National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill, 1999 [ Seanad Bill amended by the Dáil ] : Report and Final Stages.

This is a Seanad Bill which has been amended by the Dáil. In accordance with Standing Order 103, it is deemed to have passed its First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matters, therefore, which may be discussed are the amendments made by the Dáil. For Senators' convenience, I have arranged for the printing and circulation of the amendments. Senators may speak only once on Report Stage.

Question proposed: "That the Bill be received for final consideration."

On a point of clarification, Deputy Connaughton put down amendment No. 7 in the Dáil last night.

That is not relevant to this debate. I understand the officials have discussed and clarified that point.

Not to my satisfaction. My party had an understanding arising from the Dáil debate, a transcript of which I have with me. Did the Minister accept the amendment last night?

I regret that I must rule the Senator out of order. We are debating the list of amendments made by the Dáil. That list has been furnished to the Seanad. That is all we can do.

Does the Minister accept that? The amendment was accepted and I have the transcript of what the Minister said. He not only did that but went further and accepted that the Department of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development would pay the costs involved in relation—

Senator Hayes, we cannot become involved in the proceedings of the other House. The Minister may or may not wish to advert to this matter, but that is a matter for him. We cannot become involved in the proceedings of the other House. We have been furnished with a list of the amendments made by the Dáil and that is what is before the Seanad for discussion.

I beg to differ with the Chair. There must be a breakdown in communication. It was clear in the Dáil last night. I do not know what transcripts or other documents were sent to the Seanad; that is not my business. However, it was made clear in the Dáil and I failed to agree with the officials when I was approached about this. It is in black and white in the transcripts.

The Chair can only operate on the basis of the list of amendments supplied to this House by the Dáil. If the Senator has a problem with the list, he should take it up with the Clerk of the Dáil. It is not a matter for the Chair.

I want clarification from the Minister before we proceed. Can he—

I am not in a position to give the Senator clarification.

Will you allow the Minister to do so?

The Minister—

I asked for clarification from the Minister. There was a clear understanding in the Dáil last night and it is in the Official Report. Our party's spokesmen were pleased with the Minister and with his acceptance that the Department would bear the costs. Several Opposition Members spoke in favour of it as well.

The question proposed is: "That the Bill be received for final consideration." I will call on the Minister to speak. You will also be called to speak on the question in due course.

Can I get clarification from the Minister in relation to that section?

That is a matter for the Minister.

It is, therefore, officially on record that I have asked the Minister to explain what has happened.

Perhaps the Senator will wait to hear what the Minister says.

A Chathaoirligh—

Senator Connor will be called in due course.

I am seeking the Chair's assistance in relation to the format of the debate. I have a list of amendments from the Dáil. Can this House debate these amendments?

If the Senator will resume his seat, I will repeat the explanation of the procedure which I have already outlined.

I apologise for being late for that explanation.

In accordance with Standing Order 103, this Bill is deemed to have passed First, Second and Third Stages in the Seanad and it is placed on the Order Paper for Report Stage. On the question, "That the Bill be received for final consideration", the Minister may explain the purpose of the amendments made by the Dáil. This is looked upon as the report of the Dáil amendments to the Seanad. The only matter the Seanad may discuss is the amendments made by the Dáil. Copies of the amendments have been circulated. Each Senator may speak once on the question. I now call on the Minister to speak and I will call the Senator in due course.

May we speak on all the amendments?

Yes, but in one contribution. The contribution may embrace all amendments made by the Dáil.

I wish to provide Senators with a brief explanation of the various amendments to the Bill in the Dáil.

In section 1, amendment No. 1 amended the Diseases of Animals Act, 1966, the Livestock Marts Act, 1967, and the Slaughter of Animals Act, 1935, under sections 35, 36 and 37 of the Bill respectively. The new collective citations for these Acts were inserted under section 1 of the Bill. The insertion of collective citations is a standard procedure.

In section 2, amendment No. 2 amended the definition of "farmer" to more clearly distinguish between farmers and dealers for the purposes of the Bill.

On a point of information, can the details of the Minister's address be made available to Members of the House?

It is not the practice to circulate a Minister's speech on Report Stage.

Is it the case that some Members have such information?

I am not aware whether that is the case.

Would it be out of order if they had?

I have no idea whether that is the case.

Following the amendment to the definition of "farmer", the definition of "herd identifier" was no longer necessary and it was deleted by amendment No. 3. Under the definition of a "mart", there was an incorrect reference to "Article" in the citing of the Livestock Marts Regulations, 1968. Amendment No. 4 inserted the proper term, "Regulation".

Section 21 provides, inter alia, for the making of regulations setting out the time and form of the notification of animal movements and the use of the CMMS database to trace and identify animals. Animals for export had been inadvertently omitted from the scope of the regulations to be made under subsection (4)(b). Amendment No. 5 corrected this omission. Second, amendment No. 6 amended the text of this subsection to ensure that the use of the CMMS database could be enforced prior to the slaughter or export of the animal or animals. The amendments under section 21 were necessary to ensure that important guarantees being provided to buyers of Irish beef can be enforced.

Section 32 provides that where a licence or approval is refused or revoked under the list of agricultural and food legislation referred to therein, an approval granted under this Bill is also deemed to be revoked. The right of appeal under this Bill may be waived only in cases where there is already a right of appeal in the legislation referred to. The Government put forward amendment No. 7 to include references to "registration" and "withdraw" in subsection (1) in order to reflect the different procedures in operation under the various legislative provisions cited. In addition, amendments Nos. 8 to 11 were made to correct some incomplete references in relation to the legislative provisions listed in this section.

The legislative provisions cited under subsection (1) are the main instruments for approving the operation and supervision of slaughtering plants, including domestic abattoirs, meat processing plants, livestock plants and feedstuff plants. The purpose of this section is that if an approval is refused or revoked under any of these provisions, it automatically follows that any approval granted under this Bill should also be revoked. The aim is to avoid the need to institute duplicate proceedings to revoke approval under this Bill. However, the right of appeal under the Bill can be waived only where such legislation contains a right of appeal to the courts. This provision is necessary to ensure that the rights of all participants are safeguarded.

Amendment No. 12 to section 35 was a textual amendment. In the text of the amendment to the Diseases of Animals Act, 1967, there was a reference to "his or her" which did not reflect the language in use at that time. This was corrected.

Following the insertion of the collection citation for the Livestock Marts Act, 1967, under section 1, the reference to same which was included initially under section 36 of the Bill was deleted by amendment No. 13. In addition, a small consequential amendment was made to the preceding paragraph of this section.

The Second Schedule lists the rules and regulations applicable to the various classes of persons, listed under the First Schedule, to whom the Act applies. The Government made a series of amendments to the Second Schedule to take account of: (a) legislation which was cited incorrectly or inadvertently omitted in the published Bill; (b) recently enacted legislation; and (c) updated and consolidated legislation. The Bovine Tuberculosis (Attestation of the State and General Provisions) Orders, 1989 and 1996, were cited incorrectly in the published Bill. This was corrected by amendments Nos. 14 and 20.

Amendments Nos. 15 and 21 refers to the Brucellosis in Cattle (General Provisions) Orders, 1991 and 1996. They were cited incorrectly in the published Bill but this was corrected.

With regard to amendments Nos. 16, 22, 32, 33 and 36, the European Communities (Supply of Information on the Origin, Identification and Destination of Bovine Animals) Regulations, 1999 (S.I. No. 258 of 1999), were included under the relevant parts of the Second Schedule. These regulations oblige keepers of bovine animals to provide the authorities with information on the origin, identification and destination of bovine animals. They provide a statutory basis for the making of notifications to CMMS. They also provide the necessary powers of enforcement and prescribe penalties for offences.

Amendments Nos. 17 to 19, inclusive, and 24 to 29, inclusive, relate to the body of legislation applicable in the feedingstuffs sector which was recently updated and consolidated and the new provisions were included in the relevant parts of the Second Schedule.

Amendments Nos. 23 and 34 refer to the European Communities (Trade in Bovine Animals and Swine) (Amendment) Regulations, 2000 (S.I. No. 5 of 2000) which were included under the relevant parts of the Second Schedule. These regulations implement the requirement in Council Directive 97/12/EC of 17 March 1997 in so far as it relates to an identity check for bovine animals for export. They further ensure the operation of CMMS in relation to live exports.

Amendment No. 30 refers to the Abattoirs Act, 1988 (Abattoirs) (Amendment) Regulations, 1999 (S.I. No. 328 of 1999) which were included in the relevant part of the Second Schedule. These regulations update the definitions of ear-tag and identity card to take account of changes in legislation since 1988. They also provide that all animals accepted for slaughter must have an ear-tag and identity card.

Amendments Nos. 31 and 35 refer to the Abattoirs Act, 1988 (Veterinary Exam ination) (Amendment) Regulations, 1999 (S.I. No. 327 of 1999) which were included in the relevant parts of the Second Schedule. These regulations update the provisions relating to the ante mortem and post mortem veterinary examination of bovine animals to provide that the examination cannot be completed until the identification and current status of the animals has been verified. The regulations also include contamination with salmonella enteriditis or typhimurium among the grounds for condemning meat.

This side of the House went along with the general discussion on the beef assurance scheme. There was an acceptance that it was needed. However, this matter boils down to specific issues. I raised one issue with the Cathaoirleach and I will now raise it with the Minister of State, that is, the amendment made in the other House last night. The Minister of State said in response to amendment No. 7:

The Government fully realises that rural Ireland is of vital importance to the success of the economy. There are 145,000 registered farmers and in spite of what has been said by the planners and others about what will happen in the years ahead, I would like each and every one of them to remain on the land. I do not want to see any of them being put out of business by this Bill.

I am sympathetic to the amendment which has been discussed widely. As it is not my policy or that of the Department to impose hardship on the farming community I support the view that the ideal time to carry out inspections is at the time of the annual TB and brucellosis tests, but this should have the agreement of the farmer concerned. . . . . . . In the interests of rural Ireland, I am also prepared to concede on the issue of cost.

Did he say that in the other House last night? Am I reading a fact? Is that what he said? If so, why is that amendment not on the Order Paper? Is he in favour of that measure? Was that not what he said? I wholeheartedly agree with his concept. I agree with the amendment and am very concerned about what happened to it. Will the Minister of State indicate his position?

When Senators have contributed the Minister of State will be asked to reply. The Chair has no control over the content of his reply.

Knowing the Minister of State as I do, I expect he will stick to his guns. He is not the kind of man to back down from something he has said, regardless of the views of his officials. I do not know who is interested in not allowing this amendment, but its inclusion is vitally important for the future success of the beef assurance scheme. It was supported by all Members of the other House. I am, therefore, relying on the Minster of State's willingness to stand by the decision made last night and I hope he will accept my concerns.

Beef can be imported from New Zealand or any other part of the world in the absence of traceability, and that is cause for concern. The beef industry has gone through a difficult period and a beef assurance scheme must be welcomed. I hope it will be good for the industry because many people will benefit from it. I await the Minister of State's response to my concerns and I hope we will be able to agree with his decision.

I welcome the amendment. This legislation is very important for the beef industry. From an image point of view it is important to have a traceability programme from animal to consumer. The outbreak of BSE resulted in the banning of Irish beef in some countries. This dented what had been a successful industry. Thank God BSE is declining and Irish beef is recovering in terms of assurance and consumer confidence. There will always be a few bad apples in every orchard and some farmers behaved disgracefully in introducing BSE to their herds to get easy money. Thank God they have been detected and brought to justice.

It is important to have a proper traceability programme. It is a new concept for farmers. They will have to tag their cattle from the time they are born and keep proper written records of their sales and purchases. While this will entail more work, it is necessary as part of a programme that will maintain confidence in the beef trade.

Senator Tom Hayes referred to amendments tabled on Report Stage in the Dáil last night which would have made things easier for farmers. I agree that inspections should be held on the same day as TB inspections because everything is important to farmers at that stage. The relevant amendment has not been included, but I would support it.

Farmers will incur extra costs in implementing the legislation, which will have to be minimised. For example, tags will need to be purchased and vets will, for the first time, have to be paid for routine bovine disease inspections. This is a mistake because tests may not be carried out as frequently, which may lead to increases in bovine TB and brucellosis.

The amendments tabled on Report Stage in the Dáil are important and clarification is required on whether they have been accepted. The Bill is important for the future of our beef industry.

Are we speaking on the generality of the amendments?

I welcome the return of the Bill to the House. The desirability of implementing the regulations should not be obstructed by the potential onerous costs they may place on farmers. The Bill was introduced in this House before the summer recess last year and was welcomed by all parties. We are aware of the importance of having a beef assurance system in place in view of the difficulties with BSE and other related matters.

Given the measures put in place by this and previous Governments to deal with the ban on imported feed and so on, it is very disappointing that the BSE figures are not falling to the desired extent. The measures are not working or are not being fully implemented, or some operators are breaking the law. If reports of court cases are a guide – I am thinking especially of a recent one – people are operating at what the IFA has rightly described as a level of sabotage against the agriculture industry. Their actions are bringing the reputation of the food industry into disrepute.

It is the Government's responsibility to enact legislation to re-establish the credibility of the beef industry, especially in the minds of consumers. Every bad BSE story is one more nail in the coffin of the industry unless it is countered. This legislation is very important in that regard. I welcomed its introduction and look forward to its implementation. The legislation sets out a detailed and onerous structured system, from certification to approval, involving on the producers side farmers, herd owners and the wider industry. I hope when it is implemented it will have the desired effect.

The importance of the point raised by Senator Tom Hayes is illustrated by the support he has received from Senator Rory Kiely on the other side of the House. What will be the cost to farmers of having to deal with the system of regulation introduced under the Bill and who will pay for it? The Minister's words in the Dáil last night reflect his sentiments that the individual producer will not have to bear the brunt of the cost. There are many small producers throughout the country who, given the state of the beef industry, would not be able to afford the onerous cost of maintaining a certificate of approval. That issue must be clarified before the Bill leaves the House and is placed on the Statute Book.

Senator Hayes is correct to point out that it is extremely important not to generate a situation where the regulations of the Bill are undermined, reduced or weakened by the necessity for individual producers to bear an onerous cost. What is the main point at issue? As I stated on Second and Committee Stages, the primary objective of the legislation must be to protect the beef industry and producers and re-establish the credibility of the industry, especially abroad and among consumers. We should not undermine that objective and damage the beef producing sector further. We should operate with support and not with penalties. If we want to see this system operate to its fullest extent, sufficient support must be given and farmers must be reassured that they do not face an onerous cost to obtain and maintain certificates of approval certifying them as excellent producers who operate to the highest standards. Therefore, I am disappointed the Minister of State did not use the opportunity today to table an amendment in this regard.

I look forward to hearing what he has to say. I appeal to him to respond to the points made on all sides of the House and to listen to the expressed wishes of Members that the legislation would not be undermined or weakened and that individual producers would not be penalised for raising their standards. Will he clarify matters in that regard and assure us that having to comply with this otherwise excellent legislation will not be detrimental to producers?

I welcome the Minister of State. He, more than anyone, has the capacity, talent and knowledge to steer the Bill through the House. Certain people in sections of the media have portrayed the legislation as another prohibition or liability on farming and another difficult hurdle for farmers to climb. It is the opposite; it is an aid to farmers which guarantees and assures consumers that they have a good quality product. It is part of the traceability system. I compliment the Minister of State and the officials in his Department for bringing the Bill before the House.

A few people engaged in the cattle industry and one or two in the beef industry undermine the good work of the majority of farmers. Some 140,000 farmers are involved in the beef industry, of whom about 80,000 are serious beef farmers who take their work seriously. To suggest that the scheme is an inhibition or difficulty for them is wrong and off the wall. The Bill is designed to ensure that what is produced is maintained as a high quality product to the point where it is delivered to the processor. The Health and Safety Authority under Dr. Patrick Wall is responsible for monitoring standards from there until the product is purchased by consumers. Combining this legislation with that in the health and safety area means we can guarantee that the product we produce under the independent supervision as set out will be of good quality.

We export 80 per cent to 85 per cent of our beef. The success of the beef industry lies in having its products displayed on supermarket shelves in Europe because it is there they will obtain the best prices. If it is to regain the markets in Europe rather than in the Middle East or Far East or other third countries, it needs to improve breeding and management and to guarantee traceability and high quality to European consumers. To do that, this legislation is essential. Farmers, by and large, welcome the Bill and only a few people are hysterical about it. We export 550,000 tonnes of beef and that should go to Europe because the prices it fetches will ensure a thriving beef industry in Ireland.

Regarding the independent appeals board, perhaps the Minister of State might inform us if that is to be decentralised to the regions. I do not know if that can be done on a county level or if it is practicable. However, it is impracticable to locate the appeals board in Dublin. It should be located in areas where cattle populations exist.

There has been much media hype, all of it wrong, about cattle losing their ear tags. Perhaps we should examine a more sophisticated and expensive system of electronic tagging. We could go that route to avoid difficulties because such tags cannot be interfered with. The ear tags used at present are regularly lost. While the Minister of State might say that a farmer to whom that happens is not seen as a criminal or someone guilty of a criminal act and while the legislation deals with rogue people, I would nonetheless like the Minister of State to spell that out.

There should not be a cost associated with this scheme. There should be a way of streamlining it. When a vet calls to a farm to carry out TB or brucellosis testing, there is no reason the certification cannot be done at that stage. It would not involve any additional costs. That said, it is not as simple as that. We need to assure consumers that it is the vet who knows the herd who issues the certificate. It is he or she who should do it and it should not involve any additional cost. I know the Minister of State will ensure that because he is a practical man.

There is no point proclaiming that we produce the best beef in the world, having overcome the BSE scare and the other problems we faced, although there is still market resistance in some places, unless we have a market. The EU Commissioner, Mr. David Byrne, was in Dublin Castle recently where he spoke about product liability directives. Will this legislation and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland dovetail with the product liability directives which the Commissioner is introducing? The Minister said during the debate on this Bill, before David Byrne was appointed, that an Irish Commissioner might be appointed in the near future who would deal with this issue. However, we did not take him up on it. Mr. David Byrne has an extremely important job to assure consumers about the quality of food.

I compliment the Minister of State on what he is doing. The task is in capable hands.

I support fully Senator Tom Hayes's comments on the Bill. We accept the need for and the importance of this measure. I am sure the Minister of State will forgive me if I am not au fait with what was said in the other House last night.

We are concerned about traceability. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of the great strides made in County Kerry in this regard and of the "Taste of Kerry" brand which guarantees traceability. The IFA mentioned the importance of traceability and other matters when it stressed the need to provide assurances and guarantees to consumers about the safety of Irish cattle and beef. It is vital to reassure consumers about the safety and quality of the meat they are eating.

This Bill should underpin consumer confidence and it should not impose additional bureaucracy, red tape or unnecessary costs on primary producers. However, how can we achieve that when it ignores imported beef products? I was disturbed recently to hear that some unscrupulous people are selling imported beef products from the back of vans to institutions which purchase them in good faith. I am not saying the products are bad but no checks are carried out on them so people, including patients, do not know what they are eating or the risks to which they are being exposed. I ask the Minister of State to comment on that.

Deputy Connaughton tabled an amendment in the other House which stated, "Any such inspection or checking in respect of farms shall be carried out at the same time as the annual TB and Brucellosis tests and at no extra cost to the herdowner." That is important in view of the Minister of State's remarks and Senator Tom Hayes's comments on section 10 which deals with the granting of the certificate of approval to the farmer. I agree with the thrust of the Minister of State's remarks about enhancing the position of Irish agriculture and saving farmers. If we want to save farmers, we cannot impose additional costs on them willy-nilly. However, there is a way of doing it which will not cause any difficulties.

A little bird told me the Minister of State accepted some amendments last night. Did he accept amendments at the behest of my good friend and constituency colleague, the redoubtable Deputy Healy-Rae? Perhaps the Minister of State could outline what he has done. Did he listen to representations from his own party as well as from this side of the House?

The Bill must be welcomed as a further example of the Government's commitment to assure consumers at home and abroad of the quality of Irish food produce. The consumer decides the price the farmer or producer receives for their product. If the housewife is confident that a product is of top quality, she will buy it.

The beef industry has suffered great difficulties in recent years. Following the BSE scare, prices dropped sharply which resulted in massive loss for many farmers. With production accounting for almost 3 per cent of GNP and 130,000 farmers involved in beef production, we must maintain a strong and vibrant industry. We can only do so by ensuring the consumer that our beef is of top quality and safe to eat.

The details of this scheme have been agreed by all involved in its introduction, including farmers, abattoirs, meat plants, marts and the animal feedstuffs trade. I compliment the Minister of State for ensuring this support. In the past schemes were introduced without discussion and agreement and were often unworkable.

The provisions of this Bill are basic and include common standards for the trade, production and processing of Irish cattle and beef for human consumption, the trade and manufacture of feedstuffs, 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 introduction of this scheme will mean that everyone involved will incur additional expenses. I hope that the Minister and the Department will foot the bill for these extra costs and I urge the inspectors involved to operate a common sense approach in all cases. The tracing of animals is a major task but it is progressing well and I hope it will progress in the simplest possible form. The last thing farmers or small producers want is to spend extra time doing paperwork.

I compliment the Minister of State on his endeavours. In my opinion this is one of the most important items of legislation to go through the House for some time.

I add my voice to efforts to resolve the confusion which appears to have arisen in respect of an amendment to the Bill which was tabled in the other House yesterday evening. For the benefit of the House, I wish to cite the proceedings of the Dáil in respect of the following amendment which was tabled in the name of Deputy Connaughton:

In page 10, line 40, after "Minister." to insert "Any such inspection or checking in respect of farms shall be carried out at the same time as the annual TB and Brucellosis tests and at no extra cost to the herdowner.".

The intention of the amendment is clear. It seeks, in order to ensure that a farmer can proceed to farm for at least a further year, that the inspection be carried out at a time when the veterinarian has access to all of the farmer's animals in one place. The law provides that all animals must be presented for annual testing and each herdowner is legally bound to present all his or her animals, as far as is possible, in one location. At that stage, the vet will have sight of the farmer's cattle holding facilities, etc. That is the very clear intention of this reasonable amendment which was tabled in the other House yesterday evening.

A good debate, to which several Deputies contributed, took place in respect of the amendment to which I refer. Deputy Upton supported the amendment on behalf of the Labour Party. Deputy Johnny Brady also clearly supported it—

We had that taken care of long ago.

—as did Deputy Ring. Deputy Collins was quite confused when speaking on the amendment but Deputy Naughten fully supported it. Senator Tom Hayes has already quoted the Minister of State's reply to the amendment but, for the benefit of the House and for the benefit of clarity, it is important to read the final contributions of the relevant Members. The Minister of State, Deputy Ned O'Keeffe, said:

The Government fully realises that rural Ireland is of vital importance to the success of the economy. There are 145,000 registered farmers and in spite of what has been said by the planners and others about what will happen in the years ahead, I would like each and every one of them to remain on the land. [Fine sentiments indeed]. I do not want to see any of them being put out of business by this Bill.

I am sympathetic to the amendment which has been discussed widely. As it is not my policy or that of the Department to impose hardship on the farming community I support the view that the ideal time to carry out inspections is at the time of the annual TB and brucellosis tests, but this should have the agreement of the farmer concerned. There should be flexibility if possible.

Deputy Connaughton then inquired about the cost and the Minister of State replied, "In the interests of rural Ireland, I am also prepared to concede on the issue of cost." At that point Deputy Connaughton thanked the Minister of State and, assuming that his suggestion would be accommodated, the amendment was withdrawn by leave of the House.

It is clear that the Opposition and those Members—

Acting Chairman

I must interrupt the Senator. We are discussing the amendments made by the Dáil after the passage of the Bill through the Seanad. The list of amendments made by the Dáil does not contain the amendment to which the Senator referred.

That is the problem.

Acting Chairman

We cannot enter into a discussion on the proceedings of the Lower House. However, as the Senator indicated, the amendment was withdrawn in the Lower House. Before us we have the official list of amendments prepared by the Bills Office to assist the Seanad in its consideration of the Bill on Report Stage. I must ask the Senator to refrain from discussing the amendment further.

I want to obey the Acting Chairman's ruling but I submit that the point I am making is germane because the content of the amendment goes to the heart of the debate. I have effectively concluded discussing the amendment and I am now merely asking the Minister of State to comment on the points he made last night. As the March Hare said in Alice in Wonderland,“My words mean what I want them to mean.” What did the Minister of State mean by the comments he made in the Lower House?

Acting Chairman

I am as familiar as Senator Connor with Alice in Wonderland. I ask him to return to the debate on the official list of amendments. Both he and Senator Hayes have adequately rehearsed the debate which took place on Deputy Connaughton's amendment in the Lower House. Like the Cathaoirleach earlier, I have explained the position and I ask the Senator to abide by the Chair's rulings. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of the concerns of Senators Connor and Hayes and he may reply to them in his concluding remarks.

I know the last thing the Acting Chairman would want is that any misleading statements should be made in this House or in the Lower House. I am attempting to ensure that the statement made in the Lower House yesterday evening was not, in fact, misleading and I am asking him to clarify the position.

Acting Chairman

The proceedings of both Houses are separate. We must proceed with Report Stage.

I agree fully but, nevertheless, we are all concerned about accuracy.

I deplore and regret the fact that copies of the statement the Minister of State made in relation to the amendments in the Lower House were not made available to Opposition Members. We obtained it by the grace and favour of someone else.

It was not made available to anyone.

On a point of order, will Senator Connor indicate to whom the statement was made available? He just stated that it—

I accept Senator Kiely's contention that his copy of the statement dropped down from heaven.

Acting Chairman

We must return to our deliberations on Report Stage.

With regard to section 2 of the Bill and amendment No. 2 thereto, the Minister of State indicated that the definition of farmer was amended to distinguish more clearly between farmers and dealers for the purposes of the Bill. Will he explain how this distinction is drawn? Will he read into the record the text of the new section 2 and also the full explanatory memorandum given to him by his officials in that regard?

The Minister of State indicated that, on section 3, following the amendment to the definition of "farmer", the definition of "herd identifier" was no longer necessary and it was deleted by amendment No. 3. Will he read into the record the text of the new section 3 and the explanatory memorandum in respect of it?

Section 32 deals with the revoking of licences and the appeals system. I wish to refer to a crucial comment made by the Minister of State, namely, "The right of appeal under this Bill may be waived only in cases where there is already a right of appeal in the legislation referred to." Will the Minister of State fully explain that statement? I do not doubt that he will have a copious note on it.

I welcome the passage of this Bill. As a beef producer I have to state that we need to reassure consumers about the quality of Irish beef. However, it is a pity that beef imported into Ireland does not carry the same assurances for consumers as Irish beef. There are no assurances about the method of slaughter or health of animals imported from Argentina, for example, issues which are provided for as regards Irish beef. If we are to have a level playing field for producers and protect consumers it is necessary that a system of assurances should apply to imported beef. Government Senators will agree that we should not allow beef on to the Irish market which does not carry the same level of assurances which this Bill gives as regards domestically produced beef.

Farmers are enduring an ever-burgeoning level of red tape with respect to the running of their businesses. This is unfair and bewildering to most farmers who are of an age when such procedures were not part of their tradition or experiences. The Minister of State and the Department are doing nothing to ease this problem, and, in fact, are making matters more difficult.

That is unfair because the Northern Ireland Office recognises that our beef is far better than beef produced in Northern Ireland.

Acting Chairman

Senator Connor without interruption.

Some of the documentation concerning the keeping of livestock is difficult and confusing, yet the Minister of State maintains a system of disproportionate penalties against farmers. In some cases a large portion of a farmer's supports can be withdrawn due to simple mistakes made without any intention to infringe regulations, let alone to defraud. Surely this is a disproportionate response by the Department. It may claim that these are EU regulations but that is not so. The regulations were made by the Department.

Will the Minister of State examine this problem as thousands of farmers have lost all or part of their income supports, whether beef premia, suckler cow, cattle or sheep headage or whatever, as a result of small technical errors in documentation returned to the Department? I am delighted that the Minister of State is nodding. He is a farmer, he knows about this situation, and has practical experience of hundreds of people coming to him from all over the country. I cannot understand why this problem cannot be tackled as it is doing a grave injustice to many people who, for genuine reasons, find themselves at the wrong end of this administrative malaise, and I use the word "malaise" advisedly. I appeal to the Minister of State to look at this issue even though it may not be germane to the amendments we are debating.

I reiterate my comments on the amendment which everyone felt was made in good faith last night in the Dáil and which is germane to this debate. If the Minister of State does not answer any of the other questions I raised I hope he will address the issue of amendment No. 7 made in the Dáil yesterday.

I welcome the Minister of State. He is very much in touch with the farming community and the agricultural industry and he is doing a fine job. I was pleased that he stated it is his intention to devote all his time to ensuring that the 145,000 farmers in this country continue to farm.

Some 36 amendments were made to this Bill in the Dáil. These are important amendments and we welcome the Dáil's response to the Bill. It is our task to endorse the amendments on Report Stage and I have no doubt that is what the House will do.

Any confusion which exists is not the fault of the Minister of State but of the incompetence of Fine Gael and a major blunder by its agriculture spokesperson in the Dáil yesterday.

What sort of idiotic comment is that?

Senator Finneran is making excuses.

Any attempt by Opposition Senators to—

Acting Chairman

The proceedings of the other House are not for comment in this House.

Especially when they are misleading.

Acting Chairman

I ask the Senator to proceed with Report Stage.

I respect the Chair's ruling but we have a situation where—

Acting Chairman

Senator Finneran, I stopped Senator Connor when he made comments on proceedings in the other House and I have to do the same with you.

I urge the Minister of State to allow inspections to take place at the same time as tests for TB and brucellosis.

We will give the Senator a chance to vote on it.

I also urge him to deal with the issue of cost. He will do so and is doing so in response to Fine Gael's failure to move its motion in the Dáil last night.

The Senator is going back to it again.

Acting Chairman

Please, Senator Finneran.

I have no doubt that the Minister of State will respond and I am pleading with him to do so positively. No one understands the difficulties faced by farmers more than the Minister of State and his fellow Ministers.

These amendments are a response to a situation which developed over the past few years whereby the farming community, through little fault of its own but due to a few individuals who undermine the industry, is faced with complications which are outside the control of farmers but which have severely interfered with their livelihoods. This legislation and these amendments seek to ensure that the international view of Irish beef is that it is top class. The legislation will bring a transparency to the beef industry which will ensure traceability from the day a calf is born to the day it appears on a consumer's shopping list. This is an important measure which has not existed to date.

In recent years there have been many statements that we have the finest beef produce. However, this should not just be a matter of opinion but must be transparently obvious through legislation and regulation. In the past year we have introduced legislation which means that we can now stand over Irish beef in Europe and say it is of the highest standard.

The Minister of State is doing an excellent job. This Bill is the final piece in the jigsaw. In the interests of those farmers who want to stay on the land, the beef industry and our reputation abroad, we ask the Minister to consider our remarks in the final legislation. The farming community has always had confidence in the policies put forward by Fianna Fáil Ministers for Agriculture over the years. It is fortunate that this House was able to straighten out the matter after what happened in the Dáil last night.

The Senator is so banal.

I welcome the Minister to the House. This legislation is vital for farmers and it will be a major plus in the production and marketing of Irish beef. It is urgent that more of our beef enters the European market. Some progress has been made in regaining market share but more needs to be done. This Bill will help secure further entrance to the EU market and reduce our dependence on volatile third country markets.

The Minister and the Department must deal firmly with the media when announcements are made about the quality of Irish beef. Pictures of a BSE infected cow staggering around the yard are shown internationally, but that image is out of date. The Department tackled the problem. Why are green pastures and feed lots full of quality beef cattle not shown?

I recognise the importance of cattle identification as a key element for traceability. There is, however, a perception among farmers that the loss rate of ear tags is excessive. It can be as high as one in ten. Something must be done to improve the quality of ear tags.

The certificate of approval should be issued following the annual TB inspection. It may not even be necessary for the inspection to take place on an annual basis – every three years would be often enough. The certificate could then be issued and random testing of 20 per cent of herds carried out annually. That would ensure that nothing would go wrong. I agree with the Minister about payment for the certificate – the State should pay for it. Farmers face severe enough financial difficulties without having to pay for their annual herd tests.

Acting Chairman

The Senator is straying from the amendments. I had to be strict earlier and I must insist that the Senator speaks to the amendments.

In relation to appeals—

Acting Chairman

Senator, there is nothing about appeals or ear tags in the amendments. I had to stop other Senators when they spoke outside the amendments.

The penalties contained in the Bill for minor infringements are excessive. I hope the Minister will take on board the comments made about those penalties. The section on ministerial orders is also important. In the event of the Minister making orders for the upgrading of premises, grant aid should be available.

I welcome the Bill and the amendments to it which the Minister has outlined. We are on the right track and should soon see an end to the problems with beef. This Bill should put us at the top of the European production league.

I welcome the Minister of State to House. I compliment him on the excellent work he is doing as Minister of State with responsibility for food and food quality.

Costs and traceability have been mentioned by many speakers. At the meeting of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party, those who spoke were of the opinion that additional costs should not be borne by farmers. I speak for the small farmers of west County Limerick who would be faced with additional costs and I appeal to the Minister to ensure that the Government takes up those costs. That is of paramount importance to all farmers.

The farm inspection should take place at the same time as the TB test for logistic reasons. There are many elderly farmers who find it difficult to round up their cattle. I appeal to the Minister to make the changes which were discussed at the meeting of the parliamentary party.

I compliment all who spoke on the Bill. A total of ten Senators made contributions which is exceptionally high on Report Stage. It is very important legislation.

Senator Connor referred to the definition of a farmer. It is quite clear that the definition of a farmer was amended to distinguish more clearly between farmers and dealers for the purposes of the Bill. A dealer and a farmer are different because they have different objectives. The other issue raised was on section 32. I have already given a full explanation of the amendment of section 32 and I will read it again in case the Senator has any doubt.

Section 32 provides that where a licence or approval is refused or revoked under the list of agricultural and food legislation referred to therein, an approval granted under this Bill is also deemed to be revoked. The right of appeal under this Bill may be waived only in cases where there is already a right of appeal in the legislation referred to. I hope that clarifies the position for the Senator.

I am still not too happy, but however.

Much has been said in both Houses of the Oireachtas. The passing by the Seanad of this Stage of the Bill will bring to an end an extensive period of consultation, drafting and debate on this important legislation. The National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill was introduced against the background of increased consumer awareness of the risks of disease and contamination and the need for high standards of production and processing throughout the food chain. It was also a direct response to the particular problems experienced in the beef sector following the BSE crisis, namely the need to reassure consumers that Irish beef is safe and wholesome to eat. This Bill fulfils a commitment in Partnership 2000 to develop a National Beef Assurance Scheme in consultation with interested parties.

This Bill, which will place the scheme on a statutory footing, is a landmark piece of legislation and will be the first of its kind to be introduced within the EU. The legislation will provide additional guarantees regarding the safety of Irish beef and cattle and it will be a very important tool in the marketing of our product both within the EU and in third countries. Furthermore, it clearly underlines Ireland's commitment to adopting a responsible attitude to food production and food safety.

The main elements of the scheme are the enhancement of the animal identification and tracing system and the development of common standards of production and processing. The traceability aspect of the scheme is already being implemented. A comprehensive framework is in place for the collection of data on animal movements through links established at marts, meat plants and export points and the use of a paper notification system at other locations. This information, together with other data already available relating to births, certain disease tests and other events in the animal's life, will provide a comprehensive life history of cattle from birth to slaughter. The emphasis will now be on fine-tuning this system and monitoring the comprehensiveness and reliability of the data being collected. As well as providing assurances regarding safety, it is intended in due course to expand the utilisation of this very valuable databank. Already the information is being used to assist in the establishment of entitlement for the slaughter premium and other applications will be possible in the future.

Following the enactment of the legislation, the procedures for the inspection and approval of the various participants will be drawn up. These procedures will be effected through negotiation and agreement with the social partners, which is the normal practice in such matters. It is not the intention to impose expensive and bureaucratic arrangements on participants and there will be ample opportunity over the coming months to arrive at sensible yet credible systems of inspection.

Many good points have been made by Members on both sides of the House in an exceptional debate of a high standard in terms of the Bill's importance. Senator Tom Hayes referred to a number of issues, to which I will return. Senators Rory Kiely, Kathleen O'Meara and Peter Callanan referred to an appeals procedure on a more regional basis. I accept there will be an appeals procedure put in place, to which a commitment has been given. It will be examined. I sympathise and regret that there is hardship in this area. I am aware of this, which many Members understand, and much has been said about that.

Senator Callanan mentioned electronic tagging. He is a very modern and mechanically minded Senator but we are a long way from that system yet. Certainly we could have it on the day of the test, which we will discuss.

Senator Coghlan spoke about the sale of meat from vans. Inspections are taking place which are the responsibility of the various local authorities and health boards under the Food Safety Authority. I would be appalled and shocked if anything irregular was happening because we are very conscious of food safety, whether imported or exported food. Senator Francis O'Brien made a very valuable contribution and Senator Connor made a point about importing beef which was more or less the same as Senator Coghlan's point.

Senator Michael Finneran referred to what happened in the other House and rightly so. Senator Pat Moylan and Senator John Cregan spoke about the cost and the delay. I gave a commitment in Dáil Éireann last night on the certificate and on the payment. I stand over what I said and I would not be a true politician if I did not. It was not my fault if it was not accepted by the Opposition.

Can the Minister explain where it is in the published legislation?

The Deputy's comments are true and accurate. I realise the importance of this and I am concerned about the farming community and the despondence in agriculture. Everything possible is being done.

Hear, hear.

There were many issues raised with Agenda 2000 but concerns are still there. My colleagues were favourable to the Opposition amendment and we support them on that – based on that I gave the commitment.

On a point of information, surely an important piece of legislation—

Accept what the Minister says with good grace.

The Minister should continue his reply. Senator Connor has made his contribution.


No interruptions, please. Order.

On inspections and costs, I was always in favour of the farm inspection taking place at the time of the animal health test to minimise any additional costs that might arise. For that reason I indicated yesterday evening that I was sympathetic to the amendment proposed by Deputy Connaughton. However, I also indicated that there should be a permanent agreement with the farmer and flexibility if possible as to whether he wants an inspection on the day of the test or a different day.

Very favourable.

The demand is very clearly for the inspection on the day of the testing, or the readings.

That is a good point.

Will the Minister implement it?

I am confident we can achieve this not by amendments to the Bill but by negotiation and agreement. It is not the intention of this Bill to impose bureaucratic and costly systems of inspection on farmers but I stand over what I said last night. It is the tough luck of the Opposition Members that they did not accept the amendment.

What about the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development—

Only participants meeting the required standards will be allowed to produce cattle and beef. The standards in question are already contained for the most part in existing legislation and the Bill will tighten up their enforcement for the benefit of both consumers and producers. Producers and processors who are complying with the law, and the vast majority are, have nothing to fear and everything to gain from the scheme. I refute strongly the recent articles in the press stating that this legislation will be used to pursue farmers for minor infringements of existing provisions such as the loss of ear-tags. The loss of ear-tags is not an offence under the Bill. The procedures for dealing with such matters are already contained in existing legislation and the Bill does not alter this position. The maximum penalties provided for under the Bill are intended for the very small percentage of persons who commit serious offences such as the alteration or falsification of animal identification and whose actions put the reputation of all Irish beef at risk. All Members will agree that such illegal activities need to be dealt with very firmly.

Much concern has been expressed regarding the position of food businesses under the Bill. The position is that these businesses are already comprehensively regulated under existing food hygiene legislation administered by the health boards which, like the Department, are agents of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. However, the Bill contains special provisions which are applicable to food businesses. These provisions will complement and extend the existing codes by regulating the source of supply of Irish product to such businesses. Thus the combination of the Bill and existing regulations will provide the necessary reassurances to consumers across the entire food chain. In addition, the new national scheme will provide the framework for butchers and exporters to promote Irish beef to best advantage.

I am conscious of the concerns raised by Members on imported beef. I do not believe that the National Beef Assurance Scheme Bill is the correct vehicle through which to address these concerns. However, I am prepared to give further thought to ways of improving transparency in relation to imported product.

The national beef assurance scheme is a very broadly based and comprehensive scheme. It is not the panacea for all the challenges facing the beef sector, many of which were highlighted during the debate on the Bill, including the production of better quality cattle and a graded price system. These challenges are being addressed under other initiatives and in other fora. The Bill addresses the very specific issue of ensuring that beef production is based on the highest standards of food safety and hygiene, a prerequisite for increasing the market share of Irish beef, including the successful penetration of valuable European markets. Together with other initiatives being adopted, the Bill will help to ensure that the sector can develop to its full potential. The ultimate success of the scheme will depend on the goodwill and co-operation of the various players in the sector and I call on all parties to ensure this co-operation will be forthcoming.

The early enactment of this Bill has been one of my particular goals. The Bill was first introduced in this House last July and I am pleased that the lengthy process of passing it into law is now nearing completion. I thank the Cathaoirleach and Members for their positive and constructive approach during these proceedings. The Bill has been enhanced and strengthened as a result of the amendments made in the course of the debate on the Bill. I thank my officials who have worked very hard on the production of this legislation. I also thank the staff in the parliamentary draftsman's office for their invaluable assistance and unfailing patience throughout this process. Again, I thank Members of both Houses for their contributions and I look forward to the early enactment of this historic legislation.

The Bill received its first reading in the Seanad and is now nearing completion. It will be a very valuable piece of legislation and I want to allay any fears Members may have that it will cause hardship for farmers. The Bill will assist farmers and result in the betterment of the Irish food industry which is of such value to our economy. The food industry is a major growth area and we must ensure we are up-front in terms of safety and hygiene. If we do not produce safe food, we will not find a market for our products.

On a point of information, will the Minister clarify—

The debate has concluded, the Minister has replied and I must now put the question.

Question put.

Callanan, Peter.Cassidy, Donie.Chambers, Frank.Cregan, JohnDardis, John.Farrell, Willie.Finneran, Michael.Fitzgerald, Liam.Fitzgerald, Tom.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gibbons, Jim.Glynn, Camillus.Keogh, Helen.

Kett, Tony.Kiely, Daniel.Kiely, Rory.Lanigan, Mick.Leonard, Ann.Mooney, Paschal.Moylan, Pat.O'Brien, Francis.O'Donovan, Denis.Ó Murchú, Labhrás.Quill, Máirín.Walsh, Jim.


Burke, Paddy.Caffrey, Ernie.Coghlan, Paul.Connor, John.Coogan, Fintan.Costello, Joe.Cregan, Denis (Dino).Doyle, Joe.Hayes, Tom.

Henry, Mary.Jackman, Mary.Manning, Maurice.Norris, David.O'Meara, Kathleen.O'Toole, Joe.Ridge, Thérèse.Ryan, Brendan.Taylor-Quinn, Madeleine.

Tellers: Tá, Senators T. Fitzgerald and Keogh; Níl, Senators Burke and Ridge.
Question declared carried.
Question, "That the Bill do now pass", put and agreed to.