The purpose of this Bill is broadly two-fold: first, to re-organise the Pigs and Bacon Commission and, second, to centralise in the Commission our main exports of bacon. These proposed changes have emanated from a report on the Export of Bacon and other Pigmeat presented by the Advisory Committee on the Marketing of Agricultural Produce. The Advisory Committee's Report was published and the Government's conclusions thereon were included in the White Paper published on the "Export Marketing of Irish Agricultural Produce".
With a view to improving the export marketing of bacon, the Advisory Committee recommended that exports in the form of Wiltshire sides and major cuts including the back should be centralised in a re-organised Pigs and Bacon Commission, which would export a more or less steady weekly quantity to a reduced number of agents in Britain. For some years past the existing Pigs and Bacon Commission have operated a bacon export quota arrangement under which the individual curers are given fortnightly export allocations in proportion to their slaughterings of good-quality bacon pigs. Up to May of last year, the export quotas allotted represented a percentage, fixed every fortnight, of a curer's slaughterings of Grade A pigs and the exports were required to be Grade A bacon.
With the introduction of a higher grade—Grade A Special—for pigs in May, 1960, curers were required to include in their exports all the bacon, designated Extra Selected, derived from that higher grade of pig. There are minimum guaranteed prices to producers for Grade A Special and Grade A pigs, as well as for a marginal class designated Grade B1 pigs. The curers have been selling their exports of bacon from Grade A Special and Grade A pigs on a trader-to-trader basis; and Britain is by and large the only market. Under an export subsidy arrangement operated by the Pigs and Bacon Commission, the curers have been given an assured return for their bacon exports which is fixed in relation to the guaranteed minimum prices to producers for Grade A Special and Grade A pigs. The British market prices for the different grades of bacon from this and other countries are announced weekly through the London Provision Exchange and the rate of subsidy for our curers' weekly exports represents the difference between the Provision Exchange price and the return assured to the curers in relation to the minimum guaranteed price for pigs.
Our share of the British bacon market is a small one; in 1960, our exports represented only 5.5 per cent. of British bacon imports and 3.8 per cent. of total British bacon supplies. When we remember that our exports were sent in varying amounts by 36 curers, to even more than that number of purchasers or agents in Britain, and varied also in respect of presentation, etc., we can understand that we have not been in a very strong position as regards prices. I asked the Advisory Committee specially to look at these pricing aspects and they, too, were not satisfied about the fluctuations from time to time. To get the most out of the market the Advisory Committee recommended, and the Government agreed, that it would be desirable to centralise our main form of bacon exports to Britain, i.e., Wiltshire sides and major cuts which include the back, in the Pigs and Bacon Commission, and in that connection to include representatives of bacon curers and pig producers in the membership of the Commission.
Sections 7 to 9 of the Bill deal with the reorganisation of the membership of the Pigs and Bacon Commission. The 1939 Act provided for a chairman and two ordinary members, both of them being required to have served for at least eight years as officers of the Minister; the Chairman is at present also a Departmental officer. The Marketing Advisory Committee recommended that the Commission consist of three members nominated by pig producers, three nominated by bacon curers and pork exporters, two officers of the Department of Agriculture and an independent chairman selected by the eight other members. The White Paper on the Committee's reports stated that the Government proposed that the reorganised Commission include two representatives of producers, two representatives of curers and two Departmental officers in addition to the chairman. In the Bill this is changed by an increase of one in the curers' representatives and a reduction of one in the Departmental representation. This change followed representations to the Government on behalf of the entire bacon-curing trade, after the Government's intention was announced in the White Paper.
The period of office of the members of the Commission will be three years at a time. There will be an overlap of one year between the period of office of the chairman and that of the ordinary members, inasmuch as the Bill provides that the chairman of the existing Commission will be chairman of the reorganised Commission for the first year. This overlap, which would continue in future, should be useful in securing a degree of continuity in the functioning of the Commission, without going too far in that direction. After the first year, the chairman would be selected by the six ordinary members for a period of three years at a time.
The centralisation through the Commission of exports of bacon of specified grades, in the form of Wiltshire sides and major cuts which include the back, is provided for under Sections 23 to 25 of the Bill. Orders under Section 25 prohibiting the export of bacon except by or on behalf of the Commission will come before each House of the Oireachtas under Section 31. As to the precise lines on which the centralisation of actual exports by the Commission would operate, I think that this would have to be left to the Commission itself to determine. The Commission would, however, acquire title to the bacon before export and would pay curers for it, subject to quality and condition, at prices fixed by me after consultation with the Commission under Section 23 (4) of the Bill.
In this connection, the Marketing Advisory Committee's recommendations in their report were:—
Paragraph 47: The bacon should be purchased at an ex-factory price from the curers by the reorganised Pigs and Bacon Commission recommended by us later. This ex-factory price may have to be determined on a rough and ready basis at the start but as soon as possible it should be based on representative costings so that efficient operation of factories will be encouraged.
Paragraph 62: It (that is, the re-organised Commission) should ship bacon only to appointed agents in Britain, existing trade contacts and arrangements being maintained as far as possible.
Paragraph 64: Although in the matter of the appointment of agents the Commission should have regard to the curers' nominations, it is important that it should have a free hand in making appointments and also in regard to the renewal of appointments from time to time.
It will be for the Commission itself to decide what is best to arrange in these marketing matters. While I am not personally very keen on central marketing bodies, I have from the beginning felt that if there is one case where such a body should be able to make a worthwhile contribution to better marketing, bacon is the commodity for which centralisation could be best justified.
Section 27, dealing with powers of the Commission in relation to the development of markets for bacon and other pigmeat. Section 28 dealing with State grants to the Commission, and Section 29 dealing with State guarantee of loans to the Commission are, with appropriate modifications, in line with corresponding provisions in the recent Dairy Produce Marketing Act. Subparagraph (g) of Section 27, gives the Commission ample powers in regard to the development of exports of pork and other diversified pigmeat products as well as bacon.
I might perhaps explain that the bacon export subsidy hitherto paid by the Commission is met from two sources (1) a levy paid by curers on all pigs slaughtered for bacon, including slaughterings for the home bacon market, and (2) a contribution made by the Exchequer. Where in future the Commission is the centralised exporter of bacon, any losses incurred by the Commission on exports for which it has paid curers the prices fixed in relation to the guaranteed minimum prices payable by the curers for pigs, will also be met out of levies on pig slaughterings and State grants. Under Section 16 of the 1939 Act the Commission is empowered to borrow moneys to meet charges falling on it and, as I mentioned a few moments ago. Section 29 now provides for State guarantee of loans to the Commission in that connection.
In view of modern trends in regard to pre-packaging of food products including meat, especially with the advent of super-markets and self-service stores, I am taking powers under Section 26 of the Bill to make regulations on aspects of pre-packaging of bacon and pigmeats which would compare with control already exercised in regard to canned and open-pack meats of other kinds.
The position of the staff of the existing Pigs and Bacon Commission is suitably safeguarded under subsection (10) of Section 12 of the Bill. As in other recent legislation, subsection (5) of that section provides that the manner of the appointment of staff will be by public competition, subject to certain special exceptions which are specified. Provision is made under Section 22, again as in other recent legislation, enabling a staff superannuation scheme to be considered. The Bill contains a number of other less important amendments and extensions of the existing Pigs and Bacon Acts, the purpose of which has been indicated in the explanatory memorandum circulated to Senators with the Bill.
I am hopeful that the proposals in the Bill will strengthen the organisation of our export of bacon and other pigmeat in what is a keenly competitive market. Only if we adopt the most effective methods of export marketing, can we get the best out of steps we have already been taking to achieve efficiency and improve quality at breeding, feeding and factory levels. Amongst these steps I might mention the schemes for pig progeny testing, boar performance testing, pig herds accreditation and of course the guaranteed minimum prices for quality pigs. Piggery grants have been recently increased substantially to encourage more efficient rearing and fattening methods. Grants are also now being given for the modernisation of bacon curing premises and State assistance has been offered to the bacon and meat trades for the establishment, at trade level by these industries, of a meat research unit to help them with day-to-day processing, packaging and other trade matters.
On the production side, the position of the pig industry is encouraging. Pig numbers have increased substantially in the past couple of years. The 1960 June census figures were a post-war record and the figures for the January, 1961, census are the highest since the January census was introduced nearly 30 years ago. Pig deliveries to bacon factories in the second half of 1960 were also an all-time record; and since the beginning of 1961 the deliveries have been 18 per cent. up on the same period last year. Of the pigs graded at bacon factories since May, 1960, 11 per cent. have been of Grade A special standard and a further 55 per cent. of Grade A standard. Of the bacon exported to Britain during that period, in the form of Wiltshire sides and major cuts— which represented 96 per cent. of all bacon exports—23 per cent. has been of Extra Selected Grade and the remaining 77 per cent. of Grade A.