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Seanad Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 6 Jul 1999

Vol. 160 No. 4

National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill, 1999: Second Stage.

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

I am pleased to introduce this important Bill in this important House. As a former Mem ber, whenever I get the opportunity, I like to introduce legislation in the Upper House to give its Members an opportunity to debate legislation first. It is important that the issue of food safety is debated and that the Bill is progressed through the Seanad to allow public debate during the summer and to send the strongest possible signal to our customers at home and abroad that we are serious about food safety. We export food to about 57 countries worldwide. I propose to adopt a generous attitude to amendments and expect the Bill to return to the Seanad having completed its passage through the Dáil.

This is a crucially important Bill. Its purpose is to streamline and strengthen existing controls and, in so doing, underpin the commercial trading infrastructure of the beef sector. It is landmark legislation.

Given that beef accounts for more than 40 per cent of Ireland's agricultural output and contributes to the livelihoods of up to 250,000 people, the sector has commanded a huge part of my attention and that of successive Ministers for Agriculture during the years, even more so since March 1996 when the explosion of the BSE crisis occurred in the United Kingdom. Leaving aside the economic damage, that seriously damaged the credibility of the sector, policy makers and scientists because consumers believed economic considerations took precedence over the protection of human health. More recently, we have seen the consequences in Belgium of the failure to deal swiftly and firmly with the dioxin scare.

The BSE and dioxin food scares are clear proof, if proof were needed, that the safeguarding of consumer confidence is crucial for the future of the food industry. That is the number one priority.

The environment in which food is produced has changed dramatically in the past ten years, possibly more than at any other time. Consumer expectations and standards have increased substantially and the demand is for demonstrably safe and wholesome food. The provision of a high level of public health protection has increasingly become a central focus for all Administrations at national and EU level. That is as it should be. Consumers should no longer have to make do with anything less than the highest of standards in the food they eat. They have a legitimate right to demand and expect food that is safe, wholesome, of high quality and produced under ultra hygienic conditions.

This change in focus has been most acute in the beef sector, particularly since the announcement in the House of Commons on 20 March 1996 of a possible link between BSE and CJD. While Ireland has had a minuscule number of BSE cases, considerable damage was done to the reputation of beef in general and as a consequence to Irish beef. Consumption fell dramatically and a number of third countries imposed trade restrictions on imports of EU and Irish beef. The consensus was that action had to be taken to address the situation.

At EU level, the Commission reorganised and expanded its control and inspection services in the food, veterinary and plant health sectors. These functions are discharged by the Food and Veterinary Office which is located in Ireland. The Commission has also established various scientific and advisory committees to assist in the formulation of policies to be pursued at EU level. A rapid food alert system has been put in place to provide early warning of food safety alerts to wholesalers and retailers.

At national level, the Government has established the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, as an independent agency with its own board and structure. Its chief executive, Dr. Pat Wall, has been doing an effective and professional job since his appointment. The authority has been given overall responsibility for the enforcement of legislative provisions in the area of food safety and hygiene and for the promotion of standards of good practice throughout all stages of food production, distribution and sale. Arrangements for the discharge of functions by the various agencies under contract to the authority have been put in place.

A range of initiatives has been introduced by the Department of Agriculture and Food. For example, regulations on animal identification and movements have been reinforced. At the end of last year I made regulations which reinforce the already rigorous measures in place to prevent the abuse of animal remedies. Food producers will end up in jail if they contravene these regulations. Official delegations have systematically visited a variety of international markets to provide detailed briefings on Ireland's stringent control measures with the aim of assisting the recovery of cattle and beef exports and ensuring market access. I have participated in a number of these.

While the overall situation for Irish beef has improved, a number of markets continue to be closed or partially closed to Irish beef. There has been a high level of renationalisation of the beef market within some EU countries. There is a need for comprehensive and all-embracing measures to allay consumer concerns and safeguard markets for Irish beef and beef products. It was against this background the Government approved the text of a Bill to provide a statutory basis for the national beef assurance scheme. This initiative is further evidence of our commitment to apply the highest food safety standards, starting with the beef sector.

The outline of the measures to be introduced under the scheme have been discussed extensively with the representatives of the main participants in the scheme, farmers, meat factories, marts, the animal feed trade and the food industry, to ensure the production of safer food, better controls and better assurances to consumers on food quality. While some concerns have been expressed, mainly on the costs of compliance with the scheme, there is general acceptance and support for a broadly based scheme which will pro vide reassurances to consumers and customers of Irish beef.

The Bill provides the statutory basis for a national beef assurance scheme, the purpose of which is the development of common standards for the production, processing and trade in Irish cattle and beef for human consumption and the manufacture and trade of feeding stuffs; the application of these standards through a system of registration, inspection and approval, and the enhancement of an animal identification and traceability system for Irish cattle.

The Bill applies to all persons engaged in the primary production and processing of Irish cattle and beef, that is, farmers engaged in cattle and beef production, cattle dealers, exporters of live cattle, livestock marts, slaughtering premises and establishments which otherwise process beef, and establishments which manufacture or trade feeding stuffs.

As the aim is to regulate primary production and processing many of its provisions, particularly those on registration, inspection and approval, will not apply to food businesses in the retail sector. That is not to say that such businesses will be excluded from the net of the national beef assurance scheme. This sector, which includes supermarkets, grocery stores and retail butcher shops, is already regulated under the food hygiene regulations operated under the control of the Minister for Health and Children, and these provisions will continue to be applied. Thus, it is not necessary to introduce a second tier of registrations, inspections and approval under this Bill. For farmers, factories and marts, we will have the national beef assurance scheme, while for the retail sector, including supermarkets and grocery stores, we have the food hygiene regulations operated under the aegis of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Cowen. It is, therefore, unnecessary to duplicate those measures.

The retail sector will be obliged, however, to ensure that when buying or receiving Irish beef from farmers and processors, it will deal only with persons approved under the scheme. Non-compliance with this provision will constitute an offence under the Bill and it is the intention to empower health boards to conduct inspections to ensure that this condition is met.

The Bill provides that only persons meeting the prescribed standards set out in the Second Schedule for the various categories of participants, will be approved to participate in the cattle, beef and feeding stuffs industry. The standards in question are contained in existing legislation for the most part and cover such matters as animal identification, health, remedies, feed, hygiene and hygiene practices as well as production and manufacturing practices, construction, maintenance and operation of premises and the environment, including pollution and waste control. There is, however, provision for the making of regulations to enhance existing arrangements and to address gaps in existing legislation, for example, in relation to the possession of, or tampering with, cattle ear tags and identity cards and the documentation of certain operational procedures in meat plants and elsewhere. Accordingly, while the Bill will tighten up the implementation of existing provisions, it will not impose any undue new legislative burden on participants.

The Bill provides for a mandatory application, inspection, approval and registration process for all participants, the purpose of which is to provide independently-backed assurances on the safety of Irish beef. As it will take some time to complete the inspection process, there is provision for transitional arrangements under which all participants will be deemed to be provisionally approved until they have been either granted or refused approval under the scheme.

All participants will be formally inspected and the arrangements for the inspections have been discussed with the various representative organisations. Agreement has been reached with almost all the parties concerned, but a number of issues remain outstanding with regard to the inspection and certification of farms. Discussions are continuing on this point with the farming organisations and it is hoped the matter will be agreed in the near future. I assure Senators there is nothing in the Bill that will prejudice the outcome of these discussions. I am confident that the inspection and certification process will be agreed and will be acceptable to all parties.

Participants who are found to be in compliance with the requirements of the scheme will be issued with final approval and they will be entered into the register of approved participants. The period of validity of the approval will be open ended, although there is provision to set a fixed period of validity for all or some categories of participants, should this prove necessary in the future. Approved participants will be subject to ongoing monitoring to ensure continued compliance with the scheme and there is provision for the making of regulations setting out the procedures for such re-inspections.

Participants who are found not to be in compliance with the scheme, will be informed of the action they must take to bring themselves into compliance and they will be given a reasonable amount of time to do so. However, if they fail to take the necessary action they will be informed that their application for approval is being refused or revoked. Participants will have an opportunity to make representations against such decisions and the matter may also be appealed to the Circuit Court in the event of a refusal or revocation. The final sanction is that participants who have not been granted approval or who lose their approval status, will not be allowed to trade in cattle, beef or feeding stuffs.

It must be stressed that these provisions do not introduce a licensing system to produce beef, rather they seek to ensure that all cattle and beef produced for human consumption in Ireland complies with the statutory requirements and, in particular, that the beef is safe to eat. The provisions are being introduced as much to safeguard and protect producers as to provide assurances to consumers, customers and buyers.

There may be concerns that the scheme will impose an additional burden of costs on producers and processors without delivering benefits in return. This is simply not the case because the vast bulk of producers and processors have absolutely nothing to fear, and everything to gain, from this scheme. They are already complying with the relevant legislation and any additional costs to them should be minimal.

By providing formal certification and approval status, the scheme will enable the industry to give credible assurances to customers and consumers about the quality of Irish beef. It will protect consumers against uninformed comment and criticism in the face of the inevitable food scares, and will allow Ireland to maintain and increase market share against international competition. Ireland is a very large producer of cattle and beef. Some 250,000 people depend on the industry for their living. We export to approximately 57 countries worldwide, thus, we have customers at home and abroad. In recent times, as Senator Quinn will testify, the high standards demanded by the retail sectors have had to be complied with. For the producers wishing to sell to the highly remunerative outlets, the standards demanded by supermarkets and other retail outlets are exceptionally high. Serious producers already comply with those standards. The traceability system means that customers can find the name, address and phone number of the meat producer on their receipt slips. I saw the system working in one of Senator Quinn's supermarkets recently. That is the way in which we should be going. The Bill is an enabling measure to underwrite such a system. The best systems are voluntary, where people voluntarily improve the quality of their beef and milk products. Supermarkets insist on such high standards.

A comprehensive system for animal identification already exists for Irish cattle, including tagging, cattle identity cards and a computerised database which records animal births, location, slaughterings and live exports. The current computer system already records about 12 million events against Irish cattle each year and allows Ireland to provide guarantees and assurances about the origin and identity of cattle.

In 1997, for example, work commenced on a major enhancement of the computerised database with a view to incorporating data on all animal movements, as required by EU law. This system is known as the cattle movement monitoring system and it involves the use of electronic means to capture data on animal movements through computer links established at livestock marts, meat processing plants, export points and anywhere else information can be sourced. A paper notification system is used to record movements where electronic means are not feasible. Implementation of this system is well advanced and it will, when fully operational, provide for verification of the origin, identity and life history of cattle before they enter the food chain. The system is already in operation in relation to private sales and 70 per cent of livestock marts and, to date, some 1.25 million individual animal movements have been recorded. It is currently being introduced at meat export plants, following which it will be extended to live export points and abattoirs producing for the domestic market.

With the co-operation of all concerned, this comprehensive traceability system will be fully in place later this year. There are about eight million cattle in the country and there are many more cattle than people. Cattle in Ireland move more often than cattle in any other country. This system will register all cattle at birth. They will have a passport and the system will electronically record the movements from one farm to another and from farms to marts to other farms through to the consumer's table.

We are more advanced than virtually all other countries on this matter. It is very important that this be the case because there is no use telling a consumer with a problem or who wants to follow something up that an animal was last in one farm if one does not know how many movements it made and how many farms it was in prior to that. It could have been in three or four different farms. It will then be necessary to know what food was consumed by the animal, whether it was grass, concentrate or recycled feed. All of that data is becoming increasingly available and with the co-operation of all concerned this system will be fully in place later this year.

Under the Bill relevant participants will be formally required to notify the movement of all animals on to or off their holdings or premises. There is also provision for the making of regulations for prescribing the form and time of the notifications and also the procedures for the use of the CMMS database to identify and trace animals slaughtered for human consumption. The inclusion of CMMS provisions in the Bill is necessary to provide the requisite legal powers to ensure that participants comply with precise requirements regarding the notification of animal movements and that animals, whose origin and life history cannot be verified, can be barred from entering the human food chain.

We have in Ireland a comprehensive, if not more comprehensive, system than elsewhere to monitor the movement and location of our animal world, which is twice as large as the human world. It means that if an animal is picked up in a mart, factory or farm one will know not only where it came from but all of its movements up to that time. It is a comprehensive and simple system because it is done electronically.

The national beef assurance scheme is a comprehensive and far-reaching scheme which demonstrates the commitment of the Government to further underpinning the credibility of the beef industry. The Bill has the overall support of the industry, although not all parties fully agree with all the provisions. The arrangements for the inspection of farms have still to be agreed.

Some parties will say that the Bill is unduly restrictive, especially on elderly farmers. The market environment for beef has changed radically. We have to provide independently backed and credible guarantees that Irish beef is safe if we are to satisfy consumers' and customers' reasonable and legitimate demands and maintain or increase our market share. This will, of necessity, impose some extra obligations on all elements of the beef sector. However, we have striven to keep these levels consistent with delivering a credible scheme which will address the concerns of consumers and customers of Irish beef.

One of the main aims of the Bill is to ensure that the origin and history of all cattle and beef entering the human food chain can be verified and that they have been produced to acceptable standards. We will have a very credible traceability system for cattle from birth through to factory level. Let no one underestimate the size of this task, which involves recording details of all the events in the life of the national herd together with tracking the millions of cattle movements each year. The system being set up in meat plants and livestock marts will ensure that this can be done. The existing obligations on the retail sector will also provide additional controls. Any gaps or loopholes in the supply chain will be closed by the provision on retailers having to purchase from approved suppliers. It is, of course, open to the industry to provide additional guarantees based on the platform we are providing.

I am confident the package of measures contained in the scheme has struck the right balance and that it will deliver the additional assurances which will enable us to say that beef and beef products produced in Ireland are safe and wholesome to eat. The Bill is comprehensive on food safety, indeed it is a landmark, but it can also be much more. It can serve as a foundation for a concerted marketing drive for Irish beef, both at home and overseas.

Irish beef has great taste and flavour. One will not get better. It is capable of commanding premium prices. While the Bill will demand and require proper attention to safety at all stages of production and processing, it also offers the potential of better returns and guaranteed markets. That is very much in the long-term interests of livestock farmers in Ireland.

We have companies such as Baileys, Kerrygold and Waterford Glass, which are world market leaders. As we approach the dawn of the new millennium we need to establish international recognition for Irish beef. That is the potential and the opportunity. Let us get on with it. I commend the Bill to the House.

I welcome the fact that the Bill has originated in this House. In principle I welcome its main objectives, but in practice it will be draconian legislation which will have far-reaching and profound effects on the farming community, cattle dealers and those involved in the cattle industry. It was mentioned that the IFA has given the Bill its total support. I believe it is giving it qualified support and we must proceed on that basis.

It is essential that there be adequate and effective legislation to protect the most important beef industry and to create common standards for production, processing and trade in beef products. We export 90 per cent of our total beef production and Ireland is the largest beef exporter in the west.

We acknowledge the need for a Bill that will encapsulate all the existing regulations and legislative measures put in place piecemeal through the years to deal with specific problems and conditions as they arose in the industry and to meet the requirements of EU legislation. This was especially the case with regard to the labelling and selling of beef in the EU. In that context, will the Minister outline the position regarding EU beef labelling regulations?

We all know that the traceability code and origin of beef, to be introduced in January 2000 under an EU directive, is not fully agreed to by many Irish farmers. Serious reservations have been expressed about the issue of labelling beef on a national basis. Consumers have a great inclination to buy products which originate in their own country. Consequently, Irish beef is trading at a disadvantage in European markets. It is little wonder that at present Irish beef prices are the lowest in the EU. Transport costs and other factors may contribute to this.

The Minister said the Bill could be seen to be unduly restrictive, especially on elderly farmers. He went on to say that the market environment for beef has changed radically. It will be unduly restrictive on more than just elderly farmers. When this legislation is fully operational, the flight from the land, especially of small farmers, will increase dramatically. Many will be put out of business by a failure to get a licence or operate one successfully. It is not the case that many farmers will deliberately try to flout the law, but they will not have the resources or the administrative capacity for compliance, which will result in the revocation of their licences.

I will briefly deal with the section on compliance. The Minister stated that "Participants who are found not to be in compliance with the scheme will be informed of the steps that must be taken to bring them into compliance". If they continue in non-compliance, they will be given notice of the Minister's intention to refuse or revoke approval and they will have an opportunity to make representations to the Minister. In addition, there will be provision for an appeals procedure to the courts in the event of the refusal or revocation proceeding. The final sanction will be that participants will not be granted approval or will lose their approval status and, consequently, will no longer be able to trade in beef, cattle or feeding stuffs.

To appeal a decision against them, farmers must go to the Circuit Court. However, visiting this court as a litigant is an extremely expensive business and out of the reach of many small farmers. Even the idea of going to the Circuit Court for anything, let alone the licence to continue to operate as a farmer, would be abhorrent to most farmers, but the Bill does not provide an alternative. There is no option if a farmer is to get back into business. This will have a serious impact on small farmers and dealers. It means that a farmer who is bad at mathematics could lose his licence. The legislation involves more red tape and bureaucracy and we are fast approaching a Chinese system for farming. The fact that farmers will not have to wear grey suits is the only omission from the Bill.

New herd number cards have just come into the possession of most farmers and I am sure that everyone will be absolutely thrilled with their simplicity. I and many farmers know that this legislation will be a headache for most of them. For example, 5 per cent of tags are lost by cattle for one reason or another during the year and for that simple misadventure on the part of the animal the farmer is penalised and loses everything, including headage premia, for one year. If civil or public servants make a mistake, they are not penalised and do not lose anything. They are not even admonished on many occasions. The legislation is draconian in many respects.

The traceability of animals at all stages of their lives is one of the key objectives of the Bill. There are 7.8 million cattle in Ireland, the highest number in the history of the State, and we also have the highest level of animal mobility in the EU, an estimated 4.5 movements in the lifetime of an animal. Every movement of the animal must be traceable; every transaction must be recorded; and every injection given to the animal from birth must be noted. When cattle are taken to a mart, the tag number on every animal must be available on the computerised cattle movement monitoring system by the following day. Those are restrictive regulations.

The legislation is deemed by many people to be necessary to develop a higher standard of production and processing, safeguard consumers from possible contamination by BSE, and promote confidence in the beef industry at home and abroad. Confidence has been eroded over the past two years because of links with BSE and CJD. Many rogues in the industry were the cause of this and the courts were possibly too lenient over the years with people who were in flagrant violation of the regulations and who succumbed to the most dastardly illegal practices such as injecting cattle with angel dust and growth promoters. This has resulted in some of the measures contained in the Bill.

Nevertheless, the Bill will place added financial burdens on a farming sector already hit by low prices, low morale and declining incomes. The flight from the land is gathering pace at an alarming rate. A recent survey in my home county, Mayo, estimated that in the past two years alone 5 per cent of farmers left the land annually. The Government needs to be more conscious of this and must make living on the land more profitable, attractive and less restrictive. However, the Bill will do the opposite, even though I welcome it in principle and many of its provisions are necessary.

The Bill is designed to safeguard the future and the long-term interests of the beef industry but it will do nothing for the morale of farmers. It also will have serious consequences for small cattle dealers, who have been a necessary and important cog in the cattle industry over the years. If the small dealer were taken out of the equation, as could ultimately happen under this harsh legislation, it would have a serious impact on the industry. Heretofore, he could go to the mart needing only a chequebook. When this legislation is fully operational he will also need to bring his secretary. Over the years, the small dealer has been an integral part of rural life and has played a big role in the industry.

Serious penalties are proposed in the Bill for persons found guilty of offences and non-compliance. While there will be no sympathy for persons found deliberately in breach of the regulations and involved in illegal activity, many farmers will find themselves in trouble because of their inability to cope with the paperwork involved and the proper record keeping required by the Bill. There should be financial concessions or reimbursements to farmers for the extra administrative work and the problems which the Bill will create for them and their families. In the past, the courts may have been too lenient on flagrant violations of the regulations. If a firmer hand had been taken, many of the measures now before us might not have been necessary because it was a few rogue dealers who gave the industry a bad name in the first instance.

The retail trade is virtually excluded from the Bill. This is the last link in the chain from the farmer's gate to the consumer's plate. Even though the Minister stated in his speech that the retail trade is covered under the hygiene regulations and other legislation, it should be included in the overall scheme of things. This is the last vital link between the consumer and the farmer.

Bovine TB and disease eradication is not mentioned in the Bill. We need to correlate and co-ordinate these two matters if we are to make any headway in disease eradication. In the past 50 years millions of pounds have been spent on trying to eradicate bovine TB from our herds, yet the problem remains. This is not adverted to in the legislation. This must be considered in the overall scheme of things.

I welcome the National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill, 1999. Given that we export eight out of ten animals, it is vital that a proper traceability scheme is in operation. We have the purest beef produced in the EU and the national beef assurance scheme is proposed to guarantee this. A major development in the beef sector over the next five years will be the opening up of European markets.

The proposed legislation is a key response to past food scares in the cattle, beef and animal feed sectors, particularly the BSE crisis. We need only look at the dioxin crisis in Belgium this year and how it affected the beef and food industry there. The Bill will serve to protect producers and consumers by providing assurances that Irish beef is safe and by underpinning confidence in the industry at home and abroad.

It is hoped the legislation will be enacted before the end of the year. The Bill will draw together the range of legislation which already exists in the cattle, beef and animal feed sectors to develop common high standards of production and processing. These standards will be applied through a process of mandatory registration, inspection and approval and will cover all participants in the industry, such as farmers, cattle dealers, live exporters, livestock marts, abattoirs, meat processing plants and the animal feed manufacture and trading sector. The Bill will also enhance and strengthen the animal identification and traceability measures already in place for Irish cattle. It is essential that Ireland takes a lead in demonstrating a responsible attitude to the production of food and a commitment to food safety.

The Bill brings existing practices into one common standard. Beef outlets should also be included in the Bill to complete the cycle from birth to consumption. The Bill states that there will be an obligation on traders to deal only with participants who have been approved under the scheme. Section 3(a) covers meat intended for human consumption and section 6(d) states that it will be unlawful to buy from a participant who does not hold a certificate of approval. I note there are no penalties for outlets which do not comply with the obligations.

An article in last week's Irish Farmers' Journal under the heading “Parlon supports the assurance scheme”, states:

IFA president Tom Parlon, commenting on the Bill, said that farmers supported the proposed national beef assurance scheme approved by the Government this week.

He said an effective beef assurance scheme is contingent on a fully computerised traceability system which he said IFA has been pressing for since March 1996.

The IFA president said the proposed new legislation was deficient in not applying to the supermarket, catering and restaurant sectors which are the direct link between producers and processors and the consumer. He said full assurance must go right through from the farm gate to the consumer's plate.

I compliment the supermarket boss who is a Member of this House. He always insists on top quality food being displayed on the shelves of his supermarkets and ensures it can be traced. There is a group with placards outside the Dáil regarding other insurance which I do not wish to mention.

The Minister stated that the sector, which includes supermarkets, grocery stores and retail butcher shops, is already regulated under the food hygiene regulations operated under the control of the Minister for Health and Children and these provisions will continue to be applied. Thus, it is not necessary to introduce a second tier of registrations, inspections and approval under the Bill. However, beef outlets should be included to complete the cycle from birth to consumption. I am sure the Minister will address this issue although he seems to be satisfied that the provisions in the food and hygiene regulations are sufficient.

The intention is that only those who meet the prescribed standards will be approved to participate in the industry. The standards in question are contained in existing legislation and cover such matters as animal identification, animal health, animal remedies, animal feed, hygiene and hygiene practices, production and manufacturing practices, construction, maintenance and operation of premises and equipment and the environment, including pollution and waste management. These will be outlined in a Schedule to the Bill. In addition, the Bill includes a provision that enables the Minister to make regulations on record-keeping and the documentation of such matters as production, processing and manufacturing practices. There will also be provision for the Minister to make regulations on the identification of animals, in particular the possession of ear tags and identity cards and tampering with same. A small number of farmers were involved in this type of activity in the past, which had an adverse effect on the beef and cattle industry. However, this has now been eliminated.

At the initial stage a promotional and education programme should be carried out to inform farmers of the requirements and benefits of the scheme. It is vital to stress that record-keeping by farmers for the Department and the EU is at an all time high. Farmers who make minor mistakes should not be penalised or threatened. I suggest it would be impossible for a farmer to keep every record perfect. Senator Caffrey has already mentioned this. I know from experience it is very easy to make mistakes. The Minister said it is difficult for elderly farmers – and also probably young farmers – to become accustomed to requirements under this scheme and EU regulations for keeping herd registers etc. Teagasc should arrange a training programme to ensure these farmers are able to keep records in compliance with regulations. In this age of computerisation, farmers at some stage will probably receive a query from the Department about a mistake in a number or similar matter and they should be educated about this through Teagasc.

I appeal to officers and the DVO to be more reasonable when dealing with such mistakes. Inspections take place from time to time and that is right because it is important a proper traceability system is in force and the herd record is kept up to date. Farmers are likely to make mistakes and I suggest to the Minister that the agricultural inspectorate should be trained to differentiate between a minor mistake and a fraudulent one. Lack of differentiation is causing all the problems. Farmers who make minor mistakes should not be penalised but encouraged because these people are the backbone of Irish farming. Young potential farmers hear about penalties for non-fraudulent mistakes and are discouraged from entering farming. They say all the hassle is not worth it.

Farmers must account for every animal from birth to slaughter or death and notify the Department of an animal's death. I remember at home letters going to notify the office in Kilfinn, County Limerick. I think it has moved to another area and perhaps the Minister or Senator Callanan might know about that. There was disappointment it was moved to another area.

I stress there should be proper traceability to ensure the customer is satisified with regard to food consumption. Senator Quinn always insists on this.

Recently I attended an urgent debate in the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly on the dioxin crisis and food safety. They thought it so serious it required an urgent debate. The crisis first came to light in Belgium on 28 May 1999 but in February anomalies were detected in chickens on a number of poultry farms. This was so serious it brought down a government. This Bill will ensure this will not happen in Ireland. The Minister, in his concluding remarks, said "Irish beef has great taste and flavour. One will not get better." Ireland has a great and green image and grass is used in producing Irish beef. It is almost all organically produced. We must ensure its quality and traceability to satisfy the home producer and the international market.

I welcome the Minister. I know his commitment to food for many years. I purposefully use the word "food" rather than "agriculture" as he has that standard. I look at this Bill with interest and I am pleased the Minister has introduced it and it is before the Seanad. I will work hard on this Bill to ensure when it becomes law it will do a world of good for Ireland. Therefore any criticisms are constructive.

In May I visited supermarkets in Japan. We have heard all about fortress Japan, yet I was interested to see Australian and United States beef on the shelves alongside Japanese beef. They were the only two countries from which I saw imported beef. Part of my ambition is to ensure, through this legislation and other work of the Minister, we convince customers, those who consume the meat and those who buy it for supermarkets in places such as Japan, so Irish beef appears on shelves there because that is what people want. This is not just about the protection of our beef. I want this to be driven to provide more than just protection.

I attended a meeting of the CIS, the world food business forum, in June 1996, less than three months after the statement in the House of Commons about BSE. German and French supermarket owners there told me they no longer stocked Irish beef. I told them Ireland did not have that problem, that we were different from Britain. They replied that they knew, but the French or German people wanted to buy only beef from their own countries because they were doubtful about anything else. Even though they recognised Ireland was not the same as Britain, we ended up with a much bigger problem on our hands than we thought. We thought we had been doing enough to ensure we were all right. However, customers' demands and insistence meant supermarkets were no longer able to stock beef that did not come from their own countries. We should set higher standards and targets and I know that is the Minister's ambition too.

Recently I walked through a supermarket in Blanchardstown and met a customer who told me she had not eaten beef for three years and wished I could put her mind at rest. Some of us in the business have been doing a lot.

The Minister and Senator Rory Kiely both spoke about traceability and the scheme in operation in Superquinn. Ten years ago customers began to express interest and concern about things other than just price. They wanted to know more about the source of beef and everything else they bought. We took the step of showing photographs of our producers of lettuce, cabbage and other products with their names and addresses so people knew where they were coming from. We found customers had much more confidence when they saw that. About 1991, we introduced beef traceability and we put into operation a system that had taken us some years to develop. Customers could see, as the Minister described, the producers' photographs and names and on the checkout receipt the name, address and telephone number of the farm from which a product came. We benefited from that when the BSE crisis hit Europe, because although sales dropped immediately, we found within a short time that sales of beef increased again because of trust. We must seek in this Bill to create high confidence in Irish beef so that not only Irish customers but customers all around the world will buy it.

I was a strong proponent of traceability before that crisis but since then I have proof it works to build customers' confidence and trust. I supported traceability on a national and European Union basis. The Bill is the first legislative response to that trend. I welcome the move forward in this area, but I have major misgivings about the way it is being done. I know the Minister will listen attentively to the debate and that he is willing to accept amendments. This is why I hope the Bill is not rushed through this week and that the summer recess is used to consider it before Committee and Report Stages are taken in October.

Usually, something is better than nothing, but that is not the case in this Bill. The first issue is tricky but it cannot be avoided because it goes to the heart of the matter. I do not wish to embarrass the Minister but the Bill has been sponsored by the wrong Department. The Minister is aware of my views on this. I would prefer if the Bill had been introduced by another Department because there will be a belief that the Department of Agriculture and Food is involved and will work for and at the behest of farmers. It should have been sponsored by a different Department.

The overall purpose of the Bill is to reassure customers and to build trust and quality in terms of the safety of the beef that is sold. I agree with this aim but customers in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe are universally sceptical about food quality. This was not always the case, but it is the position now. Their interests in health and nutrition has grown, but there has been a large number of exceedingly serious food scares. Against this background, they do not trust Departments of Agriculture and food producers in Europe. In the context of food quality, people throughout the world are crying out for independent reassurance. They do not want to hear from food producers or Departments of Agriculture. The response of customers to what they say tends to be, "They would say that, wouldn't they?" Customers want to hear from an independent body.

As Senator Kiely said, there were scandalous delays in Belgium in bringing to light the problems there because the interests of producers rather than consumers were taken into account. This adds to customers' lack of confidence in that country and elsewhere. There is a need to establish an assurance scheme which is genuinely independent of all the vested interests to provide the independence and trust customers want. The proper way to do this is to ensure the body operates under the Food Safety Authority.

This authority is responsible to the Minister for Health and Children, not to the Minister for Agriculture and Food. There was a turf war before that became the position. I am sure the Minister for Agriculture and Food did his best and fought hard on behalf of his Department, but I am delighted the Food Safety Authority reports to the Minister for Health and Children. The right decision was taken on that occasion and the fruits of it are already obvious in terms of the standing the Food Safety Authority has succeeded in creating for itself in such a short time. The Minister referred earlier to this and to the recognition Dr. Patrick Wall has established.

The right decision was taken then, but the opposite decision has been taken on this matter which is exactly the same. The task is to rebuild customer confidence in a product that has been battered by food scares in Ireland and elsewhere. The truth of this becomes clear when one con siders the Bill. It does not envisage a neutral technological scheme with no value dimension, but a judgmental scheme. It will be a policing scheme with sanctions. Senator Caffrey referred to his concern about some of those sanctions, but producers who do not come up to scratch will be excluded.

The first question people will ask is how stringently the Department of Agriculture and Food will police the scheme. With all due respect to the Minister and his Department, the public response to that question will not be very enthusiastic. Cynics will argue that putting the Department of Agriculture and Food in charge of the beef assurance scheme is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. There is a credibility hurdle and the Bill as it stands will not ever fully surmount it. We are unlikely to halt in its tracks the juggernaut of the Government's view on this issue and, therefore, I reluctantly accept the sponsorship of the Bill by the Department of Agriculture and Food. The Minister knows I always refer to the full title of his Department. Others refer to the Department of Agriculture, but I wish it was the other way round in alphabetic terms and that it was called the Department of Food and Agriculture.

However, given that unsatisfactory situation, how can the Bill be strengthened to enhance its credibility with the people it is trying to convince, customers worldwide? There should be much more detail about standards in the Bill, although there are many existing provisions. The ridiculous idea that everybody will be approved at the start of the scheme until the Department gets around to inspecting them should be removed. This will not increase customers' confidence. This approach lacks credibility and no independent body would have suggested it. If it is given provisionally, the approval will be devalued. Taking approval away is a more aggressive act than bestowing it in the first place. The actions are not symmetrical in their impact. Therefore, we can expect the outcome of the initial inspections to be different when rejection rather than approval is the issue.

The Bill's provisions are soft to the benefit of the farming interests. This is not the way to build confidence. If one insists on having this done by the Department of Agriculture and Food, one must include a much stricter scheme. How much of a gap will there be between inspections? There is no mention of this in the Bill and perhaps the Minister could clarify that point.

Section 12 states the Minister may make regulations establishing the procedures for periodic reinspections. This is too casual. Periodic reinspections are a sine qua non. The timespan should be laid down in law and not in regulations. Unpleasant matters tend to be put on the long finger when the law permits it, as we found with regard to the local elections.

Section 17 allows the Minister to revoke a certificate but also to allow the supplier to go on supplying pending an appeal, provided the Mini ster is satisfied the supplier is not a danger to public health. This makes a nonsense of the scheme. Why would a certificate be revoked if the supplier was not a danger? As I said earlier, there was a turf war in this area but my view is that it would be the job of the Food Safety Authority and not the Minister to decide whether something or somebody is a danger to public health.

I have a number of other general criticisms of the Bill which could be addressed if there is a will. The first is that the Bill relates only to beef. The Minister was present when I spoke about this area at the meat congress in May. I have a serious concern that if a sectoral approach is taken to the beef, pigmeat and lamb businesses, we are in danger of not acting in the interest of consumers. Perhaps the Bill deals only with a beef assurance scheme because beef was involved in the BSE scare. However, this approach smacks of running around, locking stable doors after the damage has been done and deciding that the other areas will be addressed at a later stage. Nevertheless, I accept it is better to do something now than wait until everything can be addressed. As the Minister said, action is being taken now that we would have preferred taken a couple of years ago. However, the technology involved takes longer.

As the IFA President, Mr. Tom Parlon, pointed out, the scheme is deficient because it does not go the whole way from the farm gate to the consumer's plate. Retailing, restaurants and catering are not covered, but food safety is a totality and there is no point addressing it in a piecemeal fashion. I declare a specific interest in another of the Bill's shortcomings. The Bill is somewhat behind the times from a technological point of view. I understand the Bill contains much in terms of technology, as the Minister described, but one of the most modern and up to date procedures is DNA testing. I declare an interest in this regard as I have been involved with the IndentiGen scheme in Trinity College. It seems a technologically advanced scheme and, while I am sure it is not the only one of its kind, Trinity College has led the world in terms of the scheme. It seems such DNA testing is the type of development which will help customer confidence.

I welcome the fact that the Bill is being initiated in the House. We will not be able to get to the fundamentals of the Bill and tease out everything on Committee and Report Stages tomorrow. To do so would not show the Bill the respect it deserves. If we did so the Bill would lie in limbo for three months. It would seem much better to have a debate on Second Stage and in the first week following the summer recess to take the other stages, having had three months to consider how the Bill might be improved. The Bill will not be brought to the Dáil until the Seanad has dealt with it. Committee and Report Stages should be taken following the recess when we can go through the Bill with more confidence.

The Bill is aimed at the enemy within, something touched upon by Senator Caffrey. During World War II "Lord Haw Haw" teased the British about the enemy within. In his radio broadcasts he spoke of somebody doing damage to the British, hinting at the presence of German spies. The enemy in Ireland is rogue traders who have been referred to and to whom we are willing to turn a blind eye. Loyalty in farming has resulted, on occasion, in a blind eye being turned to them. We must ensure the Bill is strict, adamant and, if necessary, draconian in routing out the enemies within who are capable of doing such great damage to an industry which is so important.

I welcome the Bill, not in the detail but in the fact it has been introduced in the Seanad. I look forward to it being a much healthier Bill when it goes before the Dáil in three or four months time, one which will have been improved by us. I know the Minister will listen to the arguments with an open mind as he has always done in the past.

I welcome the Minister to the House. I also welcome the Bill which is very important and necessary. The only criticism is that it could have come to the House somewhat sooner. I also welcome the fact that the Bill has been initiated in the Seanad and, in that regard, Senator Quinn has a case when he says it should receive detailed scrutiny. The history of the House suggests that when Bills are initiated here and given detailed scrutiny they are improved. However, I recognise that there is a certain urgency about the matter. Even if one accepts that the Bill will only pass one House before the recess, that would send out a positive signal and would be useful in terms of the marketing effort by those who sell our food overseas. I am sure this is a matter we will probably debate on tomorrow's Order of Business when it will be suggested that we take Committee Stage.

I greatly welcome the Minister's openness regarding the manner in which the Bill might be improved and that if we can come up with good suggestions in this regard he will be open to incorporating them in the Bill.

The importance of the Bill has been well outlined by the Minister and other speakers in terms of the importance of the beef industry to the economy and our export trade and the fact that our beef reaches so many countries. I have a certain sympathy with Senator Quinn's view that all meat should be treated equally, so to speak, and that perhaps there should be a meat assurance Bill. However, the difficulty is that we are dealing with the regulation of production systems which are different for different types of animals. The production system for poultry and pigs, for example, is greatly different from that for beef. This is the practical difficulty in having one Bill covering all meat commodities.

We must state categorically that the consumer decides and that this legislation is required because the market has decided. These are no longer matters of discretion. We must accept that as a food exporting country it is our responsibility to deliver what the consumer wants. We are at the same stage now in the debate on genetically modified organisms as we were on hormones when they were legal. All the scientific evidence in the EU suggested that hormones had no deleterious health effects. It is suggested by scientific circles that the same applies to GMOs. However, the scientific argument is irrelevant – if the consumers say they do not want products which are genetically modified or beef produced in a certain way, that is the end of the argument.

It is only reluctantly that the agriculture industry is coming to that conclusion. I thought it had done so when the BSE crisis arose and when all the talk was about meeting the consumer's needs. The crisis abated to some extent and there was a retrenchment to the point where we are saying that maybe BST is all right, that perhaps genetically modified crops are all right and we should be allowed to continue producing them. I accept the validity of the argument, although I was very disturbed by what I saw on a farming programme on British television at the weekend about BST and the suggestions that it might be carcinogenic. What tends to happen is that such suggestions add a certain flavour to the debate and the industry goes on the defensive.

When Irish food goes on the market and there is a scare it is necessary that the Government, the Minister for Agriculture and Food and the industry can point to what has been done and that they can say Irish food is the best in the world and they are determined to ensure it remains so. The measures to ensure this could be draconian, as suggested by Senator Caffrey. That is the price we pay to ensure our success on international markets and that we can stand over our product.

A canard I have spoken about before which must be quashed is the green image of Ireland. I think this is the image we believe others should have of Ireland and it is how we expect people to respond. However, markets do not respond in that way. The modern, sophisticated market will only respond to the highest possible quality standards. The Bill provides for penalties which are extremely severe, as does the Animal Remedies Act. If this is what is required to root out the few rogues who think the industry is for their individual benefit, then so be it and the Minister has my support in that regard.

I note what Senator Rory Kiely said in respect of the support of the IFA and the ICMSA for the scheme. I did not suggest there was unequivocal support, as Senator Caffrey might have thought. The support was definitely qualified, but there was broad acceptance for the scheme and its necessity.

With regard to the retail sector and the inclusion of "the gate to the plate" provisions, I have a certain sympathy with the points made. This comes back to the point made by Senator Quinn, namely, that we are dealing with two different Departments and that, perhaps, this is why the retail side has been left out. However, sections of the Bill relate to the Food Safety Authority and its functions and role in this regard. We must be able to show that our beef is the best and exploit the quality of this resource on international markets. Consumers must be confident that they can safely buy our food products when there is a difficulty. We must learn from what happened in terms of BSE.

Perhaps the Minister might comment in his reply on the Bord Bia assurance scheme and the extent to which it will continue in existence. Will it be subsumed by this scheme? Perhaps this scheme and the relationship between the two have not been fully thought out.

The whole matter of traceability, from the birth of the calf to the food on the plate of the consumer, and everything in between, is of critical importance. Given the advances in modern technology, we have not made as much progress as we should have in terms of the computerisation of the process of animal movements and the need to establish each link of the chain. I accept this is a complex issue and that there are more animal movements in Ireland than in many other countries. The Minister enunciated the millions of movements that take place here, and that is a complication, but the technology exists to monitor those movements. It is costly and difficult but we have been talking about this matter for far too long. We are making progress and I note that 70 per cent of marts are now up and running, but what are the other 30 per cent doing? Why have they not come on board? We have been somewhat tardy in that regard. This is the route by which we establish that the product we have to sell is of the highest possible quality. In many respects, Northern Ireland has been more advanced than we have in this regard.

This process has been done well by the supermarkets, by Senator Quinn and others, particularly in regard to the vegetables they sell. We know the field the produce comes from, how it was produced and the controls that were imposed. That is being done by the supermarkets themselves and obviously that is the route to take.

There is also the question of tampering with ear tags. The people who do not believe it is wrong to use angel dust probably think it is not wrong to have female animals with male tags and so on. We must accept that draconian measures, as mentioned earlier, will have to be introduced to prevent people doing that. I have spoken to people who have been convicted of using angel dust and they believe they are the victims in this process. That is an extraordinary attitude to take. In other words, because they are at some competitive disadvantage relative to the United States or elsewhere, it is not wrong to use angel dust. They have to realise they are putting their own health, the health of consumers and that of the whole industry at risk. They are operating against the national interest and that should be explicitly stated.

On the matter of inspections under the Bill, I am pleased there is a period of adjustment whereby people are assumed to be licensed. The inspections will be done and everything will fall into place over a period of time. I wonder about the matter of who does the inspection and the certification, which are two different functions. It will be suggested that if the veterinary surgeon is doing a TB test, that is a reasonable time to do the inspection at minimal cost because he or she is a qualified person.

I sometimes wonder about the status of the veterinary surgeons in the agriculture production chain. Certainly they are the people who should be responsible for animal health but there are many other aspects of production that could just as competently and as efficiently be monitored by technicians, Teagasc or other qualified persons. There are many international precedents for doing that.

I am in favour of the inclusion of feedingstuffs in the ambit of the Bill but it is a different activity from the production of the animal. Obviously different standards and inspection procedures have to apply and I wonder how all that will come within the context of the Bill.

The matter of cost has to be a concern to farmers given the lack of profitability in the beef industry in recent years. Any additional cost is a burden. I note the Minister's comment that in respect of the return to the industry the cost is warranted, but nevertheless a cost will fall to the producer and, in current circumstances, that cost is significant.

I am not sure how the question of rented land in terms of farmers who have stock and rent land will fit into the whole picture.

One aspect which is important and needs to be emphasised is animal welfare. There is more to production than the way we feed our animals and produce our grass. The animal welfare aspect has become increasingly important and that must be borne in mind in terms of the general conditions which would apply in respect of certification.

The penalties proposed in the Bill are severe. That is appropriate. Another important aspect is the matter of seizure. Many of the difficulties we have experienced with illegal growth promoters and other abuses in the industry would have been more easily and efficiently dealt with if proper seizure procedures had been available to us early on. Whatever about a court fine or a sentence, losing the cattle is the most severe penalty in economic terms. I welcome the measures in the Bill in respect of seizure and the recovery of cost.

I have questions as to the inspection standards for feedstuffs and how those inspections would be carried out. There is also the matter of the authorised officer under section 10 which states ". . . or other person who is within a class or category of persons approved, in writing, by the Minister". I wonder who those other persons are, apart from the authorised officer who is defined under the Bill.

I welcome the matter of electronic tagging and microchips which is mentioned in section 19. That is the way forward and it cannot be long before we are disposing of the old tags and using something more appropriate to the technological age in which we live.

There is a minor matter in section 21 which perhaps can be clarified. It concerns the keeper of the animals, other than the transporter, notifying the Minister of their movements. I am prepared to accept that the owner of the animals should be the person to notify the movements, but sometimes the owner is also the transporter.

In regard to the chief executive officer of a health board appointing people to be authorised officers, I understand the reasoning behind that. It is more to do with the abattoir end of the business and is perhaps more appropriately dealt with under the Food Safety Authority or the Department of Health and Children.

I have sympathy for some of the points made by Senator Quinn, but inspection and certification must be done by the Department of Agriculture and Food. That is where the expertise lies and while I accept the point that from a trading perspective it would better to have it out of the ambit of the Department and totally independent, the reality is that the professional competence and expertise to apply standards, carry out inspections and do certification lies in the Department of Agriculture and Food.

Senator Quinn referred also to the sectoral approach, with which I agree, but I see difficulties arising in terms of laying down standards for the various types of animal.

The Bill is a good one. I am glad it has come before the Seanad and I commend it to the House.

I welcome the Bill, which is necessary. I must state an interest at the outset. I am a beef producer and I conduct farming when my time allows. As someone involved in the industry, I have long seen the need for greater certification, traceability and deference to the consumer. As Senator Dardis rightly pointed out, we now live in a consumer market. There is nothing wrong with that because in a consumer market standards are always to the fore. I would express some res ervations, however, in relation to the difficulty this will impose on many traditional farmers. Unfortunately, many farmers continue to farm using a traditional method. I apply the term "traditional" in a very broad way. The difficulty we have is that the age profile of a significant cohort of our farmers is very high. There are many farmers who are over 55 and many of them use farming methods that were appropriate 30 or 40 years ago.

The level of paperwork and bureaucracy that has become part of farming in recent years is a cause of much complaint among farmers. The Department recently produced a new register for livestock which employs a very complicated document for compliance. Such documents are very alien to many farmers, particularly those of the old school. The accountancy involved is very stringent and does not form part of people's experience. Accordingly, it is difficult for them to come to terms with it. The Department should be sensitive in its application of these regulations, particularly with this sector of the farming community, which probably comprises 50,000 people or more.

I agree with the Bill and do not have many criticisms of it, but related agricultural topics deserve our attention. I refer to the continued high incidence of bovine tuberculosis in the national herd. It has remained stubbornly high though we have had a bovine tuberculosis eradication scheme since the 1950s. While there was a very high level of bovine TB in the national herd at that time, the present level is still high enough to be very worrying, especially to consumers, as I understand that bovine TB can be transferred to humans. It is extraordinary that despite the millions, perhaps billions, of pounds spent on this scheme, a stubborn percentage of animals and herds continue to suffer breakdowns. What research has been done in this area? How have we dealt with eradicating animals who are proven reactors, if that is appropriate? Many people find it strange that animals which are proven reactors find their way into the food chain. They do not necessarily show TB lesions when slaughtered, but they have reacted negatively to tests. They are slaughtered in our meat processing plants and are in the food chain, which worries many consumers.

Animal welfare was a concern for many people last winter, as Senator Dardis said. Many animals, particularly cows, suffered underfeeding and malnutrition due to last winter's fodder crisis. I know the Minister came to the rescue with a significant scheme, though it was not a full response to that crisis, nor could it ever be. The number of animals suffering from under-nourishment and, in some cases, malnutrition, was very worrying. It is also worrying that the Department does not have a response to this. If there is a TB test on a farm and the veterinary surgeon carrying it out sees that many of the animals are clearly under-nourished, I do not know if he or she, as a Department representative, has any power to do or say anything about that situation. That area must be examined in the light of our dependence on a voluntary organisation like the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to highlight these incidents. I know that officials of the Department responded as best they could when these cases were highlighted, but the fact that work in this area has to be done by a voluntary body is very worrying. The ISPCA does excellent work, but the Department's response is inadequate. This summer is better than last year's, in the sense that the saving of winter fodder is more advanced than it was at this point in 1998, both in quality and quantity. Nevertheless, we can never predict the length or severity of a winter and there is no reason to believe that this situation will not be repeated this winter or in subsequent years.

I welcome the reintroduction of the control of farm pollution scheme, which the Minister announced last week. However, it too has its shortcomings. A farmer who benefited from a farm improvement scheme or the previous control of farm pollution scheme will have benefits received under those schemes deducted from benefit under this scheme. If, for example, I received £7,000 under the last regime of grants under the Operational Programme which finished in 1995, the maximum I can now receive is £10,000 and £7,000 of that could be deducted, leaving me with a net total of £3,000. This may happen even though the work carried out under the farm improvement scheme would not necessarily have been related to the control of farm pollution or winter housing for cattle. It might have related to holding facilities, storage facilities or something else. It is a pity that this provision is an essential part of the scheme, as it is important that we improve winter housing for our livestock, particularly in the west. The Minister lives in an area which is similar to many western counties. There must be greater incentives in this area and the disincentives in this scheme should not apply to farmers who wish to improve the welfare of their animals and the efficiency of their farms. They should be allowed to introduce the very essential innovation of winter housing, particularly given our wet climate. I ask the Minster to take this on board. I know there will be new grant schemes under the new Structural Funding regime, though it may be 2000 or 2001 before it is implemented. I hope any funding in those schemes will not be subject to the restrictions one finds in the current one.

Senator Dardis referred to the cost of inspections and so on, which are necessary under this Bill, devolving on farmers. The time of the annual test is when certificates should be issued to farm ers, as all animals are inspected individually by the veterinary inspector at that time. That is when it is appropriate and financially efficient for the certificate of suitability to be issued to the farmer.

I welcome the Minister and compliment him on this comprehensive Bill. It is important that all sides of the House give an unreserved welcome to the the National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill, as presented by the Minister. It is a most important and far-reaching piece of legislation for the future viability of the Irish beef sector.

We are aware of the difficulties which have beset the beef sector in recent times. Against the backdrop of the BSE controversy and other food scares which followed in its wake, the national beef assurance scheme is vital to guarantee the improvement in the regulation of the production of Irish beef. The scheme also has implications for meat processing, the trade in beef and live cattle and the animal feed industry. It contains safeguards and assurances that will be a source of relief to the producers of Irish beef.

It is now widely recognised by farmers that they have an essential part to play in ensuring that this country comes to be recognised as having a place at the forefront of food safety. Farmers can help Ireland to take a lead in demonstrating a responsible attitude to food production.

I welcome particularly the comprehensive nature of the national beef assurance scheme. All sectors of production and processing come within its provisions, from the farmer involved in the production of cattle and beef to those dealing in cattle and engaged in the live export trade. The high standards of public health protection which it proposes to bring about apply to livestock marts, abattoirs, slaughterhouses, those businesses engaged in food production and those which manufacture or deal in animal feedstuffs.

The essential issue of traceability is addressed directly by the scheme. Its implementation can only enhance and strengthen the animal identification and traceability measures already in place for cattle. Traceability is essential as a guarantee that beef products which come before the consumer have been produced to the highest possible standards of safety and quality.

There will be widespread support in the agricultural community for the mandatory inspection, approval and restriction scheme. All who depend on beef production for their livelihoods have come to appreciate that their future viability depends on the restoration of consumer confidence in Irish beef as a high quality product. The measures outlined in the Bill are important components of the Government's ongoing efforts to ensure that the markets which remain closed to our beef or where restrictions still operate re-open in full in the near future. I am confident that the steps which the Minister and his Department are taking in this regard on a number of fronts will bring about the outcome our beef producers dearly wish for.

The Bill's provision for the making of regulations regarding the notification of animal movements is one of its key components. The computerised system which has already been established to monitor cattle movements will combine the data generated by these regulations with other information available on cattle identification. Bringing together this information should provide an animal traceability system of the very highest standard.

The purpose of the Bill is to enhance the confidence of the consumer in Irish cattle and beef. While reservations have been expressed in some quarters about some elements of the system, an objective study of the contents of the Bill will convince all in agriculture that it will make a strong contribution to the restoration of the Irish beef industry to the position it enjoyed prior to the BSE scare in March 1996 and the subsequent fall in beef consumption in Ireland and throughout Europe. The closing of the markets which followed dealt a severe blow to all involved in beef production in this country. The Bill can go a long way towards redressing that position. The full re-opening of markets would be greatly welcomed in my constituency of Cavan-Monaghan and throughout Irish agriculture.

The Minister has presented us with a balanced and carefully considered package of proposals which can bring a level of prosperity back to this sector of farming. If all parties involved co-operate with the Minister and the Department in implementing the provisions of this scheme, its measures will be successful. I compliment the Minister on the Bill.

I welcome the Bill which I support in principle. It is valuable legislation and is generally welcomed in the House. However, I have reservations about the legislation which I intend to set out in my contribution. The legislation falls short of achieving its purpose, which is largely about restoring consumer confidence in the beef industry and the product which is being produced so well in Ireland. We heard contributions from the producers and those who are close to the producers and we heard an important contribution from Senator Quinn. As a consumer, I want to add my contribution. I respectfully suggest, although I am only guessing, that I am probably the first speaker who actually pulls out the supermarket trolley on a Saturday morning and heads into the shops on behalf of my family. I also speak as a public representative for a constituency where the beef industry is extremely important, as the daughter of a farmer and as somebody who grew up on a farm and is close to agriculture.

Speaking first as a consumer, on reading the Bill I am assured in principle that the desire of the Minister, the entire sector, the IFA and all the other groups involved in the industry is to establish a scheme which is valid. No doubt there is a strong desire to re-establish confidence in Irish beef and to do what is necessary to achieve that end but, as Senator Dardis says, that is a long road which we must travel. Unfortunately this Bill does not travel the road sufficiently. It covers farm to factory but it does not cover farm to table. While the Minister pointed out that there are in place already regulations to cover that element of the sector not covered by the scheme, he will agree that in order to rebuild that necessary confidence we must all bend over backwards. Unfortunately the Bill does not even go as far as a consumer would expect. We should be going further in order to rebuild that confidence because, as Senator Dardis and others stated, there is unfortunately a view abroad that the sector takes care of itself. As Senator Quinn said, there is a view that the Department of Agriculture and Food and the farming sector take care of it and have not included the consumer sufficiently in the process. One has only open last week's Irish Farmers Journal to read that the IFA is claiming that it does not go far enough. If the IFA is saying that, what can the rest of us say in that regard? I have tabled amendments to try to rectify that situation.

I, like others, do not approve of the taking of Committee and Report Stages this week because I believe they should be taken in the autumn. Many constructive suggestions have been made in the House today. That would be extremely useful, particularly taking on board my comment, with which others will agree, that without the consumer there is no industry in Ireland or elsewhere. Why is the Minister not going further to tell the consumer that he is doing everything possible to show he believes in high quality, high standards and compliance?

Over the weekend I spoke to a few farmers about this scheme. I told them that it was coming up and most of them knew about it. They said that we must get rid of the rogue operators and show that the cowboys do not represent the industry. We all agree with that but, as in every sector, including politics to a large extent and any group operating in society, to restore confidence when something like BSE occurs one must work hard. It is not enough simply to say, "Here is a structure. It operates within the existing provisions. Trust us and it will be okay." We must go further than simply establishing trust.

I want to bring to the attention of the Minister my thoughts on a number of details in the Bill and to hear his response. I want to talk about traceability in the context of a particular issue which has arisen in my constituency, in which the Minister's Department is quite involved and of which the Minister may be aware, that is the potential major pollution problem which exists around the tailings pond outside Nenagh, County Tipperary. As I speak, an investigation is beginning into the possibility of severe lead poisoning on a number of farms around the tailings pond, which is less than three miles outside Nenagh, a large milk producing area which is solidly dependent on agriculture. The question which was rightly put to me at the weekend is whether the traceability system being put in place not only by this Bill but by other systems on which the Department is working means that any animal coming off those farms would be traceable within the entire sector. I have been studying the Bill to see where it is relevant in this regard and I did not come up with the answer.

I want to make a general remark about the way the Bill is drafted. I do not consider it to be an enabling Bill. It is a prescriptive Bill. For example, it states that there shall be a scheme to establish standards. This is where we return to a question of attitude, approach and adopting the mindset of the consumer. The Minister should adopted the mindset of a sceptical consumer going into a supermarket or a butcher. I consider myself lucky to be able to go into a shop in Nenagh where I know the butcher and the farm from which the animal has come. That is so reassuring. Senator Quinn referred to this. With his great marketing expertise, he spotted the need for this a number of years ago. That is not always the case for every consumer. If I, as a mother and a shopper, have any doubt in my mind about a piece of beef in a supermarket or shop, I will not buy it. Why would I risk exposing my family and children to that? I know from my own experience that I do not need to worry, but that is not the case for the vast majority of shoppers. We can see evidence of this in the shopping basket. A story any weekend about BSE, CJD or whatever will immediately produce a spin-off effect. The Bill does not reflect the need for a proactive enabling approach to setting standards, building confidence, generating information, letting people know that this is happening, etc.

The question of who does what under the Bill has been raised already. I will not go over it again because I presume the Minister will respond to it.

What happens if somebody does not comply? I have been carefully studying the Minister's speech. He stated that participants who are found not to be in compliance with the scheme will be informed of the action they must take to bring themselves into compliance. That is fine. He added that they will be given a reasonable amount of time to do so. That is perfect. He further stated that if they fail to take the necessary action they will be informed that their application for approval is being refused or revoked. I am thinking particularly of the smaller operator. The Minister said that they will have an opportunity to make representations and the matter may also be appealed. He said that the final sanction is that participants who have not been granted approval or who lose their approval status will not be allowed to trade. Therefore, those who do not meet the standard will not be allowed to trade. That sounds excellent in theory. The Minister went on to state, "These provisions do not introduce a licensing system", but I would contend that they do. What is the difference between a licence and a certificate of approval? The Bill makes constant reference to the fact that a certificate of approval must be held by participants in the assurance scheme. That sounds fine in theory. We know a considerable cohort of the farming population comprises older farmers. Will they be able to comply with the provisions of the scheme? I would be very concerned about a number of operators. Senator Connor referred to people who have difficulty with paperwork. I imagine quite a number of farmers will be visited by inspectors, issued with a notice and panic will ensue. The Bill specifically states that costs will be borne by farmers who must obtain certificates of approval. I predict that considerable problems will be experienced throughout the country, particularly by small operators, although I know the Department will do its utmost to help people to comply with the provisions of the scheme.

Will the Minister clarify the difference between a licence and a certificate of approval? It seems there would not be any difference in practice. The Minister should specifically inform the consumer audience that a certificate of approval is not easily obtained but, once obtained, means an operator who holds such a certificate may be trusted.

The Bill also states the period of validity of a certificate will be open ended. That suggests that once a certificate of approval is obtained, one is made for life, although one may be subject to re-inspection. What will happen in the event of farm pollution incidents? I understand the Bill confers a power to re-inspect farms but that does not generate confidence in me, as a consumer. There is a suggestion that the work and investment goes into obtaining a certificate of approval, not maintaining it. Farmers may feel that, having obtained a certificate, they can do what they like. If they knew spot checks would occur, they would try to maintain standards.

Problems will not be experienced with good producers, but the Bill is not directed at them. It is designed to ensure those who have been referred to as "cowboys" or "rogue operators" are weeded out of the system, but I wonder if it will have that effect. As we know, some of the cowboys may have considerable resources available to them and may be able to invest money to ensure they meet the standards required and obtain their certificates of approval. Small farmers will wonder how they will manage to bring their operations to the level demanded, quite rightly, in this Bill. It may prove very difficult to iron out some of these difficulties. If the Bill were to adopt a more enabling and positive approach – a carrot rather than a stick – to the maintenance of high standards, there would be an incentive for the attainment of high standards.

In principle, the Bill is extremely good but I am concerned about how it will work in practice. I look forward to Committee Stage in autumn. I have tabled a number of amendments in the unlikely event that Committee Stage will be taken tomorrow. I look forward to further indepth discussion on this very valuable and important legislation.

I welcome the introduction of this important legislation. The Minister stated:

The Bill provides the statutory basis for a national beef assurance scheme, the purpose of which is the development of common standards for the production, processing and trade in Irish cattle and beef for human consumption and the manufacture and trade of feeding stuffs; the application of these standards through a system of registration, inspection and approval, and the enhancement of an animal identification and traceability system for Irish cattle.

It is a cause of some regret that the Minister came into the House earlier than anticipated. Those of us who were present recall the Minister saying he would welcome any amendments which would improve and strengthen the Bill. He gave a commitment to carefully examine worthwhile suggestions or amendments over the summer period. The Seanad will have a further opportunity to discuss this Bill when the House reconvenes in the autumn. That should allay any fears that Committee Stage will be taken tomorrow.

Senator Connor referred to the animal welfare aspects of the Bill. He compared the prevailing weather conditions this year to those which obtained last year and spoke about the need for winter fodder to be provided. I expect farmers engaged in the production of cattle, their feeding and over-wintering, would ensure they have the necessary fodder for the stock. Senator Connor would do well to recall an old saying used by farmers in the past, "You shall have hay 'til old May day". Unfortunately, some of us do not observe that any more but we should ensure that necessary fodder provision is made for the stock on hand. That would do away with the prospect of cattle dying of hunger and starvation. I recall the debates in this and the other House last winter in which the Minister and Government were condemned for their lack of action in this area. Yet, when we came to the end of April, bales upon bales of silage were left over. I suppose that is the nature of the game.

I welcome the National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill which represents an important step forward. In my view, the Bill will serve two functions. It will ensure food safety which is a priority for producers and consumers alike. We cannot afford any more BSE-type earthquakes. The BSE crisis was a costly lesson for us, although it occurred in the UK. In recent weeks, one need have looked only a little further, to Belgium, to realise the serious consequences of not getting things right. The Bill is a landmark in the area of food safety, but it will also serve as a foundation for a marketing drive at home and overseas. We are all consumers.

The Senator would be a good man behind a trolley.

I like good quality beef, which is produced in west Cork. It is in farmers' interests to produce food of the highest quality which is now being demanded by the consumer. This may not have been the case ten, 15 or 20 years ago.

On whether the Department of Agriculture and Food will be independent in the implementation of the Bill, the Department has done well under various Ministers. If the level of sophistication achieved in production, processing and sales in the dairy sector could be achieved in the beef sector, we would have a product which would command premium prices far in excess of anything achieved to date.

The Bill can serve as a foundation for a marketing drive at home and overseas. Irish beef has great taste and flavour – one will not get better. It is capable of commanding premium prices. While the Bill will require proper attention to safety at all stages of production and processing, it also offers the potential for better returns and guaranteed markets. This is in the long-term interests of livestock producers.

The primary purpose of the national beef assurance scheme is to provide for improved regulation of the production, processing and trade of cattle and beef and the animal feed sector and, thereby, to provide additional assurances for consumers and buyers of Irish beef following the BSE crisis and other food scares. The introduction of the Bill fulfils a commitment made by the Government in Partnership 2000. The scheme covers farmers engaged in cattle and beef production, cattle dealers and exporters of live cattle, livestock marts, slaughtering premises, meat production premises and establishments which manufacture or trade in feedstuffs.

There has been criticism that the Bill will not apply to the retail sector. There will be an obligation on that sector, however, to deal only with those who have been approved under the scheme. Participants will be subject to the mandatory inspection, approval and registration system and only those who meet the requisite standards will be approved and allowed to trade. Those involved in the sector should not be afraid of this. It will help their business. Training programmes should be organised to assist all sectors. What is required is a culture of safety and quality. In this context it is important that an even-handed approach is adopted by all staff, including inspectors, throughout the country. The approach should not vary from south Kerry to north Donegal. There should also be a local appeals system.

Successful marketing of Irish beef can produce a payback. The aim should be to position the beef sector to compete in the post-Agenda 2000 environment and close the gap in the prices paid for Irish cattle and those paid elsewhere in the European Union. That is what farmers want. This will involve the development of a market-led sector based on high quality primary production and increased penetration of high-value EU retail markets while maximising the returns from international markets.

Prior to the BSE crisis in 1996 much had been achieved in the beef sector in building a strong retail presence in European markets. During that period the sector had consistently achieved close to 90 per cent of the EU price, rising to as high as 94 per cent in 1995. Since then Irish exports to EU markets have declined by 17 per cent to over just over 215,000 tonnes with most of this volume concentrated in the lower end of the market. Prime Irish beef should be at the top end of the market. The general lack of selling discipline in third country markets is being exploited by purchasers. The collapse of the Russian market has temporarily deprived Irish exporters of one of their more important markets and led to a resumption of sales into intervention in autumn 1998 and spring 1999. I welcome the Bill which will lead to greater discipline in all sectors. That is what the consumers want and we should not be afraid to say that we will give it to them.

I am surprised that, unlike the US and most European countries, including Germany, there is not a chain of steakhouses in this country. We would all take pleasure in seeing the Minister opening such a chain offering high quality steak to the discerning Irish consumer.

I am aware that to be critical in this House of the beef sector is akin to being found unsound on the national question. Given the importance of the sector, however, there are some criticisms I want to make about the Bill which is not intended to be a public relations exercise. As Senator Callanan said, we are all consumers but I look upon the issues from the point of view of a doctor and someone with a scientific background.

There have been serious health problems because of deficiencies in the beef sector in recent years. The explanatory memorandum refers to the possible link between BSE and a new variant of CJD in young people and to the need to restore confidence in beef consumption. It is in that context that the Bill does not go far enough. We have also witnessed the arrival of E.coli 0157, which has come from farmyards, not retail stores or the home, and we have sick and dead children as a result. We must find out how these problems arise on the farmyard nowadays because they did not arise in traditional farming. We have to look at the practices which may have led to the emergence of these lethal bacteria. Professor Pat Hartigan was the first to suggest in the 1970s that prions might cause problems in the future, although he was not thanked much for it internationally.

Given that the sector is possibly of more importance in this country than in any other country, a considerable amount of money must be invested in animal health research which should not be confined solely to tuberculosis and brucellosis. While I agree that these diseases present serious problems in terms of their implications for human health, we should avail immediately of the expertise available so that problems do not creep up on us which could lead to financial disaster for farmers and others involved in the beef industry. We saw what happened in Belgium where they knew in January that dioxin had got into the food supply, yet it was April before they acted. Belgium's entire food industry was affected, even down to Belgian chocolates having to be taken off our shelves, although that was before it was discovered they had not been affected.

We cannot overlook such matters and I am not sure the Bill goes far enough. The difficulties in confining the legislation to bovine animals have been outlined by Senator Quinn. Senator Dardis made some good points concerning the different methods of production and the different ages at which other types of animal are slaughtered for human consumption. The Bill should deal with bovine animals or any other animals the Minister may define as being for food production. Such a definition would be useful because we are currently trying to build up the market for venison. Who knows but something may arise concerning imported deer in a few years' time? We should not have to return to the House with new legislation every time there is a fresh problem.

When the former Minister for Health, Deputy Noonan, introduced the breast screening programme, we had to introduce legislation so that relevant GMS and VHI data could be examined. We amended the legislation in this House so the data could apply to any sort of screening. I would like the Minister to slightly modify the Bill so that if a problem arises elsewhere we will be in a position to deal with it.

I know the legislation will be difficult for farmers who already have to cope with a great deal of red tape. However, the idea that everyone is in until someone is found out, is not really the best method of dealing with this matter. The introduction of certifications and inspections is incredibly expensive, yet the system will be full of loopholes. In particular, meat factories which have their own farms are in a good position to exploit and evade the regulations. If people are found to have evaded the regulations several times, they should not only be fined but also told to get out of the beef sector and grow trees instead. The beef market and the careers that depend on its success are too important to be jeopardised in such a way.

Feedstuffs present the greatest area of difficulty. It is obvious the regulations governing feedstuffs are being flouted. Most of the animals that contracted BSE were fed with imported meal, but regulations concerning food imports were introduced in 1990. Therefore, no animal under nine years of age should have BSE, yet we all know that is not the case. Some 18 months ago in Moorepark agricultural research centre, two five year old cattle contracted BSE. I was extremely disappointed the entire herd was not preserved to study the natural history of that BSE outbreak. If that had been done we could have worked out the BSE's transmission path. Those animals became infected at Moorepark despite the fact that legislation existed to prevent the importation of meal.

We should have learned lessons about infected animal feed from the BSE problem. What did consumers think when they read in the national press recently that dead dogs are being used to produce pigmeal? How do they feel about that? I do not know if dead dogs can cause harm if they are fed to pigs which are omnivorous. It was extraordinary, however, to discover that in a country that has just had such an appalling problem with the meal that caused BSE.

Another problem arises from the fact that one can have chicken, turkey and pigmeal on a farm, which may not be considered suitable for bovine consumption. Who knows whether it will be fed to cattle? The same criteria should be applied to all cattle feed, otherwise farmers who are trying to live within the regulations could be easily compromised. In addition, those who do not want to act as justly as they should could use infected meal.

Senator Quinn referred to the application of modern technology, including DNA identification. There is a problem in this regard because, as the Minister said, the number of cattle movements is enormous. It would be easier to control the situation with fewer movements because the DNA system necessitates tracing the parents or siblings from a farm. If an animal has travelled to numerous destinations it would be difficult to undertake such DNA traces. Nonetheless, major technological progress has been achieved. For example, the new BSE test is 20 hours ahead of the rest of the world. Carcases can now be tested for BSE in four hours, thanks to the new test introduced by Mr. Michael O'Connor of Enfer Scientific. The same company devised the original tests for hormones and clenbuterol. If Irish companies can develop such testing equipment, we should encourage further research on more accurate traceability methods. We have had many cases of the removal of ear tags, although micro-chips are more difficult to tamper with. The issue needs to be addressed very carefully.

The legislation should be called the national beef safety scheme, rather than the National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill. In terms of nutrition, consumers want lower fat and different cuts, yet these matters have not been addressed in the Bill. I understand the problems facing the Minister because of our international trade, but our national trade is also important. We should be in a position to take immediate action if anything happens, not just with animals but also with the production of animal meal. For example, the original problems arose because there was a change from the production of food in batches to a continuous system of production. They stopped using various organic solvents and did not heat the meal to the same degree as previously. That is why the prions were not killed. It is fine to talk about ear tags and micro-chips, but we must police the difficulty more scientifically. I will table amendments to that effect on Committee Stage and I hope the Minister will have looked favourably on them before September.

I compliment the Minister and his officials on having brought this important legislation before the House. Many excellent contributions have been made during the debate and I am sure the Minister will take into consideration the important points that have been raised. I welcome the national beef assurance scheme which will provide a credible and independently-backed assurance for the safety of Irish beef by enforcing common high standards of production and processing and by providing a comprehensive and effective animal identification and tracing system. An enormous amount of work has been carried out to enable the introduction of this Bill.

Some people spoke of delaying the Bill until the autumn, but the sooner the legislation goes through the House the better. From a farming point of view, and in terms of the assurances we seek, we must complete all Stages by tomorrow to enable the Minster introduce the Bill to the other House.

With regard to animal traceability, a large number of measures are already in place to identify and trace bovine animals, including bovine tagging, cattle passports, calf birth registration and computerised animal location files. The final element of this, the introduction of the cattle movement monitoring system, will entail recording the movement of cattle to and from farms and marts, to meat factories and for live export. The use of this information will verify the origin, identity and life history of animals before they enter the food chain. That is important and we must compliment all concerned. This is a huge undertaking, which involves capturing details of millions of animal movements each year – over 150,000 herds through more than 120 marts to approximately 500 abattoirs.

From a practical point of view it is important that all livestock producers are familiar with documentation registers and records required to comply with the provisions of the Bill. This autumn a major campaign should be launched, consisting of information meetings, seminars and short courses, to help people comply with the increasing level of record keeping now required. While I accept the Minister is making every effort to reduce the paper work, nothing frustrates farmers more than being accused of non-compliance with regulations because of minor clerical errors.

The task of informing farmers of the requirements of this new Bill should be given to the advisory staff of Teagasc. It has a staff network in every county and this task could be easily incorporated into its autumn or winter meeting schedules. We must ensure this is put in place.

The on-farm protocols, which will set the base line standard for cattle producers, are important guarantees regarding food safety to all consumers of Irish beef. While registration and certification under the new Bill is, in essence, a licence to engage in cattle production, the principal feature of registration is compliance with a series of Acts and regulations. What standards will inspectors seek under the terms of some of these Acts, for example the water pollution Act and the Waste Management Act, when they visit a farm for registration and certification purposes? Will a farmer participating in REPS be deemed to be complying with these Acts and will pollution control and waste management need to meet a higher standard?

With regard to the animal welfare element, what is meant by intensive units? Will all slatted cattle housing be deemed intensive and what implications will this have for existing cattle producers? Will there be limits on stocking densities in these units? Is it necessary to keep the records of inspections of cattle in sheds on a daily basis? Surely on inspection it can be easily determined whether cattle are thriving and are, therefore, managed well, without the necessity for daily records?

There is some talk in Europe to the effect that the provision of between 16 and 20 square feet per animal in these well constructed units is not sufficient and should be doubled. This will have huge cost implications for farmers in terms of animal housing. We must be careful to ensure that they can comply with present accommodation requirements. There have been huge improvements in slatting. The product can be covered by rubber, which provides far greater comfort to stock. Before increasing the area which stock must have in housing accommodation we need to consider this aspect.

I am happy with the certification attached to the existing quality assurance schemes operated by various beef processing factories, supermarkets, etc. Existing quality assurance schemes need to be co-ordinated and each scheme should be certified to recognised international standards. The international marketplace is looking for a quality assurance scheme operated to common standards. Quality assurance is an essential requirement for the marketing of Irish food. No matter what line of business one is in, whether it be concrete products or whatever, people rightly will not deal with those who are not part of a quality assurance scheme. Those in the farming sector must realise that quality assurance is required.

Recently Bord Bia listed the requirements of our various export markets. Quality assurance was a pre-requisite of all such markets targeted by the board. The national beef assurance scheme outlined in the Bill is the first step towards guaranteeing the safety and quality of Irish beef.

Supermaket shelves should not only contain photographs of the product and its origin, they should also display documents signed by farmers confirming that the product is their stock. Some of our export plants have inspected farms where stock was housed during the winter and asked farmers to sign a confirmation that they were selling their product to them, which they did. However, when it came to purchasing the stock many of the plants refused to pay farmers what was a reasonable going rate and the farmers had to go elsewhere. The Minister should ensure that his Department checks to ensure that cattle exported from abattoirs are from those farmers who guaranteed their production in accordance with proper standards. That is very important. We must also look at the tagging system to ensure it is foolproof.

Elderly farmers have been farming well and they will comply with the Minister's requirements. Many farmers have sons who have qualified with green certificates. If they are taking over farms the Minister must ensure a system is in place to guarantee them certain minimums, such as a minimum of 40,000 gallons of milk or between 60 and 70 suckler units. Most schemes should be developed in conjunction with Bord Bia and Teagasc to ensure that there is credible certification of Irish food products.

I thank the Minister for introducing this Bill and I urge other Members to facilitate its passage today so that Committee Stage can be taken tomorrow. This session cannot be allowed to pass without ensuring that this legislation is sent to the Dáil.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the Bill. While I welcome it, I am reluctant to legislate for such an important sector. A change of attitude in agriculture towards profit and loss is reflected by the fact that such legislation must be introduced to assure the public at home and abroad that Ireland does its business properly. Because of the changing structures in agriculture, its importance to the economy and the bad practices which were used, quality assurance must be introduced. It is important that happens because the beef industry is important to the economy.

Given that standards are set for other products which are exported, it is fundamentally important to introduce the regulations contained in this legislation. I am reluctant to interfere in the ownership of land because it provides an extra layer of bureaucracy within the structure of farming. It is important that Department officials deal with farmers in a fair and reasonable manner. Standards have been introduced and health boards have become involved in regard to food safety in all licensed premises and restaurants. However, on occasion the inspector may be overly severe with regard to fundamental matters and his relationship with the client may not be the best, which leads to a certain amount of hardship.

From my experience of dealing with the Department in regard to payments, etc., the appeals systems involved have not worked well and I ask the Minister in a humanitarian way to ensure that the approach of the Department as a whole is reasonable and fair when dealing with farmers. Smaller farmers have not been a problem for the industry. However, large suppliers to meat factories have been a source of major concern in terms of our exports. Many bad practices which they adopted have spread into substantial sized units and this has created our current problems. These are not characteristic of traditional farmers who took on their responsibilities within the system and cherished their family farms. They did not participate in malpractices, such as the use of angel dust, which have brought the industry into disrepute and affected sales.

The Bill provides strong powers to the Minister and the Department. If an official decides that a farmer is not suitable for certification, it paralyses the role of that farm and that is an important decision. One does not wish to see such situations developing but I emphasise that every case should be examined carefully. The appeals mechanism must be fair and farmers must be encouraged to avail of Teagasc and other advisory services to work out plans for them if they find themselves in difficulty.

However, that does not include the people who have brought the industry into disrepute. Even without this legislation, much more could be done to bring such individuals to court. It took the national farming organisations a long time to get to grips with the problems that existed in the past and have a change of heart whereby they faced up to their responsibilities. That has led to the introduction of this Bill which deals with responsibility in regard to identification, traceability, processing and the movement of stock from birth to slaughter. I concur with the view of other Senators that there is a need for a strong relationship between the Department and food safety organisations. The Minister said that he would consider amendments relating to the consumption of products.

There is a market for lighter carcase sheep and, consequently, there are opportunities for people in this sector but there is a great deal of restriction on it. One must have a farm of a certain size and it is difficult to interest people to develop a market in lighter sheep because most supermarkets are interested in the national players in the meat sector and numerous food safety restrictions are involved. I favour food safety to a large degree but I do not want us to legislate ourselves into the grave. In some European countries which I have visited I have seen the best quality food produced and eaten without any health scares, but if it were produced in Ireland the individuals or companies involved would be closed down under the health and safety legislation. The people involved function well and use old tra ditions which should be cultivated. The EU tried to introduce legislation which would have prevented food production in the home and I would be concerned if a balance could not be maintained in the operation of this Bill, which I support in principle.

I welcome the structure of the Bill which is very important and the recent live export figures for cattle, which followed the Minister's visits to the Lebanon and other countries. His work in this regard supports and strengthens a sector that is important to farming. The increase in live exports is considerable and welcome. In the region of 190,000 cattle have been exported this year. This is a welcome increase which will help to alleviate problems that may occur towards the end of the year. It puts a greater emphasis on support for that sector of the industry.

The Department of Agriculture and Food must look at long-term sustainable development and balance that against the incidence of e.coli throughout the country. Given that some 70 per cent of our rivers and streams contain e.coli, the Department must look at how we develop agriculture and produce good quality food in that context over the next 20 years. This is important in the context of the quality of our food and what we eat in the future.

I welcome the Minister to the House. This is most important and necessary legislation for agriculture. Over the last number of years, the beef sector has taken a severe bashing as a result of the BSE crisis.

I welcome the fact that the Bill will promote common standards for the production and processing of cattle for human consumption through a system of registration and inspection. We must ensure consumer satisfaction and confidence in our produce. It is welcome that there is a general acceptance among farmers, meat plants, marts and, in particular, the animal feed trade of the scheme. However, I hope stringent controls will be put in place for those involved. I fear that the smaller players will be reprimanded and suffer as a result of these regulations because the larger players often appear to escape penalties. The smaller beef producers who do not comply with the regulations and controls within the timeframe set down may be squeezed out. The regulations must be enforced across the board so that small and large players will suffer the same consequences.

Another fear is that the regulations for abattoirs will change over the years. This would mean that although small beef producers will constantly try to upgrade their facilities and the quality of their animals they will be pushed out of the market, not because they are inefficient farmers but due to the cost of compliance with the regulations. I refer in particular to small abattoirs. EU directives seem to change on an annual basis and this results in a great cost to small abattoirs. A number of people have been put out of business in my area because they cannot keep up with the regulations. The same rules do not seem to apply to large slaughtering plants. I know that different criteria apply, but there should be equal enforcement of the regulations.

I agree with much of what was said already. However, I want to refer to meat and bone meal produce. Since the BSE crisis in Britain, no meat is permitted in feed for ruminants such as cattle, sheep and deer. An article which appeared in last week's edition of The Irish Times indicated that dog meat was being used in the production of meal for pigs and poultry. Apparently the rules do not include meal for pigs and poultry, nor does the meat in pig and poultry feed have to be fit for human consumption, as is legally required for pet foods. I am concerned that the rules relating to bone meal do not apply across the food sector. I am concerned also that the rules are not being applied right across the board. However, I do not intend to repeat what other Senators said.

I support the Bill fully. My only criticism is that it is overdue and it will be difficult to repair some of the damage done. The Bill goes a long way towards enhancing consumer confidence in the beef sector. It appears that beef consumption has increased in the past number of months. I presume this is as a result of the work done by the Minister and the Department in trying to ensure confidence in our beef. I thank the Minister and wholeheartedly welcome the Bill.

I thank Senators for their constructive contributions to the debate. Before I proceed, I wish to amend a typographical error on page 32 of the Bill. The word "Court" has a capital "C" rather than a lower case "c".

I ask the Clerk to make the correction under Standing Order 121. Is that agreed? Agreed.

This is crucial legislation which will serve to underpin the commercial trading infrastructure of the beef sector. To put the scheme in context, we pride ourselves in Ireland on producing food which is safe, good value and of high quality. Those who push trolleys in supermarkets know the price and value of every item. The quality and safety of food is very important. In recent years there have been increasing demands from consumers for assurances as to the safety and quality of food. There is an increasing and legitimate awareness by consumers of the risks of disease and contamination and the need for high standards of production and processing throughout the food chain. As Senator Henry mentioned, we now have e.coli, salmonella, listeria and ungulate fever. I do not know how those of us who were brought up on farms – most of us were – got through the net given that we drank raw milk. I remember milking cows by hand in the old days—

It stood to the Minister well.

—and spraying anyone who came into the stall with a good squirt of raw milk. We got through, perhaps our immune systems were able to cater for it. Also, we did not eat out as often. Nowadays many people eat out and there is a huge problem when they all eat food from the same line.

Those of us with responsibility for food safety should do everything possible to ensure it is safe. I am pleased so much voluntary work has been done in this area. We all know of ISO/9000, Q marks and MACCP.

In west Cork we recently promoted the Fuchsia brand of products which are produced exclusively in the west Cork area, and are unique. They can be produced only in that area because of the soil, climate and the personality of the people and the livestock. The great thing is they are all small producers. One of the main small producers produces farmhouse cheese. There are 39 producers, including producers of honey, the famous Clonakilty black pudding and Clonakilty yoghurt. The naturally produced yoghurt contains natural flora of organisms and bacteria. It is not sterilised afterwards and it is very good for the morning after the night before.

What about Bandon yoghurt?

I have to concentrate on my town. We have to be able to adhere to the very stringent quality system and ISO/9000. Those 39 producers have already reached that standard voluntarily. Our serious producers and processors are well capable of adhering to the requirements of this Bill as they are already at this high standard. We want to ensure against weaknesses in the chain.

It is difficult to legislate, as some people will always want to slip through the net. We have matured in a major way on the importance of food quality. Ireland was one of the first countries in Europe to return to pre-BSE levels of beef consumption. It is not easy to do that after food is given a bad name in a food scare but we did, and it shows much confidence by consumers.

The last few years have been very difficult for the beef sector. The BSE crisis resulted in a dramatic reduction in the consumption of beef across the globe. The recovery in Ireland was quicker and more comprehensive. The national beef assurance scheme is evidence of the Government's commitment to apply the highest food safety standards, starting with the beef sector. This Bill will ensure Ireland leads the way in showing a responsible attitude to food production, quality and safety. Leading the way is vitally important for Ireland because it has a good image internationally and should not have to be dragged into adhering to very high standards. It should set those high standards. I am pleased with the contributions of Senators, although they varied from saying the Bill was draconian to saying it did not go far enough. We will try to achieve a balance.

It is worth mentioning again the crucial importance of the cattle and beef sectors to the Irish economy. In excess of 140,000 herd owners are engaged in cattle and beef production. The value of the output last year was in excess of £1,000 million. We export nine out of every ten cattle produced in the country to 57 countries. Those countries demand very high standards, as do the supermarket buyers who come to Ireland. We are proud of showing them our best farms, factories and retail outlets. They would set the standards, irrespective of whether we put in place legislation. If we do not measure up to those standards, we will be out of the market, especially the remunerative ones.

In particular, I do not want to be over dependant on third country markets, as we were, for example, on Russia. When that market collapsed last year we were in trouble. We must have the highest standards to get Irish beef onto European supermarket shelves, even though we are members of the EU, participate well and are good Europeans.

We are dealing with an industry of vital importance to the national economy which must be supported by whatever regulatory and administrative arrangements are necessary to ensure its capacity to trade. We are also dealing with issues of public health and consumer safety which are fundamentally important to get right. There is no room for being almost right. We must be 100 per cent right because, when dealing with bacteria, if a few organisms are left in the system, they multiply very quickly. Food is easily spoiled by being a little careless. Re-infection can also occur very quickly. We must have demanding standards. By imposing common high standards of production and processing on all participants in the industry, together with a comprehensive cattle traceability programme and by introducing a mandatory registration and approval process, this Bill will deliver the additional assurances which will allow us to say Irish beef and beef products are safe to eat.

The proposed legislation will protect both producers and consumers. It will serve as incontrovertible evidence of Ireland's commitment to food safety and quality. It can be used as a foundation on which to build a concerted marketing drive. Concerns were raised regarding the scope of the Bill. Retail food business, restaurants and consumer outlets will not escape the net of the national beef assurance scheme. Such businesses, which include supermarkets, grocery stores, restaurants and retail butcher shops, are already strictly regulated under food hygiene regulations under the control of the Minister for Health and Children. The point was made that the Minister for Agriculture and Food is in cahoots with the farmers, cannot be trusted 100 per cent and will be a little bit on the farmers' side. In relation to that section of the industry, the food hygiene regulations are under the control of the Minister for Health and Children. People should be reassured by that. Consequently, they have been excluded from the registration, inspection and approval process under this Bill. To include them in these provisions would constitute a duplication of registration, be wasteful in terms of resources and could lead to a two tier, anomalous process of inspection and approval under this Bill and another Act. There is no need for that. There is need for inter-linking to ensure it runs smoothly and both Acts will mesh.

In any event, food businesses are not engaged in primary production and processing of beef. However, by regulating primary production and processing, the national beef assurance scheme will regulate the sources of supply for such businesses. Under the scheme, they will have to buy beef or cattle from registered producers and be obliged to source their supply only from approved participants. Failure to comply with this provision will constitute an offence for which rigorous penalties have been provided. In addition, specific provision has been made for the appointment of authorised officers by the health boards for the precise purpose of checking whether this provision has been complied with.

Criticisms have been made that this legislation is confined to beef and does not cover other farm enterprises, such as those with ovines and chickens. The legislation is a direct response to the BSE crisis which undermined consumer confidence in the safety of cattle and beef. It will allay those fears. Given the importance of the cattle and beef sector to the economy and its high profile in the mind of the public, it is essential to adopt legislation targeted specifically at the sector. The legislation also fulfils a commitment made under the Partnership 2000 programme.

A number of points were raised about the additional costs which may arise from participating in the scheme. It is important not to overestimate the costs which might be associated with compliance. Given that the standards which must be met are based largely on existing legislation, the additional burden of ensuring compliance should be minimal. It is the case that the inspection process will involve a cost to participants. However, this cost is unlikely to be substantial and must be balanced against the real advantages which will accrue to the industry from the scheme in terms of greater market access, a more vibrant industry and a better return from the higher return markets.

The State has already invested large sums in the development of the computerised animal traceability scheme. A total of £3 million from Exchequer funds was spent last year on the provision of computer links with marts and factories and the supply of computer equipment and training. A further £5.5 million will be spent this and next year on the development and maintenance of the computer system. This expenditure is evidence of the continuing commitment of the Government to delivering a viable industry, dedicated to the production of safe product.

I said earlier that the Bill does not introduce a licensing system to produce beef and I reiterate that point. The Bill seeks to ensure that all cattle and beef produced for human consumption in Ireland comply with statutory requirements and the produce from our farms is safe for human consumption. It is being introduced as much to safeguard and protect producers as to provide assurances to consumers and buyers. The industry has nothing to fear and everything to gain from the adoption of the legislation. The Bill will not introduce any undue burdens on farmers since the vast bulk of them already comply with the rules.

For example, in the dairy industry, I remember when the methylene blue and other tests were introduced. In the early days everything was fine if one passed three tests. However, if one failed a fourth test, everything collapsed in five minutes. A problem arose at weekends because people tended to be less than careful in terms of chilling milk. However, after a relatively short time, everybody knew that the higher the quality of milk produced, the better the price producers obtained. The price of milk has regularly been at £1 a gallon, which is one of the highest prices in Europe. This would not have been the case if people had not operated on a voluntary basis. The changes came about mainly as a result of incentives, encouragement and quality bonuses rather than legislation. The legislation covering the dairy industry is the Dairy Produce Act, 1923, while the 1936 Act covers liquid milk. There was no need for tomes of legislation. People operating on a voluntary basis are the best producers of quality food.

The issue of when people receive approval and whether they would be approved in saecula saeculorum was raised. Section 12 contains a requirement for reinspection. The only aspect which remains to be decided is how often audits will be carried out because there must be continuous auditing. These matters form part of discussions being held currently with the industry under the consensus approach adopted nowadays with the inclusion of the social partners. The question of whether there will be annual or biannual audits will be decided in conjunction with the industry. It will be a fair system and it will not overburden people. However, it will not be the case that once a person qualifies, he or she qualifies indefinitely. There will be repeat inspections and audits.

Senator Dardis raised section 21 and asked why transporters are exempt from the requirements to notify animal movements. Notification of animal movements is necessary only when there has been a change of ownership of the animal, that is, when the animal has moved from one herd to another or is being slaughtered or exported. In the case of private sales, the notification of the movement will be made by the seller and buyer of the animal while the meat plant, mart, abattoir or live export point will make the notification in other cases.

Concern was expressed in relation to how the Bill fits in with the Food Safety Authority. From the views expressed by Senators, consumers and others in the industry, it is clear that people have great confidence in the authority because it is independent in terms of dealing with public health matters. Section 3 establishes the scheme on a statutory footing, describes the purpose of the scheme and creates a link with the Food Safety Authority Act, 1998. If and when the legislation is adopted, the Minister for Health and Children may include the Bill in the First Schedule to the Food Safety Authority Act. Therefore, it will come within the remit of the authority in so far as that is appropriate. It is most important that there is interlinking in this area and that there is no duplication or fragmentation with regard to the provisions of the Bill which should operate smoothly in the context of the Food Safety Authority.

The relationship between the beef assurance scheme, Bord Bia and other voluntary schemes was mentioned. The national beef assurance scheme will provide a platform on which to build voluntary quality assurance schemes such as the Bord Bia scheme. Discussions have been held and will continue with Bord Bia and other agencies which have voluntary schemes under their remit. The legislation will underpin the schemes. The industry and customers at home and abroad already insist on the highest possible quality.

The issue of giving producers approval until they are inspected was raised and arguments were made on both sides. On the one hand it was stated that the provisions are draconian but, on the other, that they need to be more sensitive and secure. Approval will take time and the intention is that it will be revoked only for very serious breaches of the rules. Given that there are 140,000 farmers, it is not possible to inspect, ask people to carry out improvements and seek reinspection in a short time. The vast majority of farmers will comply, but a farmer will not lose approval for being poor at mathematics, as was suggested, or making a mistake in his herd register. However, the provision will deal with a farmer who blatantly does not meet the standard and has no intention of doing so.

I accept that, in general, Departments tend to be harder on clients than on their officials and that all the penalties are on one side. There is a need for an independent appeals system rather than a position where officers initially inspect a farm and an appeal is referred to the same officers or a senior official. I take the point on board and I will follow it up because it is reasonable.

The term "red tape" is much overused. However, at the same time, there is an increasing requirement for documentation and the filling of forms. A point in this regard was made recently at a public meeting, which was one of the many educational meetings of various types which involve Teagasc and are helpful. At this particular meeting, there were many complaints about the amount of documentation required. The point was made that, nowadays, approximately 57 per cent of the income of a typical farmer comes from premia and headage payments as compensatory payments. If over half a farmer's income is made up of such payments, it is worthwhile spending a day or an evening with one's spouse on the documentation. One may spend the other 364 days of the year toiling on the drudgery of milking a few cows or looking after a few sheep.

Or pushing a trolley.

It would be worthwhile for people to spend part of a wet day, for example, filling up the necessary forms and ensuring the paper work is done correctly. I do not want to provide for any more paperwork than is necessary, but for the most part the EU is paying the piper – 100 per cent of premia is paid by the EU. It demands an awful lot of paperwork and there are various audits.

The recent Cromien report on the Department said that during its time examining the systems in the Department it found auditors, namely those from the EU, the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Committee on Public Accounts and various others, falling over one another. We are almost auditing ourselves to death. Even if there is a question over a small percentage of total payments, which are in excess of £1,000 million, people say there is fraud, etc., which is not the case at all.

The question of compulsory labelling of beef after 2000 was raised. This is still under review in Brussels. The Irish view, which is shared by a number of other members states, is that compulsory labelling will only serve to renationalise markets, a point we have consistently made in Brussels and at meetings elsewhere. When we go to France we will be told that only French beef is wanted. We are part of the Community like everybody else and we want access to the markets which exist.

I reiterate that the Bill is necessary. We want to lead in this area and it is important for our consumers, industry, trade and markets worldwide. People ask continually why we cannot return to the better markets, in terms of remuneration, in France and Germany which we lost following the BSE crisis. The Bill will help us regain those markets.

I will welcome any constructive amendments which will strengthen and improve the Bill and will be most generous in regard to them. I believe this is a landmark Bill which will strengthen and streamline existing controls and underpin the trading infrastructure of the industry. I am also confident that the package of measures contained in the scheme strikes the right balance.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Wednesday, 7 July 1999.