Thank you, Sir, for giving me the opportunity to raise this important matter and I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House to respond to the matter. The livestock industry is extremely important to the economy. There will be enormous opportunities for job creation if the correct environment is provided by the Government and the European Community. There is a great deal of anxiety among the workers in the meat factories and there are two such factories in Cavan-Monaghan, the constituency I represent, Meadow Meats in Clones and Liffey Meats. They believe that exporters of live cattle have an advantage because of the export refunds payable on exports to third countries. Some may argue that there is a difference of between £30 and £100 for cattle exported live and those exported in processed form. I realise the importance of the live export trade to underpin the price of cattle and provide competition which results in reasonable prices being paid. However, there is a danger when too great an advantage is given to the dead meat trade or the live export trade that farmers — and the nation as a whole — will suffer in the longer term. We have had bitter experience of this in the past when we had very few live exports.
There is an additional problem that some farmers are afraid to finish top quality cattle for the dead meat trade because of the weight limit on intervention stock. The present intervention limit of 380 kilos will be lowered to 360 kilos from 1 January 1994 and further reduced to 340 kilos on 1 July 1994 and at that stage 60 per cent of our cattle numbers would be ineligible for intervention. This means that many of our cattle, most of which have great potential, are being exported live solely because of the failure of the Minister to have this regulation changed. The worry among farmers is acute as farmers obviously have to think ahead. They realise that without the live trade, the Iranian and other dead meat contracts, the safety net now available is extremely weak. I would urge the Minister to have the export refunds increased for the dead meat trade to bring them into line with the live export trade so that both sectors can compete on an even playing field.
Some farmers are so worried about grading standards that they are inclined to be drawn towards the live trade where they will know exactly what they will get, rather than to the factories. The Minister should make sure that there are opportunities for those who want to work in the industry. With so many people unemployed we need to keep as many people as possible at home. I would rather see people being kept here and cattle being slaughtered and processed here than cattle being exported live, provided a reasonable price is paid to the farmers.