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Seanad Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 6 Feb 1991

Vol. 127 No. 8

Expression of Sympathy. - Pollution Control: Motion.

I call on Senator Fitzgerald to move the motion. He has 30 minutes. I welcome the Minister to the House.

Tá fáilte romhat, a Aire, sa Seanad.

I move:

That Seanad Éireann, noting with concern the increasing threats to the natural environment posed by chemicals and poisonous compounds used in agriculture, and while welcoming the scheme of grants to assist farmers in carrying out pollution control work, calls on the Minister for Agriculture and Food to introduce more stringent regulations to control the use of pesticides and to ban the use of strychinine to ensure human safety and the protection of wildlife.

In moving this motion I am calling for stricter controls on pesticides and poisonous chemicals. I am also calling for a ban on strychnine and other highly toxic poisons. In doing so, I am taking into consideration the implications such restrictions, if implemented, would have on the people who use those chemicals and poisons and the alternatives that could be introduced. We must also consider the devastating effect the use — and often misuse — those agents have an our environment. In this respect I am particularly concerned about the effect those chemicals have on our mammals and the bird population.

I have no doubt that Ireland is to the forefront in environmental protection, despite criticism from time to time, especially if there is a fish kill in our rivers. In most cases fish kills are purely accidental or occur through carelessness or complete ignorance. If and when this happens, due to good legislation introduced by the Government in recent years, the culprit or culprits in most cases are brought to justice and compensation for the damage caused to rivers or lakes awarded.

A friend of mine who visited a chemical plant in Cork recently was very impressed at the regulations which had to be implemented under our planning laws, at a cost of £14 million to the chemical plant, before they were allowed to operate. It is, therefore, impossible for me to understand why strychnine and other chemicals are being used widely by landowners and gun clubs throughout Ireland without the same stringent regulations. Strychnine is a toxic ingredient of curare and even primitive Indians for centuries were aware of its qualities.

I am very happy with recent regulations and legislation which have been introduced by Government Departments to protect our environment and especially with the Environmental Protection Agency Bill which is going through the Seanad. I welcome the strict planning regulations which are in force in relation to chemical and other industrial development and I also welcome the recent budget announcement to increase funding to help in the elimination of farmyard pollution. The motion I have proposed will be a further step in the protection of an environment which is the envy of industrialised Europe.

Strychnine has been primarily marketed as a rodenticide. It has been used against a wide variety of wild mammals and birds. It is now no longer considered successful as a rodenticide because of bait shyness in rats. A number of authors on pest control have stated that strychnine can no longer be justified as a pesticide because of its high toxicity and the existence of more effective alternatives. Strychnine is an extremely persistent compound and baits are toxic over an extended period. It is significant that no reputable pest control company use or recommend the use of strychnine in Ireland, according to my information. It is considered that the poison is too hazardous to operators and to the general public.

Apart from the human risk, the impact of strychnine on populations of endangered birds of prey and other non-target wildlife species, is one of the major reasons for governments throughout the world cancelling, or placing restrictions on, its use. In many, but not all cases, birds of prey were not the target species but nevertheless their numbers were decimated by secondary poisoning. The main targets for those poisons are foxes, mink, hooded crows and domestic dogs. The problem for the sheep farmer of foxes, hooded crows and domestic dogs has been with us for a century and strychnine has been used to deal with the problem for the same length of time. If strychnine was the answer to the problem it should have been solved by now. In my opinion it will never solve the predator problem but because of its use, and in some cases its misuse, several species of bird in Ireland are now extinct.

Conservationists recognise the need to protect livestock from predators but the main concern is that poison can kill non-target species such as protected mammals, protected birds of prey and wildlife generally. The protected species most threatened by poison are the pine marten, Ireland's rarest mammal, stoats, buzzards, henharriers and eagles. Per-egrine falcons, kestrels, merlins and owls are less at risk. However, bam owls are known to have been killed by agricultural fungicides and rat poison.

The population of red foxes and grey crows has not decreased in recent years. They remain the two greatest predators affecting our sheep farmers. The use of poisoning against those predators has increased. In a survey conducted in the Dingle peninsula in 1988 by David Hickie for the Irish Wildlife Conservancy, Garda figures show that 58 certificates for strychnine were issued in 1983 and 194 certificates were issued in 1987. This has caused me to form the opinion that the economic threat posed by those predators is not met by the present methods and, on closer examination, that the supply and use of various poisons and chemicals are in fact not effective, are dangerous and cause a threat to the user, his family and stock. Further, they are unspecific in their targeting, thereby causing devastating effects on mammals and bird life, thus changing the ecology of the countryside.

The dangers of secondary poisoning and water pollution must also be considered. The substances most widely used are strychnine, alphachloralose, fluoroacetamide, nevinphos and endorin. The latter two, nevinphos and endorin, are not yet used here but they have been used extensively, and illegally, in Great Britain. I would like the same measures to be taken against them as is taken against strychnine and other poisons to safeguard us for the future. One of the agencies controlling and monitoring poisons here is the pesticide control unit of the Department of Agriculture, who have responsibility for the clearance and registration of pesticides within the State. They act under European legislation — EC Directive 78/631 — the Poisons Regulations, 1982 and our Poisons Act, 1961, amended in 1983, 1984 and 1986. The public health section of the Department of Health are responsible for issuing strychnine certificates to Garda stations and are responsible for public health consideration. The Garda Síochána issue certificates to landowners for the purchase of strychnine. The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland supply strychnine on the presentation of a Garda certificate. The Wildlife Service of the Office of Public Works are responsible for implementing the Wildlife Act, 1976. The IFA, ACOT and the National Association of Regional Games Councils act in an advisory capacity and do not recommend the use of strychnine. The IFA and ACOT, for example, see the use of strychnine as old fashioned and dangerous and recommend the use of alternative methods of predator control and the use of better husbandry.

The supply and use of these substances are controlled at present under the Protection of Animals (Amendment) Act, 1965, the European Communities Wildlife Act, 1976, the Poisons Regulations 1982, S.I. No. 188 of 1982 and the Control of Dogs Act, 1986. This is the legislation that covers poison and the different aspects. In combination this legislation is lacking because it allows landowners to buy strychine provided a signed Garda certificate is produced within two weeks of the date of issue, whereupon he or she is entitled to purchase one gramme of strychine. There is no limit under our legislation on the amount any landowner can buy annually. He can keep coming back week after week, month after month and can renew a certificate and buy as much more as he likes.

Carcases of dead animals may remain above ground providing they are used as poison bait. This is a total and absolute contradiction and should never have been part of any legislation governing strychnine or any other poison. In fact, the reverse should have been the case in so far as anybody carrying out this practice should be prosecuted. In this day and age the legislation legalising such an action should be amended immediately, without further debate. It is amazing that under the Diseases of Animals Act, if an animal is dead in a field a farmer has to remove it and bury it; yet, he can say to the council official or the Garda who come out: "Hold on, I am going to put poison in that animal". He is then legalising the action. This is absolutely crazy in this little island which is so well protected environmentally. It is something that should be tackled immediately no matter what the cost and whoever introduced this should be taken to task now

The legal provision governing the use of strychnine do not apply to the use of alphachloralose. This substance, although not as toxic as strychnine, has been found to be just as dangerous to non-target species. As I have said already, nevinphos and endorin, to the best of my knowledge, are not available here. They were widely and illegally used in England and caused devastating effects. Therefore, I would not like to see them being introduced on the market here. As far as I can ascertain, the restrictions that apply to strychnine and aplhachloralose appears not to apply to nevinphos and endorin even though both chemicals ar acutely toxic to wildlife.

The legislation governing the supply and use of those substances in Ireland is at variance with most other states where strychnine and fluoroacetamide are either totally banned or severely restricted. In countries as far apart as the USA, New Zealand and Iceland they are banned, while in the UK the use of strychnine is limited to the controlled extermination of moles. Even Romania banned the use of strychnine in 1968. In 1973 the World Health Organisation's report stated that strychnine, fluor-acetate and fluoroacetamide poisons should only be used, or allowed to be used, by pest control operators and restricted to areas in which access to humans or useful animals is completely restricted. The FAO a UN body, do not use strychnine in their projects in developing countries and suggest the use of more selective and less toxic means of pest control.

Strychnine imports here in 1988 were 40 times more than in Northern Ireland. The quantities recorded were 22 kilos and 0.5 kilos respectively. There is no evidence that the laying of poison bait controls the number of predators in a locality. The numbers of foxes and hooded crows appear to be unaffected. Indeed their numbers are reported by farmers and other rural people to be on the increase. Again, a survey carried out among sheep farmers in the Dingle peninsula in 1988 showed that farmers who used poisons claimed marginally higher lamb losses than neighbouring farmers who rejected the use of poisons. The report stated that the average sheep farmer in the Dingle peninsula — I have to come back to this, as this is the only evidence I have — had approximately 100 ewes per flock. In 1990-911 am told by reliable sources that a flock of 100 ewes produce, on average, 150 lambs. This year, for some reason or another, many sheep had twins and triplets. Taking losses into account there were still an average of 150 lambs from 100 ewes. The farmer gets roughly £17.50 EC payment for a lamb. Even though lamb numbers were down this year, the price still ranged between £15 and £25 in my-part of the country for a lamb. The sheep farmers claim they have a total mortality rate of about 14 per cent. They blame half of that on the predators; 7 per cent for foxes and grey crows. I have an alternative for those farmers. In my calculations each of those farmers — average flock owners — are losing £500 a year to predators and the use of strychnine has not solved that problem for them. They are still losing year after year after year.

If there was a once-off investment of, say, £500 to £1,000 for a proper paddock, where they could drive their sheep in the lambing season, it would solve the problem once and for all. If I was a flock owner I would not hesitate to put a six foot high wire around a four, five or six acre field. Not alone would I do that to keep the foxes out, but I would floodlight it as well, with the kind of money that is being made on sheep and lambs at the moment. This is the alternative.

I know that old habits die hard but I remember back in 1970 when it was nearly impossible to get farmers to change their mind about marking sheep. They would use only tar. Tar would have to be used because the red mine would wash off. We got them out of that simply because of the value of their fleece — their neighbours were getting a better price for wool. Following that committees were set up in most councils to deal with the problem of sheep scab and to try to convince farmers to dip their sheep twice a year. It took 15 years to convince them that it was good husbandry and that they would get better value for their produce if they dipped their sheep twice a year. At that time half the sheep population in the country were scabridden and we had veterinary officers from county councils trying to get rid of the problem. Now, thankfully, after 15 years, that problem is gone. Instead of trying to make farmers come in and dip their sheep, almost every farmer has his own little sheep dipping tank.

In the very same way a majority of farmers would not touch strychnine. It would only require a little effort by the powers that be — ACOT and the Department of Agriculture and Food — to once and for all get rid of strychnine and educate the farmers in what they should do to have better produce and better husbandry. Strychnine is not the answer. It is quite obvious that strychnine has not got rid of foxes as we are told they are on the increase.

Hooded crows can be shot. There is no problem in relation to this as most farmers have shotguns. There are crow traps and they are being used effectively by sheep farmers here. They are being used effectively in different places. Crow traps have proved to be highly effective in capturing large numbers of birds if they are used properly. The construction is that of a large cube-shaped frame covered with fine wire mesh. The upper surface is V-shaped with an entrance in the bottom of the V. Birds which are attracted by the bait placed in the trap can drop down into the entrance and are hindered from escaping upwards because of their own wing span. The advantage of this method is that it is selective. Hooded crows and magpies can be humanely disposed of but any non-target species found must be released unharmed under the Wildlife Act, 1976. If those traps are used they will not only be far more selective, but more efficient than poison.

We are one of the few countries in the world today to use strychnine in the manner we are using it. I will accept nothing short of totally banning strychnine and alphachloralose and I also want to include nevinphos and endorin in whatever legislation is introduced for the banning of poison.

I have a very striking example of the effect of indiscriminate poisoning. I will quote from a letter which I got from the Chairman of the Irish section of the International Council for Bird Preservation and I particularly picked out this part of his comments.

A very striking example of the effect of an indiscriminate poisoning which in the Irish context almost always implies strychnine, is given by the Common Buzzard. This is a large, hawk-like bird which subsists almost completely on carrion, i.e., animals which have died naturally, remains of kills by other predators, and man-generated waste material. It is thus particularly susceptible to the effects of strychnine, with the result that it only occurs in Northern Ireland despite there being abundant suitable habitat and food supply in the Republic. The birds visit every year as vagrants and would undoubtedly recolonise the country if they survive long enough, but are almost always poisoned soon after arrival.

That, again, points to the fact that the Six Counties of Ireland which are the same as the other Twenty-six Counties must be using strychnine to a lesser degree or none at all. He also said:

A further objection to strychnine is its extreme inhumanity, in that its victims die slowly and in great pain. It is also extremely persistent, and poisoned bait remains fatally active for many months even in outdoor conditions. It is for this reason that the current regulations regarding its use were introduced, but these, as you must know, are quite ineffective...

The whole problem of pesticides is quite complex, but reduces, in essence, to substances which directly effects birds, such as the well documented DDT disaster, its effects lasted for three years and those which have a secondary effect by depriving them of their food supply, e.g. by killing the insects on which they prey. You may be interested to know that it has been shown that birds are by far the most effective way of reducing populations of insect pests — a blue tit feeding its young has to capture 2,500 insects each day, so they do a very good job.

A farmer in particular has to depend on wildlife. We will wipe out wildlife with this indiscriminate poisoning and I have outlined the problems here. It is ridiculous to leave a carcase in a field until its bones are bleached white — the law does not specify whether it is a lamb, sheep, horse or a cow. Perhaps the brucellosis we are trying to ged rid of is in some way tied up with all these carcases, lying around and with all this indiscriminate poisoning.

I again call for the complete and total ban of strychnine. I have not had the time to go into all the other weedkillers and pesticides but I am sure that some of the other speakers on the Opposition side of the House and, indeed, on this side, will take up the cause for a stricter control on these. We have a great environment in Ireland and it is a pity that strychnine should be the one chemical at the centre of the discussion. We have been doing so much in recent years.

Let me first of all say that I am very pleased to support this motion. I may have one reservation and that is that I am not quite sure what the word "control" means in relation to chemicals. Senator Fitzgerald of course concentrated on the ban part of it. I have to say that I agree with him. I think strychnine is a particularly cruel and unselective method of controlling vermin. In the past, farmers usually used it to control the harassment of sheep by dogs. In that respect it was non-selective and many a good dog was killed in a cruel fashion. I would suggest a better method. I think every dog should be tatooed and details of the tatoo and the name of the owner should be lodged with the police. In that way dogs that are caught straying or harassing or savaging sheep could be traced back to the owner and the owner held accountable and made pay for the damage. That would teach owners to keep dogs under control.

With regard to the Other chemicals which Senator Fitzgerald referred to and did not dwell on, each of us will have something to say on the issue. There is a popular perception abroad at this time that chemicals are always dangerous in food production, that chemicals are always damaging to the environment and that the natural method — whatever that is — is better and that all things natural are good. The facts do not support this. For example, tuberculosis, smallpox and any other human disease one cares to mention, are all natural. Means of controlling them by putting foreign substances with the aid of a foreign object like a syringe into the human body is entirely unnatural. But are we going to go without these means? Are we going to revert back to the natural system and suffer the consequences, as our forefathers did, of uncontrolled contagious diseases?

We have at present a lot of people promoting the idea of organic food. That is fine. If they want organic food and if they are prepared to pay the extra price for it, then by all means they must be catered for. But they have no right to be pushing their doctrine down the throats of every other body and forcing poor people to pay a much higher price for the food that they need. Furthermore, and here is the point, without the aid of chemicals we could not possibly feed today's world population. It is not the use of chemicals that is the problem; it is the abuse of them. Let me remind this House that this nation lost nearly half its population at one time precisely because it did not have a chemical to control the fungicide Phytophthera infestans. If we revert back to a situation where we have no chemicals to control weeds, pests, fungicides, diseases and so on, then we would all be in very serious trouble indeed.

I know there are many people out there who simply will not believe my word but perhaps I could quote a much more eminent personality in support of what I say. I refer to Professor Norman Borlaug. For his achievement in laying down the groundwork for the Green Revolution Professor Norman Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1970, but his work did not end there. Today he is a distinguished Professor of Agriculture in Texas A and M University, a consultant to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, President of Sasakava Africa Association and Leader of Global 2000 agricultural programmes in Africa. Dr. Borlaug is also an honorary member or fellow of academies of science in 11 nations and has earned honorary doctorates from 28 universities in 11 countries. What does Dr. Borlaug say about the use of chemicals? He says:

Given current scientific knowledge it is my belief that the judicious use of agricultural chemicals, especially chemical fertilizers, is absolutely essential to produce the food needed to feed today's population of 5.3 billion, which is currently increasing at the rate of 88 million per year.

He goes on to make another observation, which I think is very apt:

I want to stress that agricultural chemicals and fertilizers are like medicines. When used appropriately they are beneficial, but when used without proper caution they can be deadly.

I think that is a very apt analogy and one that we should bear in mind. In this article he makes a case about the necessity to use chemicals in order to feed the world's population. He said:

The UN population agency's medium projection is for a world population to reach 6.1 billion by the year 2,000 and 8.2 billion by the year 2025 before stabilising at about ten billion towards the end of the 21st century. As in the past, it is likely that about 98 per cent of the increased food supply needed to feed these growing human numbers must come from the land, especially from grains such as wheat, rice, and maize.

Here is the nub of the matter. He concludes:

Even if current per capita consumption stayed constant, population growth will require that annual world food production expand by 70 per cent over the next 37 years. However, if diets improved among the poor and undernourished annual world food demand by 2025 would be as great as 9 billion tonnes, or more than double the 1988 harvest.

That is fairly sobering kind of information to be getting. Certainly, those people who are attacking science and technology today would want to reflect on the facts given by Professor Borlaug. Science and technology are undergoing growing attack by environmentalists, mainly from the affluent nations, who claim that the consumer is being poisened out of existence and who advocate that we abandon the current high yielding agricultural systems and revert to what they call more sustainable lower yielding technologies. Certainly, environmentalists and agriculturalists have a professional and a moral obligation to warn the political, educational and religious leaders of the world about the magnitude and seriousness of the problem regarding arable land, food quality and population growth. We must also realise that we cannot turn back the clock to the good old 1930s when world population stood at about two billion and few agricultural chemicals and little chemical fertilisers were used. Professor Borlaug finally finishes his article by saying:

World peace will not be built on empty stomachs. Deny farmers today the use of commercial fertilizers and other chemical aids and the world will be doomed, not from poisoning, as some say, but from starvation. That is the reality.

To those who say that our food is of inferior quality and that insecticides are poisoning our food, let me first of all remind them that people are living longer now than at any time in the history of mankind. Of course, medicine has contributed to that. But if the food is as poisonious as they say, I am afraid we would not be living that long.

In support of the view that food is more nutritious and healthy now than at any time in history I would like to quote the views of Professor Bruce Ames of the University of California. Professor Ames is a leading biochemist and the winner of many prestigious awards including — and this is the important point for people who are concerned about the chemicals in our food — many awards for pioneering cancer research, including the prestigious General Motors Cancer Research Foundation Prize in 1983. In 1985 he won the Tyler Prize, the highest award in the US for environmental achievement.

What does Professor Ames say about insecticides in food? Well, he has some astonishing things to say about it. First, he points out that in the US the number of people under 85 dying from cancers of all types, except lung cancer, fell by 13 per cent between 1950 and 1985 but the incidence of lung cancer has gone up dramatically in the past 30 years and now accounts for roughly 400,000 deaths in the US, or 30 per cent of all cancer cases.

What does Professor Ames say about pesticides? He said plants do not have claws or teeth and cannot run away, so they develop their own pesticides to protect themselves from predators, including the human. Individual plants contain as many as 40 or 50 pesticides accounting for as much as 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the plants total dry weight. Then he points out — and this is where people are going overboard about the use of chemicals today and pesticides in particular — that 99.9 per cent of all the pesticides we are exposed to are natural; in other words, they are produced within the plant for the plant to protect itself. He goes on to quote the plants that have all of these things. These plants, which we know contain natural carcinogens at levels ranging from a few parts per billion to parts per thousands — I do not want you to go on a diet, a Chathaoirligh — include apples, bananas, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cinnamon, cloves, cocoa, coffee, comfrey, fennel, horseradish, mushrooms, mustard, nutmeg, orange juice, parsley and so on. There is not a food we eat today, apart from sugar, that if we synthesized it in the morning and presented it as something new there is no regulatory authority in the world that would approve of it. That is the situation. I am not saying that that is wrong. That is nature. That is how natural things are. That is the view of this gentleman, who ought to know what he is talking about, and certainly I tend to agree with him.

The point I am making is that we cannot do without the use of chemicals in food production today. It is the abuse of them, and not the use of them, that we have to be worried about. Could you imagine trying to produce potatoes without fungicides? Could you imagine trying to produce lifestock without anthelementics for stomach worms, hoose, lung worms, lice, ticks and so on? Some of you will remember the time when we had the warble fly driving our animals crazy. Apart from the economic loss and the lowering of quality of the product, think of the suffering of the poor animals if we did not have the use of these chemicals we have today.

Having said all that, I fully believe and support the idea that these materials must be used with the utmost care. I do believe that there is an increasing awareness of this, not only among farmers but among the manufacturers of sprayers and other forms of applicators of the material. These things are extremely expensive and it would be a very foolish farmer who would throw them around liberally to do damage to the environment but also to do damage to his pocket. We must use them.

For those people who do not want to use the food they are used on, that is fine, provided they are prepared to pay the extra price for it but let them not try to force that system on the rest of us, which would force poor people to pay a very high price for their food. To those who argue that there is a growing demand and a big demand for organically produced food, let me remind them that Marks & Spencers, who tried it out, took them off the shelves only a few months ago because they simply were not moving because the price was too high.

Could I say to the Senator that, while he is making a very valuable conribution, his time is almost up.

Thank you, Sir, but I was asked by your leader to keep going for longer some time ago.

We cannot do without these chemicals today. We have to ensure that they are used carefully. It is up to the farmers in the first instance, but it is up to those supervising and controlling the operations also to ensure that there is no abuse. There are many other areas I would like to cover, such as animal waste, silage effluent and damage to the environment in that area which is far greater than the damage caused by chemicals today.

I wish to second the motion. In seeking safeguards from the Minister for Agriculture and Food in relation to the control and use of pesticides and poison there are three main points which should be borne in mind: (1) human safety must be ensured; (2) the protection of preserved wildlife maintained; and (3) the safety of protected mammals, birds and farm animals must also be ensured. However, is it necessary to use poisonous substances to control wild animals and birds such as foxes, mink and crows?

The main users of poisonous substances and chemicals in this country are farmers, gun clubs and game keepers to control species and ground nesting game birds. The existing regulations are covered by the Poisonous Regulations Act, 1982, where a licence is needed from the Garda and must be produced to obtain poisonous substances. There are various other Acts controlling the use of poison on the land and poison for the control of wildlife. However, while we welcome the scheme of grants to assist farmers in carrying out pollution control work, the figures regarding the importation of poisonous chemicals indicate to us that the amount of poisonous substances imported into this country would appear to far exceed the amount used in Northern Ireland, which is our nearest and most identifiable comparative user.

Over the past number of years the positive and beneficial aspects of chemicals used has been emphasised on a daily basis but, as with any new technology, over use and misuse has occurred. The effects of the poisonous chemicals on fish, birds and other non-target species has indicated that little serious thought is given to the potential long term consequences of pesticides on human health and the environment. There is no doubt that properly monitored and targeted use of posionous substances can be effective in cases such as, for example, the elimination of known dogs who worry ewes, particularly in the lambing season. However, with the lapse of time it has been proved that the laying of poison is not totally effective and other up-to-date controls — for example, electric fencing, herding lambing ewes into small paddocks, shooting target species and trapping wild animals — can be just as effective. They say the best way to trap mink is with mink traps baited with fish and local wildlife rangers can advise on the best ones to use. In other countries improved block management has been shown to be more effective than the use of poison in keeping lamb losses down. The removal of carcases is important since it removes one of the major sources of food for hooded crows and foxes. This keeps the numbers high.

In calling on the Minister for Agriculture and Food to update and ensure more stringent regulations for the control and use of pesticides and strychnine, let us remind ourselves that Ireland is one of the last European countries to allow the almost unrestricted use of strychnine against wildlife. The ban on the use of lethal poisons in other countries has not resulted in hardship for farmers. It has been well demonstrated that threatened species which are put at risk by poisoning can flourish once a ban has been imposed. We have allowed a large part of irreplaceable wildlife heritage to become extinct in Ireland. It is our duty to protect and manage our environment from these poisonous substances so that they do not have any lasting effect on the environment, which we now wish to keep and enhance for our children.

I support the motion:

That Seanad Éireann, noting with concern the increasing threats to the natural environment posed by chemicals and poisonous compounds used in agriculture, and while welcoming the scheme of grants to assist farmers in carrying out pollution control work, calls on the Minister for Agriculture and Food to introduce more stringent regulations to control the use of pesticides and to ban the use of strychnine to ensure human safety and the protection of wildlife.

I do not believe that at this time in this country anybody would oppose that motion.

I agree with almost all that has been said from both sides of the House. I would certainly go along with almost all of what Senator Raftery had to say.

I am one of those people who is looked on with suspicion when we discuss motions such as this because I am a farmer. The more progressive and intensive the farmer is, the more he is looked on with suspicion. I would like to think — although I am sure my bank manager does not — that I am one of the more progressive farmers. I would like to say a word for the farmer. I am very conscious of the environment and I would say that 99.9 per cent of farmers, be they big or small, intensive or otherwise, are in the same category. They are very concerned about the environment, even from an economic point of view alone. It is in our interests to ensure that we maintain something which is special to this country, that is, a clean environment and clean food. I do not believe any of us would intentionally — I am speaking about farmers — do anything that would damage that reputation. As time goes on that reputation is more and more important. Shortly we will be the only island nation in the European Community. As such, we are removed from the mainland and that has to be advantageous. Therefore, it is vitally important that we protect the assets we have.

Having said that, I agree that with sprays, pesticides and fungicides or whatever, we have to watch how we handle the situation. Indeed, economics would prevent us from spraying ad lib. Up to now there was a certain degree of ignorance among farmers regarding the use of pesticides and fungicides, particularly strychnine. More education is required in this field. Regarding strychnine, I would have no trouble whatsoever in supporting a total ban on it. However, in saying that, I think we should look, as Senator Bennett has done at the reasons farmers in the past felt they had a need to use poisonous substances, because the sheep farmer, for instance, had to prevent the savaging of his flock by foxes, stray dogs, etc.

Here I would like to home in on the herding of sheep. It is suggested here that a five strand electric fence can protect lambing ewes and that is true but, unfortunately, the erection of a five-strand electric fence costs a lot of money, or indeed to provide housing for lambing ewes will cost a lot of money — money that is not available to farmers at this time. Therefore, we must look at other areas, because those in the lower economic category in agriculture could not afford that type of investment.

This brings us back to a very thorny question among farmers, that is, the stray dogs. How many times have we seen on television the savagery committed by marauding dogs. Even though we had legislation to deal with this problem a few years ago, very little progress has been made in this area. Here, again, it is a question of education. There are too many people in this country who have a dog for the sake of having a dog and if one was to ask them tonight where the dog is they would not have a clue. Until such time as dogs are kept strictly under control we are going to have that difficulty. It would be true to say that marauding dogs are the biggest problem for sheep farmers. The fox is innocent enough, because there are not enough of them around but the total disregard and total ignorance among people who own dogs and who do not know, or apparently do not care, where the dog is will have to be taken into account. It is difficult to know how to deal with this problem. Poison was one way of dealing with it in the past. I am totally supportive of getting rid of poison because there are too many other dangers involved, but we must tackle this problem. If we are to get the full support, particularly of small and medium sized farmers that aspect will have to be tackled immediately.

I know my time is short, so I would like to pass on to pesticides and fungicides. I heartily support the motion because of the growing concern about the indiscriminate use of chemicals in agriculture and the fear that these compounds may find their way into the food chain, particularly into drinking water. The big drawback about pesticides is that they can be toxic at very low levels. This is something that cannot be over-emphasised. This is the reason the EC has set an extremely low maximum admissible concentration in drinking water at 0.1 parts per billion for each pesticide or a maximum total of 0.5 parts per billion. The easiest pathway for pesticides to get into water is through careless handling at filling time with spraying equipment or through accidental spillages or indeed overflows. In many countries operators have had to attend classes for a minimum number of hours and pass a test to qualify as licensed handlers. I would say at this stage that it is important that our operators are trained in this field. If you get a licence to drive a tractor it appears to give you a licence to do everything else willy-nilly. All of us know — all of us have seen it drawing across the countryside — of farmers washing out their sprayers into rivers probably oblivious of the fact that it is causing untold damage.

Therefore, there are two lines of education we must follow here. First, we must educate the farmer as to the dangers of washing out a sprayer. The concentration under EC limits is so very small that the tiniest drop of the spray getting into the water can contaminate an enormous volume. Secondly, we need to train farmers on how to handle spraying equipment, how to handle spillages or overflows. We would be doing a good day's work if we asked Teagasc to take a greater interest in that aspect.

While the use of pesticides in accordance with manufacturers' recommendations usually ensures that there are no residues in the crops at the time of harvesting, there is always a certain amount of sprayed pesticide which gets into the soil. In some soil it is possible for the pesticides to be leached by rainfall into the ground water and into drinking water. The researchers at Johnstown Castle Research Centre, County Wexford, my own constituency, have been studying what happens to pesticides in Irish soils for a number of years. They have discovered that they are easily leached through some of our soils. In other soils they are absorbed and can remain there undegraded for years. For example, Johnstown Castle researchers have shown that DDT is still found in soils undegraded for years. For example, researchers at Johnstown Castle have shown that DDT is still found in soils in County Wexford, more than 12 years after its use was banned and it was taken off the market. That gives us a fair idea of the difficulty we face.

This is a good example of how important it is that these kinds of studies are continued so that we can understand all the processes involved in the movement of contaminants from earth to soil and from soil to water, from soil to plants and from soil to animals. All these processes are important ways in which pesticides can get into the foodchain for people as well as for animals and wildlife. There is a big move nowadays to find more natural ways to control plant diseases without using so many chemicals and we all hope that these studies will be successful.

I am very pleased that Johnstown Castle has been earmarked as the centre for the Environmental Protection Agency. This motion is timely. The Environmental Protection Agency is timely because in Johnstown Castle the work is ongoing. An expertise has been built up there and it would be a great pity at this stage if for any reason that were lost. We have a long way to go. I believe, as do all speakers that there is the big question of education and also the need for more stringent control, not the elimination, of the use of pesticides and that strychnine should be totally banned.

I support the motion. We have to look at this in a very balanced and reasonable way. One of the problems I find normally in environmental debates is that you get two sides with totally opposing views each looking for total victory for its view. I have been involved in the agriculture scene in one way or another for over 17 years. I was manager of a hill sheep farm and I also was manager of a co-op store which sells pesticides, fungicides and various types of animal drugs.

The nonchalant, casual attitude that people have towards chemicals amazes me. I have noticed a slight change in the last few years but traditionally people had no fear or worry about how they used chemicals. They were not particularly worried about adhering strictly to dosage or recommended usage levels. They tended to be very careless about their own protection regarding face masks, etc. This always amazes me because if you mention the word "radiation", no matter how low the dosage, people will break out in a cold sweat but the same people would eat their meals without washing their hands after using chemicals.

I have always been aware of the inherent danger of and the care needed when using chemicals. Chemicals are necessary for control. I do not think anybody in his rational senses would propose that we cease to use chemicals in either farming or in any other facet of life. It is very important that chemicals be used for maximum effect with minimum dosage and any hazards to man or to the environment be reduced as far as possible.

A few years ago, we purchased a new type of sheep dip that came on the market. We had it on the shelf for five years until eventually one customer of ours who happened to be an agricultural graduate and perhaps had a more open mind towards these matters purchased the whole lot over a period of two years and used it. It was subsequently proven in the Irish Farmers Journal that that dip was the most effective dip on the market. One may question why farmers would not use it. In my view, there was one very simple reason and that was that the dosage recommended in volume terms was very small. It was ingrained in the minds of the ordinary farmer that low dosage meant little effect. Of course we know that that is not true but here is an example of one of the misconceptions that we have to overcome.

Sheep farming has been mentioned. Suggestions have been made about the uses of fences and bringing sheep in for lambing. It has been found that the most efficient type of hill sheep farming is the one where weak ewes are brought in to be fed and the rest are left out on the hill. That poses certain problems, for example, at lambing time. I am talking about areas where there is low land pasture that could carry a large amount of sheep. Therefore, we have to address ourselves to the problem of how we control predators. We have to accept, as I think any good, self-respecting hill farmer will accept, that he will have losses if he wants to maxmise his profit. That is inevitable. What we are talking about is the control of these losses, not their elimination. One has to look at methods of controlling foxes and, at times, pine martens, although I see that they are a protected species, and particularly the grey crow. This can be done without the use of poisons such as strychnine if one accepts that the other alternative is to use such methods as hunting and paying bounties to people who kill foxs. It is impossible to have it both ways; to say on one hand that you will not allow hunting or control of that type and on the other hand, you do not want the use of chemicals. Nature is cruel and to those who say that fox hunting by sheep farmers should be banned I ask do they accept that it is also cruel that lambs are killed?

I have no problem in supporting the banning of strychnine because it is a very dangerous substance and it is environmentally hostile, as long as it is accepted that other methods of control must be exercised. Similarly with the grey crow. There are methods of trapping grey crows which are effective. We used different systems of baiting them and as long as this is acceptable I would have no problem with banning the use of strychnine.

As regards control, most people talk about control at the point of sale but that is not where the problem arises. Farmers must have access to various pesticides, drugs, etc. We must talk about control at the point of sale for certain dangerous substances, packaging and so on. We must also talk about educating the farmer to ensure that he uses these substances according to the recommended levels.

The scandal of deaths from the careless use of paraquat or gramoxone also has to be addressed. There must be very stringent control to ensure that these types of substances are not be left around unsecured. We would have to put control not on the seller but on the end user. There should be obligation on farmers to dispose of dangerous substances and not leave them in unsecure places.

Packaging is very important. The relative dangers of different products must be clearly outlined and easily understood usage levels must be used. Some substances are relatively harmless. Some substances used in excess of the dosage would not cause too much harm but there are other substances which are potentially very dangerous and similarly with the use of various fungicides and sprays. Where there is danger it should be mandatory to state quite clearly that face protection should be used to protect the operator from these substances.

Molaim an rún seo mar creidim gur ábhar tábhachtach é. Tá an comhshaol, an nadúr agus tuath na hÉireann i gceist. Agus, ar ndóigh, ag deireadh an lae b'fhéidir, thar aon rud eile, go bhfuil beatha dhaoine i gceist san fhadthéarma ó thaobh na contúirte agus na hailéirge de, agus tá beatha dhaoine i gceist scaití sa ghearrthéarma ó thaobh na contúirte a bhaineann le cuid de na substaintí a úsáidtear san fheilméireacht. Beidh súil le toradh ar an díospóireacht anseo anocht a thionscnaigh an páirtí seo againne, go moeidh moltaí ag teacht ón Aire Talmhaíochta le cosc a chur ar úsáid stricnín, agus le smacht níos déine agus níos cuimsithí a chur ar úsáid cuid mhaith de na hábhair seo atá tábhachtach dúinn ach go gcaithfimid bheith thar a bheith aireach fúthu má tá fúinn an tír álainn atá againn a chaomhnú.

Mr. Farrell

I welcome the motion before the House. It is timely. Our wildlife could be badly destroyed if we do not take protective action. Our good clean environment is the envy of Europe and we want to keep it that way.

Strychnine should be withdrawn. I had the experience of seeing a dog poisoned and I can say it gives a very cruel death. For that alone it should be banned. It is very dangerous and its chain reaction makes it doubly dangerous.

I was a grown boy before I saw a fox and I did not see grey crows very much until the last 20 years. Landlords employed gamekeepers full-time and they controlled vermin. They shot the surplus magpies and grey crows and they were controlled in that way. They were experts. It is a pity that their knowledge was not recorded because they had a wealth of natural experience on how to handle such affairs. If a fox raided a henhouse in my young days it would be the talk of the parish for a week. We see foxes now in gardens in urban areas. We have got rid of a lot of our fauna which provided food for some of our wildlife. I will leave that for another day but that is where the trouble started.

I congratulate the Irish Wildlife Service for doing a very good job on a shoestring budget. If we are really serious about control we should bring back the gamekeeper. That would solve a lot of problems.

Farmers are not the only people who use a lot of poison. I understand gun clubs also use it. Many gun clubs are to be congratulated for having organised shoots but a massive shoot for one day is not the answer. We should say a special thanks to our county councils because there should be less need now for poisoning since every council has a dog control unit. They collect stray dogs and ensure that dogs are licensed. It is not only stray dogs that do damage. I have known very good sheepdogs to get loose and kill. They are very clever. They wash themselves in the river on the way back and they arrive home spotlessly clean after killing. Very often men who own dogs will not admit, unless it is proved to them, that their dogs did the killing.

We do not know what damage we are doing by the use of poisons because it was 20 years before we realised the damage DDT caused. Scientists and professionals cause more trouble than they cure. Many chemicals and poisons would not be in existence only for those people. When something happens they blame the farmers but who gives the substances to them? They invent them. If these were not on the market we would still have good crops and a clean and better environment. As well as strychnine, there is alphachloralose, nevinphos and endorin. They are also very dangerous poisons which we should be concerned about and which should be controlled. Great havoc is caused to game birds, such as pheasants. One magpie will destroy a whole nest of eggs, maybe eight or ten birds will be gone in a flash. The same thing applies to the fox. He will kill a bird on the nest. We are losing a lot of our wildlife, game birds and insects, etc., which are part of our environment. The corncrake was always heard singing in the fall. As we do not hear the corncrake now I presume it is extinct.

I do not know how many more species of birds are extinct. I miss many birds that I used to see. The yellowhammer is becoming very scarce now. I have not seen the grey thrush around. I have been watching out for those birds but I do not see them. Chemicals like all drugs can kill and cure. As they say about an auctioneer, he will rob from you and for you. It is the same with chemicals; they will kill you and kill for you.

Chemicals should be controlled. Too much spray is used at present. We put far too many chemicals on the land and they are getting into water sources. The farmer is not the only culprit, although you would think nobody was using chemicals but the farmer. Chemicals are sprayed on weeds along roadsides, in gardens and on country walks. We should put this into perspective. We hear people talking about pollution and the first person to be attacked is the farmer. He is not the biggest culprit at all. There is pollution from septic tanks. There was a time when, if you had a septic tank, you only let in the effluent from the toilet but some smart boy in the Department said, "Not at all, let everything into it". Some other smart boys advertised on television, "Kill every known germ". We expect a tank to be septic and we put in every antispetic we can into it. What do you expect to get out the other end but pollution? We are killing the septic ingredient which would gobble up and purify the waste. I have had a septic tank for over 35 years and I have never had to touch it because nothing went into it but waste from the toilet. All septic tanks pose a threat. Do not think for one minute that the farmer is the only one who is causing the problem.

I thank the Irish Wildbird Conservancy for their very informative leaflet. People will find it enlightening. I am pleased to support the motion.

I support the motion. I realise that it has fairly wide terms of reference in so far as it calls on the Minister for Agriculure and Food to introduce more stringent regulations to control the use of pesticides and ban the use of strychnine to ensure human safety and protect wildlife. Most people who live in rural Ireland realise that there must be a balance that it is becoming much more difficult to keep the balance. Certainly I have practical, hands-on-farm knowledge. I see the value of improving the environment. Our clean environment will be a very valuable asset in the future. We must educate farmers and others who are in danger of causing pollution about the problem and about modern facilities to deal with it. One section of the community are totally engrossed in how to protect our wildlife but could be blind to the fact that a young lamb is lying on the side of the road half dead. There must be a balance, I come from a farming family and we have always had the problem of watching lambs in the lambing season because the fox is a very clever little animal.

I would like to know how successful anybody has ever been in poisoning foxes. It is not that easy. I would like to talk to somebody who has experience of this. I would like to see the poisoning of a fox in operation. It is nearly impossible. The fox follows scent. Grey crows and foxes are two of the most dangerous predators and there must be a way of controlling them.

Farmers have a problem. The sheep industry is a very valuable one. People look on it as a sideline but, it is far from it. It is much more valuable than the fishing industry. That might come as a surprise to many people but that is the reality. Is balance important or have people adopted an approach that only sees the protection of all species of birds and wildlife? Does the belief prevail that nature will balance itself? This is what we are encouraged to accept. I have seen areas where chemicals have been used. It is well known that tendering salt is used on meat and if, in the course of using it, it fell on your shoes, it would bum out the toe of your shoe. Millions of pounds have been spent on research. I hope that continues and that it produces results, advice and guidelines. It is so vast an area that we have to be continually working at it. We have to take into consideration the two aspects of the problem those who have to survive in industry and those who have to provide food for the whole population.

I find it difficult to try to make a contribution in a very short time. This is a worthwhile motion to bring forward. We would like the Minister to take the motion aboard so that we will have an opportunity to discuss the matter further. It is so important for the whole area that I ask the Minister to take a very balanced view.

Debate adjourned.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach

When is it proposed to sit again?

At 10.30 tomorrow morning.