Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Food Exports Promotion.


asked the Minister for Agriculture if in view of the ban on imports of contaminated foods from eastern Europe he will now escalate the promotion of Irish food products, generally accepted as being the purest food in the world, including meat and dairy products; and if he will make a statement on the matter.


asked the Minister for Agriculture the action he proposes to take to maximise the advantage of Ireland's status as a non-nuclear country, in the marketing of our produce abroad.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 92 together. State funds for the promotion of exports of agriculture and food products are provided through Córas Beostoic agus Feola in respect of the beef and sheep meat sectors and through Coras Tráchtála in respect of all other sectors. These supplement the funds for export promotion made available through levies on producers and from the resources of the various agricultural bodies and firms involved in the export of food.

As Deputies are aware, Ireland already has a good reputation as a producer of wholesome natural food in a relatively pollution-free environment and I have no doubt that the various promotion agencies, as well as, of course, individual firms will highlight the additional advantage of our status as a non-nuclear State.

Is the Minister satisfied with the present performance of the semi-State bodies promoting our beef and dairy products, which are Córas Beostoic agus Feola and Córas Tráchtála? Is he satisfied with their efforts within and outside the EC? One must take into consideration the present limitations put on farmers who are trying to gain a livelihood off their farms. The dairy business is limited and there is also the reduction in grain price in the coming year. I am not at all happy with the situation. Would the Minister give his views on this? He may say he has no control over the situation but he must have. A lack of interest is being shown by the two bodies I have mentioned. I especially would like the Minister's views on their lack of interest with regard to the latest World Food Fare in Barcelona, where 90 countries were represented and we had to display our meat on British stands due to the lack of effort on the part of those bodies. Could the Minister state why those bodies were not out there promoting Irish products? There is also the danger to intervention at the fall of the year.

The Minister should confine himself to the subject matter of the question.

One could say that one is never satisfied. If one is satisfied, there would be complacency. We cannot afford to be complacent. With regard to Coras Tráchtála, they provide assistance to industry generally including sectors of the food industry not already catered for by bodies such as CBF, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and Bord Bainne. By and large, they are doing a good job as are CBF. CBF are promotional rather than marketing. The marketing of meat and meat products is carried out by private enterprise. I have to say they are doing a good job.

Bord Bainne are not a State company. They are the major marketing body involved in the export of dairy products. Recently, they established a market development fund to be financed by a levy on producers. Some of this fund will be used to promote exports of dairy products. Incidentally, for the information of the House there are no specific plans to cash in on our distance from the site of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl or the fact that we are a non-nuclear State. It can be assumed that various promotional bodies involved in the export of food will try to exploit these facts in addition to our existing reputation as a producer of natural food.

Will there be an additional campaign by those bodies in the weeks ahead to exploit the situation we are in with our quality foods rather than the average promotion? Surely, we should try to exploit the markets?

I am sure that will be the case. As a matter of fact, we have a lot of processed food in cold storage. I was informed this morning that there were unexpected inquiries from overseas sources for this food. Another point for the Deputy's information: we used our arguments about our distance from Chernobyl to help to prevail upon the Saudi Arabian authorities not to ban imports from our country following the nuclear disaster.

Does the Minister of State agree with me that in the wake of the scare after the Chernobyl disaster vegetable producers, particularly tomato growers, suffered disproportionately and also I might add as a result of the statement issued by the Nuclear Energy Board which was short in specifics and long in generalities?

I am not going to allow a discussion on nuclear energy.

Is the time appropriate for the Minister to make a statement to allay the fears of consumers in view of the damage done to the sale of home products?

I can state here an now in the House, quite categorically, that all Irish produce whether vegetables or hothouse material is quite safe.

Does the Minister of State not agree that the time has come to have a complete review of our selling abroad in view of the discussions we had yesterday regarding pigmeat? Now that we are open to imports we find that, not alone will we be restricted on the home market, but we are practically closed out of export markets by our uncompetitiveness in production? We will have to do a better job at selling abroad.

I agree. As a country so dependent on exports, of course, we need to be more vigorous. At the same time, we should not down grade ourselves too much. After all, our exports at present are coming up in the region of £2 billion. That is not a bad performance.

I am calling on Deputy Noonan and then Deputy O'Keeffe before moving on to the next question. I have not been unreasonable.

(Limerick West): Has the Minister of State in mind making any changes in the present method of promoting sales of Irish food products on the export market and would he not consider at this stage taking responsibility for the promotion of Irish food exports into his own hands or into the hands of his Department? Would the Minister of State at least take on a co-ordinating role in this most important business?

I try to get involved as far as possible not only with the export of food but with supplying the home market scene. I would not be in favour of a section of the Department taking over the entire scene. As a matter of fact, I am inclined to think in terms of the entrepreneurial approach of various people who seem to be doing extraordinarily well in certain sectors.

(Limerick West): Is it not rather fragmented at present? What we want is co-ordination.

The bodies are doing a good job in certain products.

Does the Minister of State not agree that the reason CTT and CBF were not properly represented at the Barcelona Food Fair in Spain, which is one of the new entrants to the EC and which must be a market which will be available to us, was a lack of finance from his Department? Would the Minister not agree that it was an appalling situation for them to have to put their products on view on a British stand?

The CTT decision was their own. I am not aware that it was a matter of a shortage of funds.

(Limerick West): It was a shortage of funds.