable.
I call on the Minister to respond. The time is up.
Does the Minister admit that there is too much beef produced? The cold storage units are jammed with beef.
The Deputy should, please, stop. Other Members are waiting.
Is it not a by-product of the decision to increase the size of the dairy herd? One cannot get milk without cows having calves.
Other Members have a right to ask questions later. I call on the Minister to respond.
This is a complex issue which cannot be boiled down for the purpose of a soundbite to simplistic political messages.
I am not doing that.
The Deputy has been pointing fingers, but I am not a climate change denier. However, I acknowledge the limited potential in the agriculture sector. We will squeeze out every piece of potential to drive down the carbon footprint and make the industry more efficient. The Deputy comes from the constituency of Wexford where the agriculture industry thrives in the dairy, beef and tillage sectors. His vision would see the rural economy of County Wexford become a wasteland.
It would not.
This is our biggest indigenous industry. I did not interrupt the Deputy.
The Minister did.
The Deputy should, please, not interrupt.
It is our biggest indigenous industry.
It is, relatively speaking on a global scale, carbon efficient. It can and must do more and will, but it will not close down and have the product the Deputy would put out of business-----
The Minister is being disingenuous.
-----displaced and replaced by beef from South America or dairy products with a far higher carbon footprint.
I did not say any such thing.