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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 31 Jul 1935

Vol. 20 No. 11

Diseases of Animals Bill, 1935—Second Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Diseases of Animals Act, 1894, gives the Minister for Agriculture power to deal directly with four specific diseases—cattle plague, pleuro-pneumonia, foot-and-mouth disease and swine fever. All other diseases are dealt with by the local authority. I do not want to claim that, because the Department of Agriculture were in charge, they eliminated these four diseases but, whether it is a coincidence or not, I am happy to be able to say that these diseases have almost disappeared. Pleuro-pneumonia and cattle plague have not been known for years in this country. There has been no outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the Free State since 1928. There was an outbreak in Northern Ireland in 1931 but this State has been free from that disease for seven years. We have almost got rid of swine fever. It had been declining for a year or two, and last year it disappeared completely. It is very difficult to ascertain what was responsible for its disappearance. Some say that it was due to the boiling order for offals in the City of Dublin. An order was made that offals must be boiled before being fed to pigs. It is claimed by some people that that was responsible for eliminating swine fever, while it has also been claimed that what amounts to an embargo on the import of bacon has stopped swine fever. At any rate, we have practically got rid of it. Apart from these four diseases, the local authorities deal with all other diseases. Under this Bill I propose to take power to deal directly with all other diseases of animals as well as these four diseases. I may say that that power is being taken principally for the purpose of dealing with tuberculosis in cattle. Under the scheme for dealing with old and uneconomic cows, which are being sent to the factory at Roscrea, which commenced business yesterday, it is hoped to get rid of a great number of old cows—cows that are not necessarily diseased—county by county. We hope not to send diseased cows to Roscrea but we cannot guarantee that. Of course, the old, wasted and uneconomic cows will go there. We hope to follow up that by bringing into force this tuberculosis order, centrally administering it in each county and clearing out the tubercular cows. In that way, we shall try to get our herds into a healthy condition. The administration of the tuberculosis order by the local authorities cannot be regarded as very satisfactory.

In the year ended 31st March, 1935, the number of animals slaughtered under the order was only 3,672. We have over 1,300,000 cows, so that the number slaughtered works out at only .3 per cent. of the total number in the country. There is no doubt that the number of tubercular cows is greater than that. Then, the order is not worked uniformly. In the same year the number of animals slaughtered in one county was 751, while in another county it was only six. A good deal depends on the local authority, but more depends on the veterinary officer in charge. Some of these officers are very keen on this business, and go as far as possible in order to get tuberculosis stamped out. Others adopt an easy attitude. It is proposed, under this Bill, to take over the administration of the Bovine Tuberculosis Order in one county, after Roscrea has cleared out the old cows, and work it strenuously for a month or six weeks, then handing it back to the local authority. We hope to move over the country in that way, not dealing with, perhaps, more than two counties at a time. We hope to get the whole country cleared first of the old, uneconomic cows, and then cleared of diseased cows, under this order, inside 15 or 18 months. The officers of the local authorities will be employed, as well as additional officers from headquarters, while this measure is being worked in any particular county.

A question may arise as regards compensation. At present, the local authority pays half the compensation and the other half is paid out of the Exchequer. We propose, in this Bill, to pay the entire amount of compensation so long as the Minister is administering the Act in any particular county. We thought it advisable to do that because, otherwise, the local authority might complain that we put heavy cost on them by our too strenuous administration of the Act for the couple of months we would be in the county. We shall relieve the local authority, to a certain extent, by administering the Act in this way, and we shall leave them a cleaner herd when the headquarters officers have finished their work in the county.

I support the Bill and I agree with the Minister that we have perhaps the cleanest bill of health in respect of live stock of any country in the world to-day. Fortunately, we have had no outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease for a long time, and the Minister was quite right in saying that that was possibly due to the exclusion of foreign beef. In England, where they have had outbreaks of this disease in places 100 miles apart, the only cause which the authorities could find for these outbreaks was infection from chilled or frozen meat from the Argentine and the Continent. It has been definitely proved that the bones of cattle affected with foot-and-mouth disease will contaminate pigs and cattle for a considerable period. We all approve of the attitude of the Minister as regards the exclusion of imported beef and I hope that every other Government we have here will continue that policy.

With regard to the wiping out of tuberculosis, that is a fairly difficult job. The present policy of the county councils would make very little impression on the problem, as the compensation they are giving is practically negligible. A person has to go to a lot of trouble in regard to inspection and so forth, and the most he will get in any case will be £1. That will not induce anybody to call in a veterinary surgeon to have his cow destroyed. With regard to the Minister's statement that he proposes killing off the old cows, I do not believe that that will eliminate tuberculosis, because the majority of the old cows are not affected with tuberculosis. The Minister speaks about starting with Kerry. There is very little tuberculosis amongst Kerry cattle, either old or young. It would be a good job, however, to kill off some of the old cows and give the people in Kerry something for their old cows for which they are not getting anything now. I am not objecting to his starting with Kerry, as I would be glad to see my county getting anything that is going.

There is one thing which is giving a very considerable amount of trouble this year, and that is the warble fly. I should like to ask the Minister if any special precautions can be taken to prevent the ravages of the warble fly or if any steps are being taken to deal with the matter. In the old days the Department of Agriculture did a considerable amount in educating the people by distributing leaflets to help them to get rid of this pest. An enormous loss on hides is experienced through the ravages of the warble fly. Another disease which has been prevalent for years and shows no signs of abating is contagious abortion in cattle. I often wonder why some means are not taken to deal with this. We are always told that investigations are being made and that veterinary surgeons are studying the disease. Perhaps in the present circumstances the Minister might take some steps to deal with it. It would be just as humane as the slaughtering of calves, that horrible crime which will never be forgotten in this country.

The Senator may not deal with that matter. This is a Diseases of Animals Bill.

I only want to raise one or two points with regard to the administration of the Bill. I am sure the House and the country will welcome any measure to continue the policy of having a clean bill of health for our cattle stocks. I am quite certain that this action on the part of the Minister is not to be taken as an indication of the belief that diseases of the types mentioned are to any extent existent in our cattle stocks. I think that tuberculosis even is possibly very much rarer than might generally be believed. A great amount has been said about this disease in cattle, particularly by medical men without, as I believe, any great knowledge on their part as to the extent to which it is prevalent. We can see evidence in another country of the point of view that cattle across the Channel are very seriously affected by this disease. We have seen it suggested within the last day or two that it is very likely that cattle going from this country to Scotland might be taking with them some of these diseases. The Minister gave a figure of the total number of cattle believed to be affected with tuberculosis which is a very low percentage indeed, but there is no great evidence that the figure is very much greater than that.

What I want to get from the Minister is how exactly this Bill is going to operate. Are we going to have every herd in the country examined? Is it to be a voluntary act on the part of the owner of the herd? When it comes to a question of clearing out the affected beasts, who is to determine the value that is going to be put upon these animals? Would it be entirely a matter for the official of the Minister to determine the value of such an animal? I think it is very essential, if the measure is to be a success, that the sympathetic co-operation of the farmers should be obtained. That is going to be very difficult if the feeling goes abroad that the examination of their cattle may lead to the condemnation of some of them and that the compensation given will be so low as not to be acceptable. I think it is in the interest of the State as a whole that our cattle should have a clean bill of health; but if that is going to be brought about the State must be reasonable in the treatment of the people with whom it has to deal. It is as well for us to face the fact that, whether the percentage of diseased animals is small or larger than we might think, the administration of this Bill is going to cost a considerable amount of money.

I wonder if the Minister has made any estimate as to what it is likely to cost? The inspection of 1,300,000 cows alone will cost something when the travelling and other expenses are taken into consideration. The Minister possibly has made his calculation and it would be as well if we got some indication from him as to what this will cost the country. I understand that under the existing Act when a beast was condemned an impartial valuer came along to value the beast. I wonder whether that policy is going to be continued, because if we are to have an official of the Minister coming along to make an examination and condemn beasts and then value them, I think the attitude of the farmer to the administration of the Bill will not be what it ought to be and that would be very unfortunate from the point of view of making it effective.

I merely want to say a word in support of what Senator Miss Browne said with regard to contagious abortion in cattle. I do not think there is anything so terrifying to anybody who has a nice herd of dairy cows as to find that that disease has got a hold on them. I do not think there is anything causes such loss or such uncleanliness.

Would the Senator propose to slaughter them? This Bill proposes to slaughter animals suffering from certain diseases.

I do not suggest that.

Is not this a Diseases of Animals Bill?

Yes, in connection with the slaughter of them.

If it has any connection with the slaughter of animals I do not suggest that.

I am afraid that I did not make myself quite clear when I was talking about old cows. Judging by what Senator Counihan said, I did not make myself very clear. What I meant to say was that old cows will, we expect, be cleared off at Roscrea in the making of meat meal. Then we can follow up with the Tuberculosis Order in each particular county after it has been cleared of old cows. That does not mean that the Tuberculosis Order will be confined to old cows. It will be applied to all animals. Senator Baxter wants to know whether that will be applied voluntarily. Well, it will be practically voluntary. We mean to follow the present practice, which is practically a voluntary procedure. A farmer notifies the Gárda that he suspects he has a tubercular cow, and the Gárda notify the secretary of the county council. A veterinary surgeon is then sent along to examine the animal. If he says that he thinks the cow is tubercular it must be slaughtered. I think it is the practice of most veterinary surgeons in cases like that to examine the whole herd. In that case the veterinary surgeon is entitled to insist on a number of cows being slaughtered, if he believes they are tubercular. It is the practice also, I believe, in some places, if a veterinary surgeon sees an animal at a fair or a market that he believes to be tubercular, to give a direction to have that animal slaughtered. That is as far as we intend to go in a compulsory way.

In regard to compensation, we have to follow the Principal Act. The procedure is that the owner of the animal and the veterinary surgeon agree upon a price or upon the value of the animal. The value agreed upon is the price which an ordinary buyer would pay for the animal if he were not aware that the animal was tubercular. If they do not agree upon the value of the animal, an arbitrator is called in to value the animal, and the same practice will be followed in this case. The experience is that arbitrators are very seldom called in, which goes to show that the veterinary surgeons are on the whole generous in their valuation. Working on that value, if the beast is slaughtered and found to be not tubercular the owner gets that value plus £1. The present practice is that if the animal is not advanced in tuberculosis the farmer gets three-fourths of the price, and if it is in an advanced stage of tuberculosis he gets one-fourth of its value. We intend in administering this Bill to give better compensation than has been given in the past. In fact, our minimum would be £2 10s., because if we do not give a minimum of £2 10s. I am afraid the farmers would send all their tubercular cattle to Roscrea. We do not want that. We want to keep tubercular cows out of Roscrea if possible, so that we will have to give a good minimum price for tubercular cattle slaughtered. There will be no such thing in future as the payment of £1 compensation. The minimum will be £2 10s.

I am glad that Senator Miss Browne mentioned the warble fly. That is a matter that has been under consideration for some time. As a matter of fact Senator Counihan has been reminding us of it and he intended to get some legislation introduced to deal with it. The only difficulty I see is that we cannot deal with the warble fly unless the authorities in Northern Ireland deal with it at the same time because, of course, the Border will not stop the warble fly coming across. We must therefore act simultaneously. There is a chance that, perhaps not immediately but in the near future, an attempt will be made to deal with the warble fly in the two areas.

Could the Minister not have a Bill passed here to deal with it which need not be put into force until a similar Bill had been passed in Northern Ireland?

The authorities in Great Britain are beginning to move in the matter and are considering the bringing in of legislation to deal with it. When they do so, the authorities in Northern Ireland and ourselves will be practically compelled to take similar measures because if not, our cattle will not be allowed into Britain. That is perhaps the best way to get Northern Ireland and the Free State to act at the same time. I do not think that the question of contagious abortion arises under this Bill but neither on economical nor ethical grounds could I approve of the practices to which Senators referred. The cost of the administration of this Bill has been referred to. Of course if as some people say our cattle are infected with tuberculosis it would cost £10,000,000 because it would mean that three-quarters of the cattle of the country would have to be slaughtered. It will not however cost anything like that. We had veterinary surgeons working last year investigating the incidence of tuberculosis and contagious abortion but they did not cover sufficient territory to give us a true picture of the country. Their findings showed that in some territories the incidence of these diseases was very high and that in some districts it was extremely low but we would have to cover the whole country to have any idea of how things actually stand. I estimate the cost for this financial year to be about £10,000, because we shall not be able to cover more than two or three counties by the time County Kerry has been cleared of old cows. It will take about three months to do that. It is probably the biggest county that has to be dealt with from that point of view. We shall then go through the other counties and we shall follow that up with the tuberculosis order. We shall not get very far in this financial year and I think it is fairly safe to estimate that it will cost not more than £10,000 for this financial year.

Could anything be done in the way of getting certificates as to the soundness of cattle in the same way as one gets a certificate of the soundness of a horse? If one buys a cow in the market, could one not have a certificate that that cow is free of disease? Senator Counihan would know more about the matter than I do, but could some arrangement not be made by which cattle would be sent up for sale with a certificate of soundness and freedom from disease?

They would have to be tested first, and that would cost the owner about 30/- for each animal.

It would be a very excellent thing if it could be done in some way or another, because then persons such as myself who buy cows would have a guarantee that the animals would be all right. I suggest that if something could be done in the way of providing certificates it would help things a great deal.

Might I explain to the Senator that there are people who will sell him a cow and who will guarantee her to pass the test, and if she does not pass the test they will take her back, but he will have to pay for the test himself?

What would be the cost?

About 30/- for each cow.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Thursday, 1st August.