Beef Industry: Statements.

I am pleased to open the debate on the current problems in the beef industry because it gives me an opportunity to inform the House about developments in the beef sector since 20 March when the current BSE scare commenced arising from statements in the House of Commons on that date. I hope this debate will clearly demonstrate that the Government has taken decisive and clear-cut actions during that period at national and European level to compensate producers for income losses, to address the fall in cattle prices and to deal with the question of the substantial fall in beef consumption. The resolution of the BSE crisis is at the top of my agenda and that of my colleagues in Europe. Special emergency meetings of the Council of Ministers and the Standing Veterinary Committee have taken place and the reverberations of this crisis have been felt across the world.

Clearly and, perhaps, inevitably third countries responded to the House of Commons announcement by imposing a ban on all beef from Europe while others, intending to impose a ban on beef from the UK, failed initially to distinguish between Ireland and the UK and imposed a ban on Irish beef as well. The announcement also had a dramatic effect on consumption of beef in Europe. In member states beef consumption fell by between 20 per cent and 50 per cent. The difficult situation for Irish exporters was exacerbated by the development of strongly chauvinistic attitudes to beef in many continental member states with various types of labelling systems being introduced in many member states to identify home produced beef from imported product. This development resulted in a natural desire by consumers in these exceptional circumstances for guarantees as to the origin of beef and, in particular, assurances that it did not originate in the UK, as well as natural concern to protect the national beef market in a difficult situation. The overall effect of these developments was to heavily hit beef imports into Europe among member states.

On the position of BSE in Ireland, to date there has been a total of 127 confirmed cases, the first case was reported in 1989. Based on an annual statistic of between 14 and 20 animals out of a population of seven million animals, we have an annual incidence of 0.0002 per cent. Twelve of those 127 animals were imported. Investigations into many of these cases show that the animals consumed imported feed or that they were old animals. All cases have occurred in animals over four years and there has not been any case of a steer animal with BSE in Ireland.

I am satisfied that the control measures now in place in Ireland for BSE are second to none and provide consumers and our overseas customers with all possible guarantees as to the safety of Irish beef. The disease is notifiable in Ireland and a widespread campaign has been undertaken to ensure that veterinary surgeons are aware of the symptoms of the disease. Of particular significance is our surveillance system, which includes ante-mortem and post-mortem examinations in factories and on farms whereby all animals are thoroughly examined prior to slaughter. Furthermore, when a case of BSE is confirmed, the entire herd from which the inffected animal originated is depopulated at full market value and the carcases rendered into meat and bone meal so that there is no possibility that the human or animal food chain can be affected. The carcase of the infected animal is also destroyed. Tracing is also carried out of the progeny of the infected animal and these are also slaughtered.

I am confident that these comprehensive measures now in place can enable consumers, at home and abroad, to have full confidence in the quality of Irish beef. These controls go way beyond what is recommended by the EU, international and other scientific organisations.

I was glad to note that the expert advisory group established by the Government following the rise in consumer concern due to the announcement of the British Health Secretary in the House of Commons last March came to the same conclusion. The group, chaired by the Director of Consumer Affairs, was composed of experts from the medical and veterinary professions as well as representatives from various Government Departments, the grocery trade and consumer interests. The guidelines for consumers adopted by the group left no one in doubt as to the safety of Irish beef and beef products. The OAE guidelines for BSE have been amended within the past week and our control system more than complies with these guidelines.

The reaction at EU level to the developments in the UK was the adoption of a Commission decision on 27 March 1996 which prohibited the export of all live bovine animals, semen, embryos and products containing bovine material from the UK to any other destination, with the exception of those containing bovine material which originated from animals slaughtered outside the UK. Since the adoption of that decision, the House will be aware that a large-scale operation has been in place along the Border with the co-operation of the Garda and Customs to ensure that the UK export prohibition is effective.

I pay tribute to the Garda Síochána and Customs authorities for the effective way in which they have carried out their additional duties. The operation is implemented primarily by the Garda Síochána, backed up by the Customs Service and the Department. It consists of a continuous 24-hour police presence at each Border crossing, supported by mobile patrols, land and foot patrols and helicopter patrols of all Border areas. The BSE operation is effective and it has been reviewed at first hand by the veterinary inspectorates of a number of countries which import Irish beef. The current weekly cost is approximately £350,000, and it is a measure of the continuing commitment of the Government to safeguarding the Irish beef industry. The operation is backed up by controls on meat plants which permit only the slaughter of animals with authentic identification and ear tag numbers. I have no doubt that, if these control measures were not in place, serious questions would exist as to the continued access for Irish beef to many of our export markets. In this context, I hope shortly to announce further controls in relation to the origin of cattle being presented at factories.

Deputies will also be aware that the authorities in the United Kingdom have been pressing strongly for a relaxation of the EU export ban which was introduced on 27 March. The case has been made, in particular, for a relaxation of the ban in the case of gelatine, tallow, semen and other beef derivatives which have undergone certain manufacturing processes. Various EU scientific committees have supported the relaxation of the ban. Ireland has supported the Commission proposal to relax the ban as far as these products are concerned during the discussions at the Standing Veterinary Committee in Brussels. I will also do so next week at the Council meeting in Luxembourg. However, there was a blocking minority at the Standing Veterinary Committee and the matter has now been referred to the Council for decision.

The question of the ban on cattle and beef from the United Kingdom is much more difficult. It is clear that many member states would have fundamental objections to the early lifting of the ban. I hope that during the Irish Presidency we can set out a framework for a progressive and incremental rolling back of the ban. However, nobody should be under any illusion about the lengthy timeframe that will be required for a complete lifting of the ban.

My objectives throughout this crisis have been to ensure that all markets remained open to Irish beef, that consumers in Ireland and in our main markets were reassured about the quality and safety of Irish beef, that adequate support measures were introduced to remove the beef surplus from the market and, finally, to secure compensation from the European Union for income losses incurred by producers arising from the BSE crisis.

The full services of my Department, the diplomatic service and An Bord Bia have been mobilised to reassure the authorities in our export markets of the safety and quality of Irish beef and beef products. High level delegations have visited Egypt and Iran and a senior veterinary official visited a number of Gulf states to discuss at first-hand the specific issues raised by these countries. The approach adopted was to underline the differences between the incidence of BSE in Ireland and the United Kingdom and to highlight the comprehensive controls which have been put in place here. Strong emphasis was also placed on the image of Ireland as a source of clean, green superior quality food based on our extensive grassland production of meat. This concerted approach served to underline Ireland's high standards of public and animal health and to provide the maximum possible guarantees to customers.

While the issues arising from the recent BSE developments are mainly technical, political interventions have also been made where necessary. The personal intervention of the Taoiseach was critical to reopening the Lebanese market.

I have just returned from an extremely successful visit to Russia where I have been promoting the quality and safety of Irish beef and beef products. It has been my strategy over recent weeks to identify the Russian market as by far the most important in two respects. There is potential over the next 12 months to sell 110,000 tonnes of beef — three times the next nearest market which would probably be the UK, followed by other markets such as Egypt, Italy, other European countries and Saudi Arabia. Russia could take a quarter of Irish beef produced over the next 12 months, and that would be pivotal to providing a floor price for beef. Most important, they are taking the cheaper forequarter flank cuts for which there is not a ready market other than intervention. That very much complements what is happening on other third country markets. Particularly for the period September to April next, I will look to the Russian market as the key pivotal market.

I propose to visit Libya as soon as arrangements have been put in place, if the arrangements with the Gadaffi administration were suitable, I would leave this evening for Tripoli. There has been some ill-informed comment about the Libyan situation. It was the Libyan authorities who, two days beforehand, decided to cancel the invitation to me to meet two Ministers on 15 May and for which I had been making arrangements since the week before Easter. It is clear they have not been in a position to lift the ban. The tender for live animals that was anticipated to be for 150,000 animals was reduced to 60,000 animals, and in the past few days this has been cancelled. There has been a level of dissatisfaction with the Australians filling this. I am monitoring it very carefully because I see a window of opportunity. I am redoubling my efforts to get to Libya to try to ensure that the governmental concerns, which are entirely about the safety of beef, can be assuaged notwithstanding the drop in consumption, and there is a greater likelihood of progress.

Iran is the only other market in which there is a major blockage and I have been in continuous contact with the Iranian authorities. They are fully aware of my willingness to travel to Tehran for direct discussions on any suitable occasion. After my recent discussions with Minister Foorozesh, the Minister for the Construction Crusade, I was advised that an exchange of letters answering questions would resolve the issue. That has not proved possible. There was dialogue between our respective veterinary authorities in Paris at the OAE meeting last week and a veterinary delegation is to visit Ireland. If I go to Tehran now I will be told to await the outcome of the technical visit. It is appropriate, therefore, to time that visit sensibly.

Problems are at their most difficult within Europe in terms of the very sharp cutting back on beef consumption. While there was an acute drop in consumption initially, and then some recovery, this has plateaued at an unacceptably low level. My Department, An Bord Bia and I continue to work assiduously to restore consumer confidence in Irish beef. Briefing documents outlining Irish beef and animal health controls and consumer information leaflets have been distributed widely. In addition, consumer advertising and promotion campaigns have taken place in targeted countries. The Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, and I campaigned in Sweden, Italy, Spain and the UK. The timing of such campaigns is crucial and further campaigns will be undertaken when market circumstances are favourable.

A budget is being prepared in the context of Europe and nationally. It is clear, however, that in spite of these efforts the scale of the decline in consumption, combined with the measures taken by several third countries in banning or cutting down on imports of beef from the European Union, has created major problems for beef producers. I recognised at an early stage that this crisis was likely to have long-term major ramifications for the beef sector and, with my ministerial colleagues in other member states. I persuaded the Commission to introduce emergency intervention measures early in April to cope with the crisis.

The initial emergency arrangements providing for the weight limit on carcases which may be sold into intervention to be increased to 50,000 tonnes were unable to cope with the scale of the problems on the market. When this became evident I, with my German and French colleagues, impressed on Commissioner Fischler the need to extend the scope of these arrangements. The Commission responded to my request by waiving the carcase weight limit and relaxing the grading limits. A court case governs the issue of carcase weight limits — a case we lost in the European Court. Selection will take place tomorrow on the 25,000 tonne tender by the Beef Management Committee. At tomorrow's meeting and next week I will be pressing for a further intervention intake for the month of June of 60,000 tonnes. I will be seeking adequate flexibility in relation to forequarter beef and the carcase weight limits. I understand the Commission will again propose a further reduction in the carcase weight limits. This will be wholly unacceptable to Ireland. This is short-sighted of the Commission because it will mean intervention will not be successful as a way of dealing with the short-term market crisis. However, the increase in refunds of 12 per cent has proved beneficial to Ireland. Not only have we had the tender in May of 50,000 tonnes increasing to a ceiling of 65,000 tonnes, we have had a level of prefixations which shows there is a level of confidence among the exporters of Irish beef that they can find some markets.

Steer slaughterings during the past four weeks have been significantly higher than in the corresponding four week period in 1995 and steer slaughterings this year have now exceeded 1995 levels. I acknowledge that live exports are lower this year than in 1995 and this has to be included in any assessment of the extent of the backlog which still remains on our farms. Slaughterings of cows and heifers have been considerably lower this year and this also has to be included in the equation. I am satisfied, however, that the emergency measures have worked reasonably well and prevented a complete collapse in the market not only in Ireland but across Europe.

Intervention cannot provide a complete solution to the market problems arising from the BSE crisis. There is a GATT ceiling on beef exports outside the Union which is reducing by 60,000 tonnes per annum, and clearly huge volumes of intervention beef overhang the market and will probably have to be included in the quota to be sold outside the Union. Intervention must be seen as nothing other than a short-term stop gap measure. This is well recognised by all interests in the industry. Clearly, it is essential that beef is sold on whatever commercial markets are available. The Irish beef industry has responded extremely positively to the increase in export refunds by taking out licences for some 26,000 tonnes of beef and 5,000 head of live cattle in the days immediately following the increase in refunds. I am paying close attention to the question of the appropriate level of refunds and will monitor it to see if a further increase is necessary.

I have always been conscious given the nature and extent of the crisis that intervention or exports to third countries would be insufficient to support cattle prices at reasonable levels. Since the beginning of this crisis, cattle prices have fallen by approximately 7 per cent on top of a 7 per cent fall earlier in the year because of the cuts in export refunds last autumn. I fully acknowledge that this has created considerable financial difficulties for many producers, especially those who had bought store cattle at relatively high prices in the autumn of 1995. For this reason, I insisted both at the emergency BSE Council during the first week of April and again at the usual meeting of the Agriculture Council at the end of April that provision should be made for compensation to be paid to producers who suffered income losses because of the crisis.

Commissioner Fischler presented his suggestions for compensation in May, suggesting the compensation package should be 650 million ECUs or £540 million. I understand the Commission endorsed specific proposals yesterday which take account of the representations I made not to have a national envelope but to allow each national Government flexibility to target aid to where it is appropriate. Farm organisations and others have clearly identified the winter finishers as a key sector. In the context of the DSP, I will seek to apply of the order of £8 million to winter finishers because those who would have slaughtered at the higher rate of DSP have been worst affected by the 7 per cent drop in prices.

I have to have regard to the technical assessment of those worst affected and it is my intention to avail of the opportunity to administer targeted aid to winter finishers. That is not to say I regard the package of £540 million as acceptable. I will signal at the meetings next Monday and Tuesday that the compensation package is inadequate. While I acknowledge it is a significant starting point payable immediately based on 1995 premium applications and that the broad thrust of the package is correct, I will have to state categorically that my initial reaction, pending full details of what was actually agreed last night, is that the compensation package is not adequate and needs to be increased. I will not only put forward this view to the Commission and the Council but I will have bilateral meetings with my French and German colleagues on Monday morning to ensure that the overall package is adequate and the support is directed towards those who have suffered most. The combination of flexibility and additional resources will be the key points of my response.

The compensation package is designed to compensate for losses suffered by producers to date and for the losses which producers are likely to suffer for the remainder of the year and it has to be balanced between these two categories. What is important is that each category of producer receives an equitable share of the compensation provided from Europe. That the compensation package is designed to cover future losses, as well as those already incurred, reflects the Commission's view that the effects of this crisis will remain with us for some foreseeable time and certainly into next year. Unfortunately, I share that view.

All the indications are that it will take a long time for the beef market to recover from the crisis. Consumer confidence in beef has taken such a battering that it will take some considerable time for confidence to be restored, if it is possible to restore it to the levels prior to 20 March 1996. In view of this, I have called on the Commission to implement a fully funded EU beef promotion campaign and to introduce national flexibilities and de-restrictions of some of the rules governing EU spend on national promotional campaigns. In spite of our best efforts and those of member states, beef consumption in Europe is unlikely to return to previous levels. The real question is to what extent beef consumption will recover, and if it will recover sufficiently to restore the beef market to balance, taking account of the effect of measures adopted by the UK.

The UK decision to destroy meat from all cattle over 30 months and to remove a further 80,000 cattle from the food chain will reduce beef production in the United Kingdom by up to 300,000 tonnes per annum. In addition, the United Kingdom has decided to implement the calf slaughtering premium in order to dispose of 450,000 calves which would have been exported from the United Kingdom to continental Europe were it not for the introduction of the ban. The reduction in UK output will only accommodate a 4 per cent drop in beef consumption across the European Union. If we work on the statistic that beef consumption in Europe was 7.5 million tonnes annually before the BSE crisis and 1 per cent represents 75,000 tonnes it is clear that a drop of the order of 15 per cent plus in consumption would result in significant overproduction. Prior to this, Europe was 104 per cent self-sufficient in beef and that combined with the GATT limitations that we cannot export beef with extensive subsidies into Third World countries shows that more radical reform of the EU beef regime will be necessary.

I will give very serious consideration to the demand for reform by member states during the Irish Presidency. We will consider giving priority to extensive grass based systems of production and cutting other more intensive forms of production might be worthy of aid. This seems to be the clear way forward. On consumption, it is quite clear that price will be a pivotal factor and we must make it more competitive having regard to the price of white meat.

Deputies will recall that on 2 May I sought Dáil approval for a new service to provide emergency temporary financial assistance directly to the Irish rendering industry to prevent a shut down at that time. I stressed at all stages the temporary nature of the assistance. A breathing space was given to the various interests involved to enable them to get together to discuss and agree commercial arrangements. Three meetings took place and by the third meeting it struck me that my role was seen as undermining my position on subsidies with everyone agreeing on one thing, the taxpayer would be wheeled out to pay for another subsidy.

I am pleased that the scheme has worked well. Claims have been made and payments are being issued. I am pleased that the interests involved have now seen sense and that agreement has been reached between slaughterers and renderers. Clearly, failure to reach agreement would have created major problems for producers who, I believe, would not have easily forgiven the renderers for their refusal to negotiate sensibly on this issue. The matter has now been satisfactorily dealt with in a commercial fashion in terms of the disposal of offal. If export contracts pick up, as I think they will, financial terms will be alleviated.

There is a facile view that if the Government showed greater urgency everything would be all right. This is not the view in any other EU member state or in any of the countries outside the Union which I visited. This is a worldwide watershed in the beef market. There is no escaping the fact that beef has been a devalued product since 20 March. Nothing I can say or do can gainsay that. This is a situation from which we must extract the maximum possible. The measures we have put forward have dealt, first, with the short-term fact that in the spring there were 200,000 animals stuck in sheds and no market to which they could go. We have moved on extensively from that situation. We are intensifying our efforts to promote consumption and the reopening of markets. We have made good progress in that there are only two markets which remain unopened — Iran and Libya. We have started down the road to compensation. I acknowledge that what has been provided to date is unsatisfactory. It must be remembered that we are asking Brussels to fund the entirety of this compensation. We are significant net recipients and not contributors to EU funds.

I welcome this debate as an opportunity to discuss constructive proposals. My Department and I do not have a monopoly of wisdom on this issue. I will meet all the farm organisations on Friday to hear their views as to the approaches which would be appropriate in the next series of meetings. I hope, pending a BSE price compensation package being agreed, that during the Irish Presidency we will broker a solution which will alleviate the British problem, reorganise the EU beef regime and provide a sustained focus by the entirety of European governments from prime minister level to the General Affairs Committee. Such a focus is perhaps only possible under our Presidency.

Horizons is taking on a new marketing significance. This will involve the largest ever promotion of Irish food and will take place from 11-13 June. Some 10,000 trade people will come here, including the top 350 worldwide buyers. Representatives of the Mayor of Moscow's office and all the other key people will be here. This event has taken 14 months to plan and it could not be more timely.

The House will focus on what I and the Government can do. There is also an obligation on producers and processors to look at quality assurance programmes and identifying and labelling segments and niches of Irish beef in order to give guarantees about welfare, residue and food safety. This must be all encompassing. The problem simply cannot just be left on my desk. This crisis is facing the entire industry, including producers and processors, the whole economy and the Government. I believe that through a true spirit of partnership and teamwork we will minimise the difficulties.

May I share my time with Deputy Nolan, who is our party spokesperson on food?

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Fianna Fáil insisted on this debate for a number of reasons, some of which the Minister outlined. The interest of Members in the debate is unprecedented, certainly on this side of the House. It allows Members to consider where we are with regard to agriculture and food, which is the most important industry in this country and on which many thousands of livelihoods depend.

The BSE crisis has shown once and for all that we cannot gamble with this industry any longer. The customer is king and everything we do must reinforce and re-establish the confidence of the consumer that Irish food is of quality and nutritional value and produced to the highest environmental standards consistent with the practices one would expect in a modern and sophisticated industry.

The response thus far by the Government to this crisis has been appalling and depressing. Can anybody on the Government side say with any conviction that the Government has mobilised all the resources at its disposal, in the industry itself and in the State support services, to meet the daunting and undoubtedly difficult challenges being posed to the future of our food industry generally and our beef industry in particular as a result of the announcement in the House of Commons on 20 March? It has been puzzling and difficult to comprehend how a Government, even one of this political composition, can display such an ignorance of the critical issues facing the economy as a result of what has happened over the past few months.

There are many now in Government who used and abused the beef industry to enhance their own short-term political careers by making ruthless and politically motivated attacks on the industry which were comprehensively dealt with in the beef tribunal report. It still beggars belief that the prejudice and venom displayed then continues to dominate the considerations of the Government in dealing with the agriculture industry. Even the Minister himself succumbed to the temptation in the Dáil on 29 February when he spoke about shedding no tears if prominent individuals were forced out of the industry. Having watched and observed the incompetance and strange disinterest of many members of the Government to the crisis enveloping the industry, it would appear from the perspective of thousands of cattle farmers that refusal to shed tears extends at this stage to the whole agricultural community.

My only other reference to that deeply damaging episode, which was carefully and politically orchestrated and manipulated by prominent members of the Government, is to quote the beef tribunal report on the critical value of this industry and those who contributed to it to the well-being of the economy. The report stated that: "The importance of this industry in the economic life of this State cannot be overstated and the role of Laurence Goodman and the companies controlled by him in its development has been considerable".

In the debate in this House after the House of Commons announcement, I spoke of the amazement on this side at the failure of the Government immediately to take political decisions to put in place a co-ordinated political initiative involving producers, processors, State services and Ministers who would visit crucial markets on which our exports depend to assuage the fears of consumers about the quality of Irish beef and to aggressively promote and tell the good story which can be told about the purity and quality of our beef products.

The decision was not taken and nothing has been done since, apart from visits by the Minister to Italy and Spain. Yesterday, two months after the crisis re-emerged, the Minister finally had the time or the inclination to visit Russia, which was our most important export market for processed beef in 1995. The Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, visited Sweeden, which is a friendly country but, unfortunately, is not known for its bulk purchasing of Irish beef products.

In the Seanad yesterday the Minister of State made an extraordinary statement about future ministerial visits. He stated, "The timing of such campaigns is crucial and further campaigns will be undertaken when market circumstances are favourable". The simple point I have been making all along is that it is precisely because market circumstances are unfavourable that a co-ordinated political initiative is necessary. The proof that my position is correct is that markets outside the EU, which are in some cases technically open for business, are doing no business. Those countries have not been told by trade delegations from this country how significant, important and valued their custom is to us. It is because they do not have full confidence in the quality of our product that this has not been communicated to them in a face to face manner.

The negligence, neglect, complacency and perplexing apathy of the Government is unprecedented in the face of the scale and magnitude of the problem which confronts the Government, as outlined by the Minister. It has been paralysed by inaction and ineffectiveness at both domestic and European levels. Two and a half months after the crisis began, we still do not have agreement at European level on how to solve the British problem, let alone to move on to the discussion and agenda of the immediate problems of BSE free herds in Ireland and other EU countries. The impact of BSE on future consumer trends is such that the Irish agriculture and food industry is now entering a new era. Production and processing must be driven by the demands of the marketplace. As we are aware, there is a move towards lower market prices. As the biggest exporter of beef in the northern hemisphere, there is a need to find markets for our beef. This is of critical importance to the future well-being of the economy.

Fianna Fáil believes that agricultural policy must become radical and confront the new reality. The industry is crying out for leadership and direction to give it an opportunity to prosper in the new era. Do we have the structures necessary to generate success in a market dominated era? Given that market share is vital, particularly in the red meat market which is dwindling, successful marketing depends on the customer having total confidence in the quality and purity of food products. Do we have the structures and marketing strategies necessary to confront this issue?

On competitiveness in production and processing, does the industry have the technology and scale to allow it to compete with the best in Europe? As we are aware, it is primarily concerned with the production of animal products: milk, beef, lamb, pig and poultry meat. Consumer confidence in the quality of animal produce and, in many cases, the methods of production is at an all-time low. Fianna Fáil calls for quality assurance systems to be put in place at enterprise and meat processing level which are independently verifiable. It is only in this way that our meat and dairy products will gain a pre-eminent position in the marketplace and, ultimately, guarantee the continued success of the industry.

A continuous analysis of the impact of policies on the various categories of farmers and sectors of the industry is vital but it is not happening. Based on this analysis, policies must be regularly updated and resources targeted. An example of the poor targeting of support policies is that while £390 million was paid out in income supports in the cattle sector last year, the money is not getting to the many farmers heavily dependent on cattle farming for a living. Their income continues to decline.

Average cattle farm income, bedevilled by low output, is just £4,000 per year. Based on the replies I received to parliamentary questions recently, over 75,000 farmers receive less than £3,000 per year in direct payments; 37,000 receive less than £1,000 per year or £20 per week and a further 28,000 receive between £1,000 and £2,000 per year. How must does it cost to administer the payment of such paltry sums to farmers? There must be a cheaper and better way of targeting resources to those most in need.

On indirect income support necessary to sustain rural communities, what proposals does the Minister have to ensure, in keeping with the spirit of the MacSharry proposals, that we continue to move from a position where 80 per cent of the funds available in income supports was paid to 20 per cent of farmers under the CAP?

Will attacks continue to be made in this House by Democratic Left speakers who seem to think that farmers are on a gravy train as far as direct income payments are concerned? Displays of ignorance of that magnitude are best dispensed with in this debate if we are to find solutions to the crisis facing beef farmers.

The compensation scheme at EU level has failed abysmally to address the unprecedented losses suffered by cattle farmers. The way our case is being put is nothing short of a disgrace. It has not been listened to. The confidence of the agricultural community is draining fast, not alone in the industry, but also in the Minister. He continues to use the "I am all alone" excuse in regard to the lack of support among his colleagues, let alone the governments of other member states. How can he be expected to restore confidence in the industry when it displays so little confidence in him? Last week his naming in public of certain co-operatives under investigation created instability in the stock market. He soon went back to the bunker on that issue.

In an extraordinary speech in the Seanad last night — I ask Fine Gael Deputies to read it — the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, said: "I would like to stress that the issues raised by the recent BSE developments are mainly technical which are not amenable to instant political solutions." This must be the greatest political cop-out by a Minister of State in the face of a crisis of such magnitude in the history of the State. The idea has been put forward that political decisions cannot be taken to deal with it. This shows that the Minister and the Government are, simply, running scared.

Consideration must be given immediately to setting up a food quality authority to ensure that consumer concerns on quality assurance issues are met. Responsibility for food quality must be given to a single agency with significant representation from consumer interests and independent scientific back-up so that the consumer at home and abroad can be informed of the purity and quality of our food.

This agency should assume responsibility for the approval and control of all drugs and chemicals used in the production of animals and crops and products used in the food processing industry as well as for standards, codes of practice and inspection approval systems for all areas of food production and processing. Emphasis must be placed on quality assurance to ensure the traceability of products and enforcement of quality standards in production with strict enforcement of all regulations in relation to the drugs and chemicals used in food production and processing.

The agency should seek to implement the animal health, disease eradication, quarantine, import and export control functions exercised by the Department. It should have a controlling authority with representation from consumer interests, health professionals, producers and processors and scientific back-up. It should have adequate funding arrangements consisting of EU funds and levies, if necessary, to ensure it carries out its functions in an effective manner. It should take control of the staff and other resources devoted to this work in the Departments of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and Health and the local authorities.

On traceability, there is a need for a comprehensive animal identification system. This must be done now. There is a need also for a national database for cattle similar to that launched in Northern Ireland in 1987. This would enable the authorities to trace animals easily and should be complemented by a computerised movement permit system compatible with the system in Northern Ireland. This would allow us to give a guarantee that no cattle from across the Border enter the food chain and, in turn, to redeploy the gardaí assigned to Border duty who should be policing our streets instead of monitoring the movement of cattle lorries at a cost of millions of pounds.

These decisions could be taken by the Government this evening, tomorrow morning or next week or whenever it next meets. For the Minister to suggest that the problems in the beef industry derive from the announcement in the House of Commons on 20 March is to seek to escape his responsibilities and the complacency displayed by the Department and the Government since the export refund system was dismantled, with his assistance, last November. This was the one country which needed that system because cattle prices in non-EU markets are dictated by third country prices and export refunds. It provided farmers with a guarantee on price. The Minister's inability to address the issue highlights the real problem, the Government's lack of interest in the industry.

The idea promulgated that the Government is powerless in the face of the BSE crisis is crass nonsense. There has been talk of a compensation scheme under which top-up payments of £17 and £20 will be made, but the extra £8 million available will not compensate beef fatteners for the unprecedented losses suffered in the early spring. The announcement on 20 March only exacerbated the problem. The one factor to which we can point consistently is the inability of the Government before and after that date to make decisions to the benefit of the industry. I have outlined the areas where decisions can be taken and resources should be provided.

Has the Deputy ever heard of GATT?

As regards GATT, has any representation been made by the Minister to the Commission, which has competence to reopen those areas of GATT which are now irrelevant given the unforeseen consequences of BSE? Has someone told the Minister, according to the textbook, not to bother raising the matter because there is no point in doing so?

The Minister is in office to defend farmers' interests at the European Commission, the Council of Ministers, GATT, the World Trade Organisation and, most importantly, at Government level. I feel sorry for the Minister because he is in a Government that displays such a lack of interest in the fundamental issues affecting this industry. It is not the Minister's fault.

Who signed the GATT deal?

I want to know if the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, the Minister for Social Welfare, Deputy De Rossa, and Deputy Spring, who has done nothing as Minister for Foreign Affairs since this crisis began, will come into the House to confirm that they will provide extra resources for the State support services. Will the Tánaiste provide extra resources to ensure that the beef industry remains competitive?

In every debate we have had on agriculture since the Minister's administration came into office, Members have spoken out of the sides of their mouths, undermining the CAP and the national interest. For a change, Members on the Government benches should support measures to ensure that farmers will not be taken off the land in their thousands and deprived of their livelihoods. That is what is expected of Government backbenchers in this debate. I will sit here throughout the debate to see if those backbenchers support the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Even if I criticise the Minister about the level of progress he is making, Government Deputies should support what the Government is doing, though we feel it could do far more.

We need to review State support services to agriculture. Teagasc, which was established in 1988, has responsibility for national agricultural training, advisory and research services. It is the major reservoir of science and technology essential for the development of a competitive agricultural and food sector.

We call for a re-examination of the Teagasc mandate. We look to improve the links between the research services in Teagasc and the universities, to establish priorities for the advisory and training services in the light of evolving agricultural policies and to improve significantly its working relationship with its parent Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. We call for an improvement of management structures in Teagasc with a significant increase in delegated responsibility in relation to how it runs its business while at the same time ensuring that it is more accountable for its output and the use of resources.

The use of Structural Funds to renew Teagasc's scientific capacity has been botched by this administration. It is unbelievable that £1 million of research money from the operational programme was sent back by Teagasc to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry because the Department could not ensure that personnel were appointed to that body so that research could be carried out, even though those salaries would have been paid for from the £1 million that was sent back.

What a circular, paper pushing, biro twirling Government we have. The Government cannot even ensure that the money it allocates itself can be spent properly by the support services to which it is delegated. If we have that much incompetence in that area, what level of incompetence do we have in relation to the major issues adverted to by the Minister?

It is incomprehensible that since 20 March we have not had a Government statement recognising the potential consequences of this crisis, or that it is undertaking a root and branch review of all policies on support services, marketing strategies, the beef processing industry, animal identification systems, the need for electronic tagging, the need for a computerised movement permit system, the need for a farm food safety scheme at enterprise and factory level, the need to draw up Protocols and an independent verifiable assessment unit to ensure it happens, and the need to provide spot checks by Department officials to ensure those issues are being dealt with.

Those are medium to long-term issues, but they involve decisions that could have been taken by the Government since 20 January. The Minister could provide resources for Teagasc as well as enforcing and implementing decisions to guarantee traceability. The Minister could also sanction more personnel for the support services to provide better grassland management for cattle farmers.

With world prices coming down in the long-term, it is clear that if the competitiveness issue is to be dealt with we need a hands on approach from people with the technical expertise in Teagasc, and we need more of them. We do not want them doing administrative work for arable aid and premium schemes which, while necessary, is a secretarial job. It can be done if there is a political will. More technical advisers should be on the farms before they become a memory. That is what will happen when one looks at the average cattle farmer's income of only £4,000 per year.

As regards marketing strategies, what extra resources and personnel will be provided to An Bord Bia? Only two people from An Bord Bia are looking after the UK market, talking to the four main multiple chains there. They are backed up by 21 staff at home, but is that enough and could we do more? We need people in EU markets and beyond on a permanent basis to extend trade relations and improve agricultural orders.

When I went to Iran with a delegation recently I was struck by the perception of people in those markets. They feel that we go looking for them when we are in trouble, but we are never around when they are looking for something. International relations is a two way street. These markets are so important to us that we need a permanent presence in them. We need to mobilise trade delegations to visit such markets immediately. There is no point in sending a vet today, a diplomat tomorrow and somebody else next week.

If we were serious about keeping market share for our economy's most important industry, one would have expected the Government to make political decisions to ensure a co-ordinated political initiative to every one of those markets by now. The Minister's report to the House should have been as a result of such consultations and visits, but all we are getting two and half months later is the fact that the Minister has identified Russia as the most important market for processed beef. The Minister was there yesterday and even brought the mayor of Moscow into his speech. I am sure he is an excellent gentleman and we will encourage him to buy as much Irish beef as possible.

They are the biggest buyers of beef in the world.

Farmers saw what happened when other industries were in difficulty. Can any Fine Gael backbencher explain to rural constituents or PAYE workers in meat factories why it is that if a shoe factory is in trouble in Ballinasloe and needs soles manufactured in Spain, the Tánaiste can go there and sort the problem out? Why is it that if Hewlett Packard or some other multinational talks about losing hundreds of jobs, the Government seems to be able to do its job by speaking to people to maintain those jobs?

However, when we come to the agricultural industry — which has 165,000 people directly engaged in agriculture, 40,000 others employed in the food and drink processing sector, which accounts for 11 per cent of gross domestic product, when agricultural produce represents 16 per cent of total exports and agricultural inputs are valued at £1.3 billion annually — why is it that, facing a crisis of this magnitude, we see nothing from this Government except one Minister talking about how he is trying to solve the problem? There is no interest from anybody else.

The electorate wants an opportunity to pass judgement on that neglect of the country's primary industry. Originally they were waiting for the opportunity to pass judgement on Democratic Left and Labour. That contagion has now spread to the Fine Gael back benches. I encourage Fine Gael Deputies to come into this House and use the opportunity provided by this debate to insist that other members of the Government they support show even a little interest in the fact that thousands of livelihoods are at stake. We will continue to press this issue and if Fianna Fáil got the time it had sought, we would be here for a week discussing the importance of agriculture. I hope the next time we have a debate we do not have to drag it out of the Taoiseach the way we had to drag this one out of him.

I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on this important subject. It is indicative of the interest of the Minister's colleagues in Cabinet, and his parliamentary party colleagues, that they have abandoned him here this morning.

The Minister is the only man there.

It is disgraceful that for a debate on such a serious matter only one Government Minister is in the House. It is an indication of the support the Minister is getting from his Cabinet colleagues. He has been isolated and abandoned in the past number of weeks.

The crisis in the beef sector has highlighted the importance of consumer confidence in the source and quality of Irish food products. The need to identify quickly and easily a product and its source has become of primary importance not just in the beef sector but in all food product sectors. This problem has shown clearly that the crisis of confidence has serious implications for job creation and the entire services sector. This has become as much a consumer problem as a producer problem and should be recognised as such.

The food industry response to consumer demand and the protection of consumer confidence is now of vital importance. Consumer demand is becoming ever more sophisticated and critical. The average consumer now requires the security of knowing the origins and the processing methods of every food item. Consumers now look for a food quality guarantee.

The beef industry is a consumer led industry and it now requires an independent certifying food authority with statutory powers to implement a new quality system for the food industry which would require each food processor to reach minimum standards of production and processing. Such an independent food certifying authority would be independent of the producer and the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry but would promote the interests of the producer as well as the consumer.

Recently it has become apparent that the branding of many Irish products abroad has not been as strong as it should be. The national food certifying authority, as proposed by the Fianna Fáil spokesperson, Deputy Cowen, would fulfil a vital role in the branding of Irish food products as high quality products. This quality system for food products would provide a role for an independent authority which would set certain minimum standards, ensure open disclosure and transparency and aim to restore consumer confidence in the food sector. Strong consumer demand is critical for the future development of the industry and for the benefit of the consumer, the producer and the State. This food certifying authority should be established as a matter of priority to guarantee the quality status of Irish food products for consumers at home and abroad.

The crisis in the beef sector has clearly shown there is a major lack of consumer confidence in the food area, particularly in beef. This crisis did not begin in the past six weeks; it began with the reduction in the consumption of red meat. There are serious implications not just for beef farmers but also for the many thousands of jobs in the beef processing sector. While the Minister must find solutions in the short-term to the immediate problems in the beef industry, he will also have to address the long-term difficulties in this area of agriculture. I ask the Minister to at least seek the support of his Cabinet colleagues in this regard.

There is no doubt that the beef sector is facing a crisis and while to some people the Minister's actions to date may seem to be fairly vigorous, one must look at the long-term implications of the trends in agriculture and the need for a greater focus on marketing strategy. Our inadequacies in this area have been highlighted by the current crisis brought about by the BSE scare and the effect it has had and will continue to have in the future on consumer confidence in beef products. The tragedy is that this effect on consumer confidence is not confined to British beef, where this problem may have arisen, but extends to a much wider area affecting European and world markets.

I will focus on the question of the marketing challenge confronting the Government, the Minister and our agriculture industry as highlighted by the BSE crisis which has compounded the problem. The disappearance of intervention in the past number of years has given the impression that we now have a truly market driven beef industry but that is not the case. The beef industry may be export oriented but it is not market oriented and it is important we avoid deluding ourselves into believing otherwise.

Intervention has been largely replaced by the subsidised export of live and carcase beef to the Middle East. It is important in a debate such as this to profile, from the figures available, the state of the beef industry in 1995. On the domestic market, 10 per cent or 195,000 head of cattle were disposed of here. Live exports, two-thirds of which go to third countries — Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia in the main — take 20 per cent which is approximately 368,000 head of cattle. Beef export plants absorb 70 per cent which is 1,362,000 head of cattle. The figures for the beef export markets — exports from the beef plants — are as follows: Britain, 100,000 tonnes; France, 75,000 tonnes; Italy, 22,000 tonnes; other European Union countries took 61,000 tonnes and third countries took 173,000 tonnes which is approximately 40 per cent of total beef exports from this country. In addition, 150,000 tonnes of beef — old stocks — were withdrawn from intervention and sold to third country markets, mainly Russia, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Neither live nor beef exports to third countries would be feasible without the European Union export refunds. Effectively Irish product is sold off at knockdown prices, sometimes below the world market price, and the exporter is paid a huge subsidy from Brussels to compensate. If we compare the price per tonne achieved in commercial and third country markets in 1995 for frozen boneless beef, we will see the value obtained for these products in those markets. France paid £281 per tonne; Britain, £1,934; Egypt, £1,123; Saudi Arabia, £939 and Russia, which was mentioned in great detail by the Minister in his contribution, paid £874 per tonne. These are the prices paid by the customers and they do not take account of the "cheque in the post" export refund paid directly to the exporter by the European Union.

It is clear that the Middle East trade is volatile, low in added value and does not involve a long-term relationship with retail customers. The third country trade, both live and carcase, represents a convenient mechanism by which the bureaucrats in Brussels can flush Ireland's seasonal surplus out of the European beef market every autumn. It is clear that the future of this trade is not secure.

The Common Agricultural Policy will come up for review at the end of the decade. With enlargement of the European Union imminent, the costs of maintaining the CAP as it stands may prove prohibitive for the taxpayers of Germany — the people who have to pick up most of the tab for this operation. The cost of extending the benefits of the present CAP to the five aspirant member states — the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia — is estimated at £10 billion per year. This bill might prove too high for the Germans. If it does, something has to give.

We will probably see a complete overhaul of the CAP and major movement in the direction of a free market in food. We will not see entirely free trade but we are likely to see dismantling of some of the more expensive subsidy programmes. The general world trend towards free trade will also be nudging Europe in this direction. The Irish beef industry, as currently structured, would be singularly ill-equipped to cope with the challenges posed by a substantial reduction in, or withdrawal of, export refunds. Last year about 50 per cent of the total beef cattle disposals for export, including both live trade and carcases, went down the subsidised third country route.

Greater concentration of effort is needed in handling third country beef trading. At present up to 20 Irish companies are chasing business in this area. Third country business is generally transacted on a once off contract basis. The customers are usually state trading agencies in the Middle East, north Africa and eastern Europe. The trade is almost entirely price driven and the quality and continuity of relationships count for little. Processors have to compete for business with meat traders who supply third country contracts with products which they buy from the European Union's intervention stocks.

The risk attached to third country trading is high and rising. Several factors combine to make it a credit controller's nightmare. The ever present possibility of war or international disputes can jeopardise payment, as Goodman International can testify. Long delays in payment are the norm and expensive insurance cover is required. The privatisation of many of the importing agencies in the former Soviet Union has reduced its creditworthiness. The Minister placed great emphasis for the future on Russia. Let us proceed with caution in that direction. With individual contracts worth up to £20 million, the financial dangers can be life threatening for the companies involved.

Ideally, Ireland's third country trade could best be handled by two or three specialist exporters which could be jointly owned by groups of processors. Such entities would have financial strength, good market knowledge and greater capacity to diversify risk. The Irish beef industry, however, is not exactly noted for its co-operative spirit so it must be accepted that a cohensive approach to third country marketing may be slow to materialise.

We face strong competition on these markets from countries such as Australia and New Zealand which enjoy tremendous economies of scale relative to European producers. It is vital to adopt a coherent and co-ordinated approach to marketing our product in Third World countries. It is clear that we have to reduce our dependence on this artificial market and concentrate instead on the development of real commercial markets in Britain and continental Europe, otherwise we will have failed completely to capitalise on the opportunity presented by our original entry to the Common Market 25 years ago. We will go into the next millennium with a beef industry that still has a fatal weakness in marketing terms apart from its image problems and the failure of its supervision.

We should be willing to confront this issue now. We must recognise that in the context of GATT and CAP reform the long-term prosperity of the Irish beef industry will ultimately depend on its ability to sell to commercial markets on the basis of price and quality and without subsidies. Farmers, therefore, have a strong vested interest in ensuring that we develop a market driven beef industry and they must recognise that in our current heavy reliance on third country markets, we might be just storing up trouble for ourselves. The clear strategic objective of the Irish beef industry should be to achieve maximum penetration of the British and European markets, aiming as far as possible to sell added value products through stable trading relationships with the main supermarket chains.

Ireland produces about 500,000 tonnes of beef per year in excess of the requirements of the domestic market. We must not continue to view this as a surplus to be flushed out of the system by whatever means possible, but as a valuable resource from which the national economy should seek to derive maximum benefit.

There has been no shortage of reports, committees and expert groups over the last ten years stressing the need for a market oriented approach to the development of the beef industry. An Bord Bia must convince consumers, retailers and wholesalers in our major British and European markets that Irish beef is clean and wholesome and a product safe to eat. Consumers themselves should be involved in this process. That is why, when the An Bord Bia Act, 1994, was going through the Oireachtas, the Progressive Democrats proposed that one ordinary member of the board should be appointed to represent the views and interests of consumers. In proposing that amendment we suggested that such a move would strengthen the focus of the board and assist it in its remit to market effectively. Unfortunately, the amendment was not accepted.

If An Bord Bia can succeed in marketing Irish beef effectively on this basis, it will have more than justified its existence and the whole country will reap the reward in terms of increased exports to high quality, high value markets. If the board fails to do so it will be in no small part due to our failure to put in place satisfactory arrangements for policing the beef industry, arrangements that can command the confidence of consumers right across Europe. Unfortunately, our present arrangements for the policing of our food industry do not inspire confidence.

The weekend press reported that there had been a collapse in the enforcement of food and hygiene regulations. As a result we do not apparently know if British beef is being imported to this country and sold to unsuspecting consumers. At a time when consumers right across Europe are only too well aware of the unsavoury reputation of British beef it is remarkable that our much vaunted controls seem to be breaking down. We have no coherent system for quality assurance in the food industry.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, through its veterinary inspectorate, has responsibility for ensuring quality control in the processing plants — a task it has discharged none too well in recent years. The eight health boards, through their environmental health officers, are responsible for food quality and food hygiene at retail level in shops, restaurants and mobile stalls. The two separate bureaucracies are engaged in very similar work but do not seem to have any links.

Quality assurance and customer assurance are the key to success for the Irish beef industry. As long as market confidence can be maintained in the Irish product then all doors will be open to it. Unfortunately, the BSE crisis has once again highlighted our failings in this area. We express great pride in the clean and green image which our beef enjoys, or which we think it enjoys. However, this favourable image is useless and will rapidly disappear without proper verification standards. We have an advantage but we are throwing it away because of our inability to convince international consumers of the good and safe nature of our product.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry is responsible for policing the beef industry but its record in this area has left much to be desired. Two months ago, at the same time as the BSE story was breaking, there was the disturbing revelation that a senior veterinary officer in the Department was facing criminal proceedings over irregularities regarding the sale of Irish cattle tags and health certificates to cover British cattle. This was hardly likely to inspire confidence in our official control procedures. There have been several other instances in recent years which have cast the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry in an equally unfavourable light in its handling of the beef industry.

It is time we considered putting new arrangements in place for the policing of the whole food production and food processing industry which is of such vital national importance. We must be able to show that our food industry is properly and vigilantly policed. We must ensure that Ireland's reputation as a producer of natural and wholesome quality meat is protected and verified. Too often the Department sees itself as an agent of the producer or, to a lesser extent, the processor. We need more independence, more transparency, more credibility if our policing arrangements are to be taken seriously internationally. If our food inspection system commands international respect, our food exporters, including our beef exporters, will benefit in terms of increased sales. In the free market post-intervention era producers and processors must recognise that unless they are seen to put the interests of the consumer first the industry has no long-term future.

It is in the interests of all those involved in the beef industry, including producers and processors, that a new system is put in place. We need to create a single food inspectorate to handle all aspects of quality assurance and hygiene in the food processing industry. This would be an independent executive agency combining the functions of the Department's veterinary inspectorate and the environmental health service of the health boards. Producers and processors would be represented on the board of such an agency but so also would people from the retail trade and consumer interests. If the consumer is king in a market economy that should be reflected in the composition of the board of our national food inspection agency.

This option need not involve any appreciable additional cost to the Exchequer but rather the deployment of existing resources in a more efficient and effective manner. The new agency should not just be independent of the Department but he seen to be so. To this end it should report to the Minister for Health or the Minister for Enterprise and Employment. The new agency would ensure that consumers at home were adequately protected. It would also give assurances to foreign buyers in terms of quality, hygiene and product traceability, thereby ensuring that our food exporters enjoyed a good reputation on foreign markets. This would be all the more important as we move inexorably towards an era of free international trade in food products.

As we move into the next millennium the future of our beef export trade lies in supplying high value products to retail chains in Britain and continental Europe. This is a demanding, quality conscious commercial market, very different from the heavily subsidised third country markets which are absorbing half our beef and cattle exports.

We cannot hope to make major progress in commercial European markets unless we can demonstrate that we have reliable and dependable systems in place for ensuring the quality of our food products, otherwise British and continental consumers will not want to buy what we produce.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

Last evening in the Seanad I participated in a very useful discussion on a motion on the BSE issue. While there were differences of emphasis from the speakers who participated, it was clear that there was a unity of purpose and a recognition that, because of the very serious situation facing all elements of the industry, everyone concerned should be pulling together to deal with the various problems as they arise.

Any discussion on BSE must begin with the background of the position in Ireland in relation to BSE. To date Ireland has had a total of 127 cases of BSE since the first case was confirmed in 1989. This incidence, which represents an average of 16 cases per year, must be viewed in the light of a cattle population of seven million animals, by comparison the United Kingdom has had over 160,000 cases in a cattle population of about 12 million. A comprehensive system of control measures has been put in place in Ireland to ensure that consumers at home and abroad can have confidence in Irish beef.

The BSE crisis was triggered by the announcement by the British Health Secretary in the House of Commons last March regarding possible links between BSE and its human equivalent, CJD. Notwithstanding the tentative nature of this link, this statement had significant effect on consumer confidence in the safety of beef, not only in the United Kingdom but in all other EU member states, including Ireland, and in third countries.

The Government has acted quickly to reassure Irish consumers through the establishment of the expert advisory group, composed of experts from the medical and veterinary professions as well as representatives from various Government Departments, the grocery trade and consumer interests. The group concluded that on the basis of all the medical, veterinary and scientific advice available to it, Irish beef and beef products were safe to eat and could be consumed with confidence by Irish consumers. The developments also demanded a response at EU level. In the aftermath the Commission decided on 27 March 1996 to prohibit the export of all live bovine animals, semen embryos and products containing bovine materials from the United Kingdom to any other destination, with the exception of those containing bovine material which originated from animals slaughtered outside the UK.

Since the adoption of that decision, the World Health Organisation and various EU scientific committees have reexamined the situation and have concluded that products such as gelatine and tallow — which have undergone certain manufacturing processes — and bovine semen could, with safety, be excluded from the export prohibition. Ireland has supported this partial lifting of the EU ban on the export of these products from the UK in line with the scientific advice to this effect and will actively participate in discussions on this matter in the Agriculture Council next week.

Since the introduction of the EU prohibition on 27 March, a huge Garda and customs surveillance operation has been in place along the Border to ensure that animals or products are not illegally imported into the State in contravention of the prohibition. The operation, which is undeniably necessary to ensure that purchasers in markets overseas can continue to have confidence in Irish beef exports, has enabled Irish exporters to provide cast iron guarantees as regards the origin of their exports.

As a major beef exporter, the Irish beef industry could not be insulated from the fallout of the BSE crisis. One of the most immediate effects of the announcement on 20 March was to raise serious concerns in the minds of consumers about the safety of beef and this led to a dramatic fall in beef consumption worldwide. All the services available to the State were marshalled with a view to assisting the beef industry to cope with the crisis and minimise its effects. It is clear from the Minister's opening remarks that he has directed his efforts at ensuring that the European Commission introduce effective market support arrangements to remove surplus beef from the market and provide for compensation to be paid to producers who had suffered income loses as a result of the crisis.

So far as effective market support arrangements are concerned, the Commission introduced emergency intervention measures early in April, subject to a ceiling of 50,000 tonnes, on purchases into intervention under the two April tenders and 40,000 tonnes of beef were removed from the European market under the second tender in April. The emergency intervention arrangements were extended this month and a 50,000 tonne ceiling was to be increased to 65,000 tonnes. About 40,000 tonnes was accepted into intervention under the first tender which leaves 25,000 tonnes available for the second tender to be adjudicated on at the meeting of the beef management committee tomorrow.

That meeting will also decide on the intervention arrangements next month. These intervention measures have been extremely successful in helping to eliminate the backlog of cattle which has built up on farms in the aftermath of the onset of the crisis and in removing surplus beef from the market. The scale and depth of the crisis across Europe is evident by the quantities of beef offered into intervention, particularly in Germany. Clearly these emergency intervention measures prevented what would otherwise have been a total collapse in the European market which would have devastating consequences for the Irish beef sector. In this case, intervention for all its faults, has been used successfully to support the market. The 12 per cent increase in export refunds on cattle and beef on 1 May, and the positive response of the Irish beef industry, is welcome. The volume of licences taken out in the days following the increase of 26,000 tonnes of beef and 5,000 head of live cattle demonstrates a renewed confidence among Irish exporters in export possibilities to third country markets.

Effective intervention support arrangements and increased export refunds are only two of the instruments available to the Commission to support producers' incomes. I accept that, in spite of the intervention arrangements, cattle prices have fallen and producers have suffered substantial income losses as a result of the crisis. It was recognised from an early stage that market support systems alone would be unable to maintain cattle prices at levels which would return reasonable incomes for producers. This is highlighted by the fact that the emergency Council meeting on BSE, held from 1 to 3 April, provided for the possibility of compensation payments to producers. The meeting of the Agriculture Council from 29 to 30 April confirmed that compensation would be available and at a meeting from 20 to 21 May the Council discussed informal Commission proposals for compensation which have been formally adopted by the Commission. The Minister has outlined the proposals that are on the table for consideration at the Agriculture Council meeting next week.

The evidence to date suggests that this crisis will be worse than any other experienced by the beef sector in recent times. It is becoming increasingly evident that there will be a permanent and negative impact on beef consumption in our major markets. We have to consider the prospect that consumption will not return to a level that will enable the European Union to live within the GATT ceiling on subsidised exports and that measures may be required at European level to restore balance to the beef market by reforming the beef regime. A debate on this issue is already under way, with some members urging reforms sooner rather than later. It appears at this stage that some type of reform is inevitable and Ireland's objective in any such reform will be to ensure, in so far as possible, that the premium arrangements continue to promote extensive production and that our share of payments under the premium system is not reduced.

I compliment the Minister on what he has done to date. I have first hand knowledge of that. The savage attack on him this morning by the Fianna Fáil shadow spokesperson was disgraceful and does not represent the national interest. We should all work together on this issue. When we were in Opposition we supported the Government when the national interest was at stake. However, that same generosity is not forthcoming on this issue from the Opposition spokesperson on agriculture. The people, especially the farming community, will recognise this for what it is, particularly at a time when we need solidarity.

A difficult task lies ahead. We cannot force the Germans, the Italians, the British or the French to eat more Irish beef. We have the product, but we must sell it and that must involve a national campaign. Irrespective of what side of the House we occupy in the future, I will sell a positive image of this country's food and not try to gain political capital from something that could cause a national disaster. We must work together on this issue.

I thank the Minister of State for sharing time with me. I regret the Opposition spokesperson on agriculture is not in the House. His speech this morning was a ferocious ranting and gesticulating performance that reminded me of the Third Reich. He said he would be here to listen to what backbench Fine Gael Members has to say, but he is not here to listen to what I have to say. He finished his speech and quickly scurried from the House.

He is at a meeting.

That is not good enough.

If the Deputy has something interesting to say, I will tell him.

Given Deputy Cowen's vitriolic contribution, I do not wish to respond to many of his comments. However, there are a number of matters on which I must comment. He criticised the Minister for his slow response to the crisis. Deputy Cowen will recall that in 1989 we had another BSE crisis and we lost our Middle East markets. I was on the Opposition benches at that time and asked questions of the then Minister, Senator Michael O'Kennedy, and his successor, about the crisis. I will not forget the wool-gathering nonsense and the lack of understanding of the problem at that time. We were shut out of those markets for three years but the then Fianna Fáil Minister failed to respond. While I dislike referring to this matter now, people should be judged on their record. The markets with Libya and Egypt did not become lucrative until three years later, but the then Fianna Fáil Progressive Democrat Administration did not make any meaningful attempt to address the problem.

Deputy Cowen spoke about the spirit of Commissioner MacSharry and our lack of commitment to the MacSharry reforms. Those reforms would have been very bad for Ireland had we accepted them as they were first produced. The then Fianna Fáil Government was willing to go along with them even though they would have meant the loss of billions of pounds for our industry. We had to reply on France — even though they were looking after their interests — to ensure that the final package benefited us.

Deputy Cowen spoke about the well publicised visit to Iran. When he and his deputation returned it was suggested they had succeeded in reopening the market with Iran, but we now know that is not true. That visit was commented on by many Members of the House, even by members of the Fianna Fáil deputation who accompanied Deputy Cowen on that visit. The comments of a Minister of State to the House on the undiplomatic skills of Deputy Cowen in Iran are worth repeating. He said it was like letting Mike Tyson into a ballet class.

We have a crisis on hands and the Deputy should treat the debate seriously.

I compliment the Minister on his response to an unprecedented crisis in the beef industry. It is a watershed for beef and beef consumption. One can only condemn the British for the way their Minister handled the matter in the House of Commons and for their petty behaviour afterwards. The manner in which they withdrew co-operation at all levels of EU activity because they did not get their way in the BSE crisis is deplorable. They seem to forget they caused this crisis which has had most effect in countries, such as Ireland, where there is a large dependence on agriculture. I was pleased to hear the comments of President Santer on British television last Sunday and I hope his comments will be of a similar vein when he visits this city this evening.

I was very interested in the Minister's comments about his recent successful visit to Russia and the fact that we have secured markets in Russia for 100,000 tonnes of beef, one-quarter of our total output in the coming year. That is a significant breakthrough and the Minister is to be complimented on it. It is the largest market we have secured in recent years. We have exported to markets in third countries, particularly the Middle East, but none of them represented a market as great as this. The Minister is to be particularly congratulated for securing that market at a time such as this.

It is very heartening to hear that many of the Russian contracts are for forequarter beef, a product difficult to dispose of even at the best of times. That the Russian market will take a significant proportion of our forequarter beef is particularly welcome. In recent years we have relied heavily on the European market, where the greatest fall in consumption is experienced. We cannot be sure that market will be restored to pre-20 March levels.

Everything possible must be done to sell the Irish product as BSE free. We must sell our green image. I agree with the Minister that in marketing beef in the Community in future we should concentrate on beef produced from grassland rather than factory production. The use of intensive fattening units where meat and bonemeal is not properly processed has given rise to BSE. The disease is transmitted to animals and possibly, although it is not proven, to human beings. I would ask the Minister to take the opportunity as chairman of the EC Council of Agriculture Ministers during our Presidency to emphasise our BSE free status. The Presidency presents us with an excellent opportunity in that regard.

The Minister stated that before the crisis occurred the EU was 104 per cent self-sufficient in beef, in other words there was 4 per cent more beef on the European market than could be consumed. Even though we had to find markets for the surplus, we imported a significant proportion. After this crisis the EU will be 124 per cent or 125 per cent self-sufficient in beef. If that trend continues the EU must consider the possibility of culling animals and restricting highly intensive beef production in factory-type conditions.

We welcome the measures negotiated by the Minister such as increases in beef premium, the suckler cow scheme and the deseasonalisation scheme, but they are unsustainable in the long-term. If we are to tackle the problem through the market mechanism we must deal with highly intensive methods of production which result in a surplus on the market — it is those methods of production that have caused the BSE scare.

I regret my contribution is restricted because of time constraints.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Killeen, Power and Treacy.

Acting Chairman

Is that agreed? Agreed.

The BSE crisis is a mine-field and I pity the Minister in that he has the support only of his own party.

Some of them.

His colleagues in the other two parties that make up the Rainbow Coalition have forgotten about collective responsibility.

Some of them were partners with Fianna Fáil for a while.

I am beginning to wonder whether many of us will find common ground at some stage in the future.

Consumer confidence has been eroded by a number of factors, one of which is substance abuse, which did more damage to the beef industry than BSE. The people who used illegal substances are guilty of damaging the reputation of the beef industry. At last they have realised that is not the road to follow, that they should produce a superior product that will be sought after in a dwindling market. We must put in place new marketing strategies to restore confidence, not only of consumers but also producers.

Producers will no longer endure the chaos that prevailed for the past four or five months when many of them lost up to £200 per head on winter cattle. It will be practically impossible for them to return to winter beef production. We must produce a superior product which is traceable from birth to death.

The new tagging system introduced recently will do little to boost consumer confidence. Many tags get caught in gates and hedges and farmers have to pay co-operatives to have them replaced. The Minister should have introduced an electronic tagging system. That is the only way to prevent abuse. I understand that methods have been devised to deal with the replacement of tags, but they have failed and will fail in the future.

To restore consumer confidence the Minister must take into account traceability, production methods and hygiene standards. We must target a niche market for beef. There is no point in producing large carcases with a dead weight of 1,100 lbs. or 1,200 lbs. There is no longer a market in Europe for that type of beef. In the UK producer groups of certain breeds of cattle command prices as high as 10p and 15p per lb. above what is paid for non-sourced and non-traceable commodity. Funding must be invested in research and in those markets. As I said during the Question Time six weeks ago, all slaughtered carcases should be residue tested. If the Minister does this he will do more to restore consumer confidence than anything that has been done over the past ten years. It is time we put in place a system similar to the ISO 9000 system so that producers will be encouraged to produce a first class product. They may not be able to sell this product for the prices they got in the past but at least they will be able to command a greater share of the market than at present.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate but regret that my time is limited. The agriculture industry has been lurching from crisis to crisis in recent months, for example, the export refund problem, the problems experienced by sheep farmers, the BSE crisis and the super-levy problems. Each of these difficulties represents a fundamental attack on the role of the family farm in sustaining the rural population and the fabric of rural society. I regret that Deputy Connor sought to misrepresent the Fianna Fáil position. As Deputy Ellis said, the two larger parties are most concerned about this issue. The Minister can depend on more support from Members on this side of the House than he can from some of his partners in Government. Sometimes this involves being critical of the Minister——

That is nearly always the case.

——but generally we try to be constructive and put forward helpful suggestions.

The Minister has control of the State support services to agriculture. As Deputy Cowen correctly said, Teagasc must be given a key role in the development of a policy for the agricultural industry into the future. One of the weaknesses of the industry is that farmers, individually and collectively, do not know where it is headed. It is little wonder that individual sectors are beset with crises when there is no clear vision for the future of the industry.

The Minister also has control of the level and timing of many of the payments under the State support system. In some cases payments have been very slow and complaints have been made under virtually every heading, for example, REPS, the extensification scheme and the various premia. In the present circumstances the Minister should ensure that payment is brought forward. Many farmers are extremely concerned about their incomes and the Minister could bring forward payments, thereby mitigating the difficulties in the short-term.

Premia are provided to help farmers during the difficult periods they encounter from time to time. The problems with the super-levy have led to many farmers in my constituency with quotas of less than 10,000 gallons being severely penalised and facing the threat of not having an income for two to three months at this time of the year. The co-ops have handled this issue in an insensitive manner. The milk policy division of the Department must intervene directly in the matter and, if necessary, order the co-ops to deal with farmers over a period of years. If the co-ops are so poor that they need support to do this then perhaps this could be provided.

Deputy Ellis referred to animal identification and feedstuffs. It is crucial to the future of the beef industry that people believe the product is safe. We are in a unique position to guarantee the safety of our product. Some Deputies referred to the relatively easy measures which could be put in place so that people could be assured that the quality standards were genuinely being adhered to.

Farmers are looking to the Government for leadership in this matter. They want to know if they should be looking at different breeds, for example, smaller breeds which are ready faster for slaughter. Those farmers who have a major financial commitment to existing beef breeds which came into the country over the past 25-30 years want an assurance that they are being looked after. I accept that some of the difficulties are outside the control of the Minister but others are directly within it. Farmers want a plan for the future and an assurance that they can continue in beef production.

I welcome the Minister back from his trip to St. Petersburg. I missed the beginning of his speech but I understand he gave us some good news. I hope that the promises he was given will be fulfilled as they are badly needed. The indications are that the Russian market is weakening from a price perspective and may not be as good as last year, even though it will still be pivotal to the autumn trade.

Why has the Minister not gone to Libya? He told us several times that he was making arrangements to visit this country but it seems that the Libyans do not want him — they have not yet sanctioned a visa for him. However, Australian cattle and sheep exporters seem to have no trouble getting visas for Libya where they are getting the lion's share of available business. Maybe the Libyans and Iranians really want to see the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Spring. If this is the case they will be left waiting. The Tánaiste is available to fly to any corner of the world for a photo opportunity but he is not available to bat for the beef industry. It is ironic that many of the people in Cabinet who made their political reputation out of pilloring the beef trade are not now prepared to defend the industry against unfounded accusations.

German and Libyan television stations have shown mischievous documentaries about the amount of BSE infected meat coming into the Republic from Britain through the North of Ireland. Yet we have not heard a whisper of protest from the Minister for television and films, Deputy Higgins, about the wrong impressions being created. The Government seems to be totally oblivious to the crisis facing us but I will spell out some facts for it.

Up to now the fall-out from the BSE crisis has mainly affected 5,000 winter finishers which were already under presure because of the Minister's failure to persuade the Commission to support the beef market from December onwards. During the past fortnight the rot has spread throughout the industry — culled cow prices have collapsed, store prices have been badly affected and even calf prices have been hit. I shudder to think what will happen to weanling prices next autumn, while at the other end of the scale many store producers will not be in a position to buy these depressed price weanlings.

If the Government does not shake itself out of its lethargy cattle prices for 1996 will make the cattle prices for 1974 look like a teddy bear's picnic. There is an air of alarm and fear in the cattle sector. We have heard reports about specialist farmers who have quietly placed portions of their farms on the market, banks which have tightened up in their assessment of loans for the purchase of store cattle and the sale of culled cows for a song. Over the past three months all those involved in the beef industry have seen the value of their assets reduced by 30 per cent. Farmers are queuing up for compensation. The IFA has estimated that, based on present cattle prices, the loss in the beef sector could be high as £206 million this year, equivalent to the loss of 18,500 jobs in rural Ireland. The beef and livestock sector is worth £1.7 billion to the economy each year, involving 100,000 livestock farmers and sustaining approximately 30,000 jobs both directly and indirectly.

The crisis we are witnessing will damage the very core of rural Ireland and it involves more than a worry about a ban on United Kingdom tallow and gelatine. While better market supports and compensation may go some way to reducing overall losses, the scale of the problem is so large the only answer is to get people generally, particularly those in continental Europe, to resume the consumption of beef. We know that a scientific link has not yet been established between BSE and CJD but European consumers need to be reassured.

The response of An Bórd Bia to the crisis so far would not merit any medals. Perhaps that agency is devoting most of its energy to preparing for the Horizon Food Fair next month, the Minister's own baby, on which, if rumours are to be believed, approximately £3 million is to be spent. I hope the costs will justify the returns, that we do not witness a glorious junket or talking shop while the beef industry goes down the tubes.

The principal component of our primary industry, agriculture, is the beef industry. In recent years Members of the Government parties in Opposition condemned people involved in that outstanding industry. None of them is here to defend and support that industry in crisis. It is vital that the Minister has the full support of Government and that consumers have confidence in our beef products. Information available to me from my contracts in the Community is to the effect that French supermarkets have erected signs saying "French beef only" and their German counterparts have done likewise saying "German beef only". Where is An Bórd Bia? Where is our marketing strategy? Where are the provisions of the Single Market, giving rights to this country, as a full member state of the European Union, to trade in these countries? Why is not our Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry with the Council of Agriculture Ministers and the Minister for Tourism and Trade with his Council of Ministers ensuring that our rights and those of our primary producers are protected?

We have a cyclical production in livestock. Our primary producers in the west depend on finishers in the east and finishers in the east, midlands and elsewhere depend on a proper price being paid for our beef products. It is vital that the Minister realises the price of prime beef in the factories today is £300 net per head less than it was three years ago, representing a drop of £100 per annum over three years. The Government must tackle and resolve this crisis in our beef industry.

Last week the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry visited Athenry in my constituency for national rural day. He stated that in ten years time forestry would be more important here than beef. That would be disastrous and would send shivers right across the industry. While I am a positive supporter of forestry to earn additional agricultural income, we cannot undermine agriculture's primary component, the beef sector. The Taoiseach failed to acknowledge that event which was attended by 20,000 who need Government leadership, acknowledgement and support. This Government is travelling in three different directions and nobody knows its true route. Our national primary industry is in crisis, requiring leadership, commitment, cohesion, the full support of the Government. It needs the full support of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Labour Party and smoked salmon socialists of this island and the full support of Democratic Left, who have traditionally tried to undermine our primary agricultural industry, not one of whose Members contributed to this debate.

On behalf of all our farmers, I appeal to the Government to show solidarity with them, to give leadership, get the markets right, to reassure European consumers, so that this industry can be sustained, expanded and developed and rural families enabled to maintain their livelihood through this primary industry which is so important to our economy.

Acting Chairman

I understand Deputy Dukes proposes sharing his time with Deputy Connaughton.

Yes. So far, the only constructive comments I have heard in the course of this debate from members of the Opposition have been those of Deputies Ellis and Power, the latter my own constituency colleague; even what Deputy Noel Treacy engaged in a moment ago was a pale shadow of what his main Opposition spokesman did. We had bluff, bluster and rhetoric but not one single constructive proposal——

I referred to marketing, consumers and so on; the Deputy was not listening.

We had a display of bawling ignorance this morning from Deputy Cowen who had nothing constructive to say. This is a matter that requires somewhat more analysis than the kind of thunder we witnessed from Deputy Cowen.

The crisis that has hit the beef industry resulting from the BSE scare has been blown up on the very slimmest of scientific evidence, on the most tenuous of alleged connections between BSE and CJD. It is incredible that a crisis could have been manufactured on so little ground but, because it concerns food and health, the media have gone into a frenzy about it and every ill-considered remark of people with any scientific connection with food produces another page in every single printed media, another half hour of speculation on the subject on television. We have been subjected to a series of the most incredible, unscientific and irresponsible pronouncements by professional people who have responsibilities, who should know better than to speak loosely as they have done about a matter like this.

It is worth pointing out that very many, if not all or most of our daily activities, including our eating and drinking habits, probably carry a greater, more immediate risk of mortality than does the consumption of beef. We cannot repeat that often enough. Even at that, some of our daily eating habits carry a level of risk disputed by medical experts. Within the past two weeks or so we witnessed a fairly not dispute between two cardiologists about the dangers of different kinds of diets. To examine that argumentation sanely and coldly on the one hand and the scare manufactured about BSE and its alleged tenuous link to CJD should make all of us sit up and ask if we will allow ourselves, as sentient, thinking human beings, be manipulated in this way by people who have no basis for what they say?

It has now reached the point that when one asks for beef in a restaurant now, one is asked: "Do you really want beef?" It is absolute, utter nonsense to scare the wits out of half the world's population on the basis of the type of evidence available thus far. The chances of winning £1 million in the national lottery are infinitely greater than those of contracting CJD from eating beef, but that is not reported because it does not suit the feeding frenzy of the media.

I commend the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry on his efforts to regain access to third country markets for our beef. That is a far more exacting process, requires far greater preparation, than Deputy Cowen and his colleagues claim. To listen to them one would think there was an instant answer. Indeed Deputy Cowen's much trumpeted visit to Iran, for example, produced a great many headlines but no sales. There was a time when it appeared Fianna Fáil could lift the telephone and arrange a meeting in a tent in Libya. It does not do so now, and it never seemed to do us much good when they did.

The Deputy's colleague went on one of those trips.

Deputy Ellis should not tempt me. I do not perceive much benefit to be had from the kind of nonsense being talked now. If we are to regain more beef sales in, say, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Libya or anywhere else, we must prepare properly. It is not sufficient for a Minister or anybody else to jump on a plane, and go to Libya to sell beef. That is not the way the market works and Deputies opposite surely are in a position to know that.

I am delighted to note that the Minister is putting in place a much needed compensation system. I suggest he obtain the agreement of the European Union authorities to pay direct compensation for cattle slaughtered here since the beginning of this year, with a higher rate for cattle slaughtered since 20 March last when the crisis really blew up. People with fattened cattle bought in the latter half of last year have borne the brunt of this crisis. They are looking at cattle in yards that have been fed over the winter and are losing condition. I strongly suggest to the Minister that he should ensure that the compensation scheme includes heifers and young bulls. Information on the cattle slaughtered is readily available through the records of the Department and the factories. Such a compensation system would address the immediate problem in a way that is most appropriate.

The renderers and the processors have a great deal to answer for. The Minister provided them with a breathing space by providing a subsidy to tie them over a period during which they should have been busily engaged in sorting out how they would handle that large proportion of offal which, because of the perception created by the scare, is no longer marketable in the way it was. Having listened carefully to what has been happening during the past few weeks it appears that the renderers and processors have done nothing. Even though there is cross-ownership between those two parts of the sector, it appears they are engaged in a slow bicycle race with each other. Neither side is doing anything and the result is that nothing is in place between those industries. They should know there has been a shift in the market and in the conditions for their products. Whether we consider it justified, the range of uses for animal offal will be much more restricted in future than has been the case up to now. There is cost involved in that and the industry should be working out how to deal with it.

At the end of the day the only practical answer to dealing with large amounts of animal offal that cannot be used for traditional purposes is incineration. I and other Members saw what happened when we had to dispose of burnt meat following a factory fire in Ballaghaderreen. Some of it was buried on a hilltop in County Roscommon, a lunatic policy. More of it was buried in a disused quarry in Westmeath, another lunatic policy. We need to dispose of upwards of 100,000 tonnes of animal offal annually and landfill is not the way to deal with it. The only practical way to deal with it is incineration using the tried and proven, clean and environmentally friendly techniques demonstrated in other countries. I call on Members to support that proposal. I call, in particular, on the Green Party to stop the nonsense in which it has been engaged for the past five or six years that has the country driven mad and is cutting off our access to the most effective way of disposing not only of animal offal but of a great quantity of unrecyclable waste. We should use this occasion to introduce more sanity into that argument.

Like other speakers I cannot raise all the issues I wish to raise in the ten minutes at my disposal, therefore I will concentrate on a number of points.

I agree with everything that has been said. The current BSE crisis will result in greater financial losses to farmers than anything we have seen since 1974, including that year. The signs are much more ominous than in 1974. That year was a disaster for the beef industry, but the disaster was of a relatively short duration. The 1974 disaster in the cattle trade arose principally because we did not have sufficient killing capacity. We had an explosion in our breeding herd and we were not good at marketing at that time. There was only one ray of sunshine in 1974 in that there was no consumer resistance to eating beef. We might as well accept that the beef industry is in the doldrums because 50 per cent of those who heretofore ate beef are not eating it today.

The BSE crisis is nothing short of a calamity for farmers, agriculture-related employment and rural Ireland. Some farmers are financially ruined, particularly those with winter fatteners, but the rot has started in the store trade. I was at the ringside of a County Galway mart and farmers were taking £70 to £80 less for their animals than they took the previous fortnight. It appears that our seven million cattle will be devalued by between £50 and £100 per head, and in some cases by more. In the context of the Stock Exchange that represents a devaluation of £700 million for the country. If that devaluation occurred in the Stock Exchange in the morning we would be talking of another Black Friday, but because the devaluation is gradual and there is silence about it many people do not notice it.

There is no shortage of crocodile tears on this debate. I listened carefully to what Deputy Cowen said. The only point I picked up from what he said, and this is the only reference I will make to what he said, is that we should renegotiate the GATT deal, which took seven years to negotiate and to which it was sought to get 114 countries to agree. Who signed that deal on behalf of Ireland? His colleague, Deputy Joe Walsh and the former Commissioner, Mr. MacSharry, signed it. The ink is not dry on that agreement and Deputy Cowen is calling for it to be renegotiated. I will return to that point later.

More crocodile tears have been shed about the Libyan situation. The Minister has tried on numerous occasions to get into Libya. I congratulate Deputy Smith's colleagues on travelling to Iran. There was nothing wrong with doing that but why did they not travel to Libya? Did they try to get into Libya?

We will govern for the Deputy any time.

The Deputy was not in Government when he went to Iran.

The Deputy should deal with this crisis and stop play acting.

The Deputy was not welcome in that country, but he will not say that publicly.

(Wexford): He could not get a visa.

Deputy Smith and his colleagues went to the soft spots, where anybody could go. The Deputy should not try to tell me that the Minister could not and did not want to get into that country. He has been knocking on the door of that country and he will eventually get in.

Egypt and other countries are open to Irish exports, but the beef consumption in those countries has fallen by 40 per cent and the position is more or less the same in Germany and France. That fact that we have seven times more dependence on beef than any other member state of the European Union and that we export 85 per cent of our beef highlights that this problem, which originated in Britain, is killing our industry.

BSE potentially spells disaster for us. The only escape we had for the past few months was intervention. Or was it an escape? In the bad old days before CAP reform we used intervention more than any other country. France and Germany did not resort to it. This month our beef is flowing into the cold stores of France and Germany. What will happen to it later? Because of the most recent GATT agreement we are not allowed to offload any more of our beef to Third World countries than the amount to which we agreed, at least 250,000 tonnes less than what we exported annually for the past four years to those countries. What will we do with the surplus? I assume that through good marketing the market for beef will return to some level of normality as the months pass. I hope it will, but it is unlikely that we will recapture 100 per cent of the market share we had prior to last February or March. Even if there is a 10 per cent loss of market share we will have approximately 800,000 tonnes of meat in intervention across Europe. Obviously this is a huge problem.

The bloodhounds who are out to criticise the Minister should be careful. To be blunt, the renderers and the factories tried last week to orchestrate a blackmail campaign to trap Irish taxpayers. They knew what they were doing, and they knew that no Government, whatever its colour, would pump taxpayers' money into that system because it is part of the industry. I congratulate them on reaching an agreement, but I agree with Deputy Dukes. I have no way of knowing how much meat and bonemeal we can sell in future but I know we will not be able to turn half of the offal we are likely to produce over the next few years into meat and bonemeal. If it is possible to get feasibility grants for private enterprise, in this country or in Europe, to develop a process of incineration that will take up some of the slack, that is what we should do.

We are dealing with mad cow disease, but we have a touch of mad professor disease on our hands. We saw on our television screens last night an eminent professor who somehow connected BSE in cows with the grass growing in our fields. That is outrageous. No scientific evidence has been found to show that the disease crosses species, not to speak of coming from the grass and the land, but that professor got a platform on national television.

Today people denied what he said, but he did get the opportunity to speak on Irish television and sent a shiver down the backs of many people. Let us have balance, accept the position in which we find ourselves, but not resort to scare tactics.

I agree with the many speakers who spoke about quality assurance. In future any animal presented for sale at an abattoir or factory should be accompanied by a CV detailing where it was born, what it ate, what it was injected with, etc. Unless we do that we will not get the housewives of Europe to buy our product.

I sincerely thank the Minister for negotiating the compensation; we have to go back and knock on that door again. If the principles and objectives of the original Treaty of Rome are anything to go by, now is the time for Europe to show it will not turn its back on the farmers of Europe or of Ireland which has a greater dependency on agriculture than any other country. If those principles mean anything, now is the time for Europe to come to the aid of rural Ireland.

I wish to share my time with a number of other Deputies. What is baffling about the approach of the Government to this debate is that, for as long as I can remember, there has been a major international economic crisis in the beef industry. It is extraordinary that the Government ring-fenced this issue into one sector of the economy as if all the answers lie within that sector. That is not the case. Agriculture is central to the Irish economy and to the economic growth we have had over the past few years. The non-involvement, non-participation and lack of interest on the part of the Labour and Democratic Left parties is quite extraordinary and represents a serious misreading of the situation. Having watched this crisis unfold over the past few months, I cannot understand why the Taoiseach has not instructed a Cabinet subcommittee consisting of, at a minimum, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Quinn, the Minister for Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Bruton and the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Yates, to deal with this issue. The moneys available solely within the Department of Agriculture are not sufficient to meet the immediate problems and, apart from what we can derive from the EU, money will have to be found from Government resources. When Packard Electric was in trouble the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise and Employment, Deputy Rabbitte, conducted crisis meetings the length and breadth of Government buildings day in and day out. This makes the Packard crisis pale into insignificance in comparison — that is not to diminish its significance to those directly concerned in Packard. Is Deputy Rabbitte only a Minister for Tallaght? Is that what the Department of Enterprise and Employment has become? The Department of Enterprise and Employment has a direct responsibility to thousands of employees in the food sector, but there has been no acknowledgement from within Government of this crisis. The Fine Gael Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Deputy Ivan Yates, had to battle here on his own with no support from his so-called colleagues in Government. It has been clear to me for a long time that the Labour Party and Democratic Left have no interest in the agricultural sector.

Consumer confidence is the key issue, not alone in this market but throughout our major markets in Europe. It is not acceptable for the Minister to suggest he is doing all he can, because he is not. He is not getting the message across to the market-place regarding Irish beef. For years we have been talking about how unique our product is in comparison to that of other countries, but we have failed to market the quality of Irish beef — and its unique selling points — throughout the world. Now we have an opportunity to capitalise on what we have available to us here. Unless resources are provided from the Department of Finance to boost what is available in An Bord Bia, we will not achieve a breakthrough in the market place. The moneys that are required must be spent if this argument is to be brought into the homes of the European people in an effort to persuade them to continue their allegiance to beef. Nobody said that the market has collapsed to the extent that beef has been wiped out. There is still a huge market and because of its uniqueness the Irish product has the capacity to sustain itself within the world and European markets.

(Wexford): It is a disgrace that so little time has been allocated for this debate considering one of our primary industries is at stake. Listening to some of the speakers this morning one would think there was something seriously wrong with the beef being produced, but 95 per cent of farmers produce a top quality product. It is the Minister who has failed to sell the product in the face of crisis. Our whole marketing strategy seems to be out of place and we have not managed to convince the European consumer that there is a substantial difference between our product and that in Britain. An Bord Bia was launched in a blaze of glory but it does not seem to be working. I am amazed when I look up into the public gallery to see not a single person from An Bord Bia listening to the suggestions on marketing being put forward. It is time the Minister made his present felt. The silence of the Taoiseach who comes from a strong farming background continues to amaze me and it is time he raised his voice.

The Taoiseach should set up a ministerial action team to implement a strategy that will help to reopen markets and restore confidence in our beef industry. The Ministers for Finance, Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Enterprise and Employment and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs — who seem to have gone to ground — should be involved with the marketing agencies and travel to wherever there is potential to sell the unique Irish product that farmers produce.

Consumer confidence is at an all time low, responsibility for which rests squarely with the Government, and in particular the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry, and marketing agencies. We need to do something soon to restore confidence and the solution may be to set up an independent food quality authority. If we are to win back the confidence of the consumer we must have product traceability, enforcement of quality standards in production and the control of drugs used in cattle production. At my home I share an entrance to County Wexford marts and on a daily basis I meet farmers who are very much affected by this crisis. They are concerned that the family business they have built up during the years will be lost by the end of the year because they are losing £150-£200 per head of cattle.

Why are the lower prices paid to farmers not reflected in the shops and to the benefit of consumers? It is unacceptable that farmers are losing a great deal of money while at the same time the price of beef in butcher shops is increasing. The easiest way to restore consumer confidence is to sell the product at a reasonable price. That is not happening. If the crisis in the beef industry is not dealt with quickly many beef farmers will be out of business. As a result the problem will trickle down into the urban areas with consequent job losses. It is time the Minister established a ministerial team to deal with this problem, if not it will be too late.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute briefly to the debate on the most serious issue to face the country for many years. The contributions to the truncated debate on this issue are testament to the very serious position that obtains at present and the long-term implications for the industry.

This debate is taking place against the background of a great loss of consumer confidence in beef. This was triggered by mere speculation on the link between BSE and CJD. The reality — a number of speakers have alluded to this — is that no scientific link has been established between BSE and CJD. Yet, a media joyride has set off a serious loss of consumer confidence in the product that has resulted in prices to the primary producers in Ireland and across Europe plummeting to a depth that will see many farmers in grave financial trouble in the short-term.

There is a need to tackle the problem decisively. The process of rebuilding consumer confidence has to get under way quickly. We are a victim in many ways of what has been an extraordinary attitude at official level in Britain to this problem. Britain has been dealing with the BSE difficulty for some time yet there has been a serious lack of decisiveness in putting the necessary veterinary controls in place to tackle the problem. Perhaps it is because farming and agriculture are well down the priority list in Britain that there has been a lack of commitment to tackle the problem decisively. Clearly the beef industry across Europe, and particularly in Ireland where it is so important to the economy, is paying a very high price for this lack of decisiveness.

In the past the outbreak of foot and mouth disease caused serious difficulties in Britain and one would have thought that the lesson would have been learned and the necessary trigger mechanisms for veterniary controls would have been put in place much quicker than has happened.

The patent lack of support during this debate for the Minister and the Minister of State at his Department from the two smaller parties in Government is a sad reflection of the poor commitment in the Labour Party and in Democratic Left to the agricultural industry.

The Deputy is being a bit premature.

To date no Member from the two smaller parties saw fit to contribute to this debate. I spoke earlier about the need to rebuild consumer confidence quickly. There is an onus on everybody to be part of the rebuilding process. We export a huge percentage of our beef produce and consumer confidence must be restored in locations beyond our shores. Clearly a co-ordinated effort at Community level has got to be set in motion quickly. There is a responsibility on the Minister and the Government to introduce a proper compensation package to ensure that beef finishers, in particular, who are a vital link in the production chain survive the very serious financial difficulties and stay in business and that the industry survives and prospers in the not too distant future.

I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution to the debate. This crisis requires very close attention. If we could restore the housewife's confidence in beef, we would have solved the problem, but that will not easily be done.

In my constituency farmers produce neither beet nor grain and depend in the main on beef. Of the 6,500 herd owners, fewer than 1,500 are dairy farmers. The farmers who depend on beef production face a very serious problem.

Before I left my constituency on Monday morning for Leinster House a young farmer who has a 28 cow herd came to discuss his problems with me. Last week 18 of his herd went down with tuberculosis and the best price he could get from slaughtering plants was 50p per lb. This time last year a farmer would have no bother in negotiating 80p-85p for TB reactor cattle. That man has ten cows left. He built up a good quality cow herd but he now has massive repayments. He receives about £15 per month in income support. The Minister, in conjunction with ERAD, should look at individual cases like this and ensure such farmers have a future. Their future now looks doubtful. We would be inclined to appeal to factories to be decent and give reasonable prices. However, human nature being what it is, they will give as little as possible. In cases like this, they only give valuation prices. My county has the highest incidence of TB and this is causing great trauma. The collapse in prices will certainly cause serious problems. I pay tribute to the Garda and vets for their surveillance work along the Border.

Several speakers spoke about identification tags. In 1979, Mr. Tom Quinn of the Institute for Industrial Research and Standards invited TDs to visit the institute, which was based on the north side. The institute is now known as Eolas. We were shown a box of tamper-proof tags which the institute was perfecting. We were watched closely in case anybody pocketed any tags. I was interested in these tags because I had asked parliamentary questions about the importing of tags. Two years later, when there was no further word about these tags, I wrote to Mr. Quinn. He sent a letter in reply to say that the tags were faulty. There has been no change with regard to tags in the 17 years since then. We have been told over the years that there will be computerisation and better checks on animal movements and sales. However, we are not making the progress we should be in this regard.

A person I know well in Monaghan has a relative who grazes cattle in the Sliabh Beigh area of County Tyrone. His suckling herd strayed across the Border, was picked up by the Garda and the Customs and is at present under investigation. I ask the authorities to look closely at cases like this and to obtain information from vets and the Garda in the region in order to ensure that people will not suffer wrongly. The Garda are doing great work in this area. It is a tough job to stand at a road in 12 hour shifts. This costs the State £350,000 a week, which it can ill afford.

There is a great deal of talk about marketing. I read in theIrish Independent two days ago that IBEC, a group for which I have great regard, attacked the lack of a national policy on trade exports. It stated that Irish exporters have been hindered for too long by a turf war mentality among Departments and agencies. It called for trade conferences and associations to be involved in selling our produce.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. I do so as chairperson of the Parliamentary Labour Party's sub-committee on agriculture and rural development. As somebody who has been involved in agriculture for many years as an agricultural consultant and in many other capacities, I did not think this debate would be turned into a political football. The crisis we are now experiencing is above politics. It is too important to be dragged down to the level of mud slinging and I would not partake in any debate of that nature. I know the importance of this issue and can speak with authority on it because I was an agricultural consultant to many farmers for almost a decade and I come from Westmeath, one of the prime areas of beef production where many people involved in winter fattening have suffered.

I wish to inform the House, and Members who may be guided in their views of the Labour Party's participation, that we have had a round of meetings with the IFA livestock committee and we are to meet the Irish Cattle Traders and Stockowners Association and the ICMSA. We cannot be accused of showing a lack of interest in the development and importance of agriculture. I have always classified it as our green oil. It is a natural resource to which we must attach tremendous importance. It is worth over £1.7 billion and it makes a great contribution to our balance of payments. It would be foolhardy, particularly for a party in Government, not to pay the greatest attention to this most important industry.

As the Minister stated earlier, the announcement in the House of the Commons on 20 March will live for a long time in the memories of beef producers and anybody connected with the industry. I commend the Minister for his tireless and resolute work in promoting the industry abroad and I was glad to hear some positive news in his speech. The great tragedy for Irish farmers is that they are the innocent parties in this unprecedented crisis, which is not of their making. It clearly has its origins in the mismanagement of the situation in Britain and we are paying the price for this because of the importance of agriculture, particularly the beef sector, to our economy. Our dependence is seven times greater than that of any other European state. Some 60 per cent of European exports to Third World countries are of Irish origin. These statisticss indicate the importance of this industry.

Apart from the originalfaux pas of the announcement in the Commons on 20 March, instead of taking positive measures to ameliorate the worst effects of the crisis, the British Minister announced last Tuesday that it would take up to six years to eradicate the last case of BSE from the UK. I need not tell the House the devastating impact this would have for Irish farmers and the knock on effects it would have on the many thousands employed in beef-related industries. During the last few weeks I have heard of small indigenous industries in various towns which have had orders cancelled because of the impact of the crisis. Some of them were engaged in exporting to Britain. Therefore, the crisis in Britain is affecting our industries which have an export potential. Rather than engage in bluff and bluster, it is important that we be constructive in our comments and proposals for this important sector. The level of beef consumption in the main European markets such as Britain, Germany, France and Italy, which represent about 150 million consumers, is still well over a third below the level which prevailed in March when the announcement was made. This is a stark and undeniable fact. The thrust of any initiative which we may embark on during our Presidency of the EU must be focused on regaining consumer confidence by means of quality assurance. This must be based on a two-pronged approach focused at both European and national levels.

At European level I agree with the thrust of the IFA's submission that there is a necessity to embark on a major generic promotion campaign throughout Europe. I understand that up to 100 million in EU funding would be needed to launch and sustain a campaign of the magnitude and intensity required, but it would be money well spent and a good starting point in reassuring the consumer about the quality of Irish beef.

I agree with Opposition speakers who said that An Bord Bia must be provided with the resources it requires to launch a quality assurance scheme to which consumers, as well as producers and processors, should have a significant input.

I had occasion to speak to a group of school children on a visit to the House recently and was surprised that they were acutely aware of the BSE crisis. This shows the power of the printed and visual media and the influence of their parents. When we went for a meal many of them were adamant that they would not consume beef, including burgers. This is an indication that the crisis had had a major impact throughout the country. A promotional campaign, based on strong scientific evidence, should be launched to reinforce the message that Irish beef is the best in the world and poses no threat to health.

It is important to emphasise that stringent measures have been taken to deal with the occasional outbreak of BSE. These measures were introduced by Deputy Joe Walsh for which I commend and compliment him. They include the total depopulation of herds, which is the right approach.

It is important that measures are put in place to stamp out the use of illegal substances by a small minority of producers who have damaged the good name of Irish beef. Deputy Ellis made practical suggestions. He suggested a comprehensive test to detect residues and a stamp of quality similar to the one used in industry, ISO 9000, to promote a green and environmentally friendly product image. Such measures are important in ensuring the consumers has full confidence in what I and my party believe is an excellent product.

Beef consumption has been badly affected internationally. The Egyptian market is showing signs of a slow down while the Iranian and Libyan markets remain closed to Irish beef exports. We have to use whatever influence we have through political and diplomatic channels to ensure these markets are reopened.

The European Commission put forward a 634 million ECU compensation package for farmers throughout the EU. Based on the 1995 take-up, we should qualify for approximately £60 million of this. The Minister is making some strides, but, initially, the Commission adopted a broad brush approach. The scheme was administratively simple and convenient but lacked focus as far as winter fatteners and beef finishers were concerned. They have been the real losers in this crisis.

Assistance will have to be targeted at heifer beef producers who are excluded under most EU income support schemes. The Government should not be in a straitjacket, but afforded a certain degree of discretion in any regulations made by the Commission. It is critical that every opportunity is taken to convince Mr. Fischler and others to extend aid to these producers as well as bull beef producers in any compensation package agreed.

The IFA livestock committee, under the chairmanship of Mr. Raymond O'Malley, made a well prepared submission to the committee of which I am a member. It based its calculations on the figures produced by Teagasc to compensate farmers for the losses incurred between January and mid-March, £71 per head, and between mid-March and early June, £138 per head. I have had occasion in recent weeks to examine some farmers' books — I used to be their accountant — and it appears that on a 12 cwt. bullock farmers are losing approximately £120. This has enormous implications for farmers in my constituency, some of whom indicated to me yesterday that they have abandoned their plans for the coming season.

Like Deputy Fitzgerald who represents County Meath, Deputy Gallagher who represents Laoighis-Offaly and Deputy Pattison who represents Carlow-Kilkenny, I represent a rural constituency — Westmeath. What is worrying is that there has been a flight from the land, up to 6,500 farmers leave annually. It has been estimated that by the year 2005 there will be only 30,000 full-time farmers. This represents a huge reduction since I commenced my agricultural studies in 1974 and could have a devastating effect on rural Ireland.

In our policies we should focus on the retention of the maximum number on the land. There is an old saying in County Westmeath that when the farmer has a few bob, he spends it. This keeps many shops open. He makes a major contribution at local level to churches and schools, thus contributing to rural regeneration, rather than degeneration.

In recent months the 15,000-20,000 winter fatteners — there are 100,000 producers in total — have been suffering. As the scenario in the fall may be frightening, no effort should be spared in tackling the crisis head on. The view is that farmers will be compensated for the losses incurred, £71 per head up to mid-March and £138 per head up to mid-June, in the form of a beef finisher premium. I can understand why that is the thrust of that policy line because it would incorporate many of the people who are suffering.

We are dealing with an industry which has a total output of over £1.7 billion. If the projected losses are correct, and I have no reason to doubt them having done some calculations at local level with County Westmeath farmers, we will be faced with losses of approximately £250 million to £260 million by the end of the year. Given the average industrial wage of £15,000, one is talking about the equivalent of 17,500 jobs being taken out of the economy. That is the magnitude of what we are discussing. It is not something of minor dimensions.

We are the innocent victims of this BSE crisis. We have just got over a couple of other crises in the past few months and export refunds had just come into play after a fairly significant reduction in November. However, this crisis knocked many farmers for six across the country.

Strenuous efforts must be made to ensure that the compensation package will be implemented on the basis of a direct payment system. It is important to emphasise that we have seven million cattle while the UK has 11 million. It should be possible to illustrate clearly to the Commission the vital importance of our industry and the just case we have for compensation.

I support the point made earlier by Deputy Browne. It is a cause of wonder and concern among the general public as to why, when farmers are losing £120 per head of cattle, this is not reflected in the shops. I once did a study called market margins which showed this type of thing was prevalent in the sheep meat sector also. Consumers react to prices and if the price of the product comes down in the shops it will boost consumer demand. That is critically important for retail outlets. Any claim that the Government, and the Labour Party in particular, is not committed to protecting the beef industry is simply not correct. It is nothing more than empty political rhetoric and nonsense. I depend on support from the farming population and I am glad to say that well over 20 per cent of my vote comes from farmers.

The Deputy wants to hold on to them.

Empty populist criticism does not address the issues which need to be addressed if we are to restore confidence in the beef industry. I am disappointed that there is no media interest in this debate. The press gallery is empty.

We are in the midst of a crisis now but certain producers were suffering unsustainable losses even before the BSE crisis. It comes down to the fact that when the CAP reforms were introduced they did not take adequate account of our unique system of cattle production whereby most cattle are not finished on the farms where they are born.

I am glad of the opportunity to put the Labour Party's position on the record.

It is about time that everybody, including those outside agriculture, realised that this is a crisis, but how can we tackle it? In the short-term we must put a rescue operation in place. Many people do not like intervention but we have to find an outlet for a great number of cattle and a large amount of beef. The introduction of intervention is vital in the short-term, although it is not a medium or long-term solution by any means. Many people, including myself, do not like intervention but we need it now.

We will face the autumn in a dreadful situation. However, we do not want to face it in the way we faced the problem which began last October when export refunds were dramatically reduced. Everybody knew that the New Zealanders and Australians undercut us in the North African market but we still did not get the message.

In the medium term we must restore export refunds to their former position. They are still 0.5 per cent down on what they were. We need the political will to reopen markets in Egypt and Libya. There is no use pussyfooting around, it must be done in the medium term to open that safety valve outlet for our live exports to the North African countries.

In the longer term there is no point in me or other rural Deputies saying that we have the finest beef in the world because many people, including the young, do not believe it. There is no use in saying that the scientific evidence is there because the fact is that we have an image problem.

The sooner the better we get safety measures in place so that people realise beef is safe to eat. The only way to do that is by having ante-and post-mortem testing. The product will thus be labelled as safe in the same way as every other product is labelled. In supermarkets, dairy products and other foodstuffs are labelled according to their ingredients and place of origin. At the beef counter, however, you do not know what the source of the product is, even though it might be labelled "prime beef". What does prime beef mean? It means a lot to us who know about it and who know the individual farmers. In some cases we know the actual cattle that produced the beef, but the ordinary consumer does not trust it and they are walking away.

We must implement measures that will be credible internationally. Our spokesperson on agriculture, Deputy Cowen, has put forward proposals to do that. Deputy Penrose mentioned quality marks similar to the industrial ISO system. We have to get to that level of sophistication because of the image involved.

We are now told that Russia is our most important market, and so it is. However, the most sophisticated and remunerative market is at our doorstep in the UK and in Continental Europe. How many people are marketing and selling Irish beef in the UK market, which is worth tens of millions of pounds? We have only two people for the entire UK. That does not make sense and the sooner that is addressed in a sensible and professional manner the better.

It is no use saying that agriculture is our most important industry and that beef men are the cornerstone of it. We know that, but we also know that when we pass fields of bullocks on our way home this evening, eight out of every ten animals has to find an export destination. If we are not serious about underpinning that and giving the procedures a chance, then there is an onus on the factories and the marketeers to ensure that profitable outlets are found.

Even if we increase domestic consumption of beef by 100 or 200 per cent — which in itself would be desirable — we will still have the bulk of our beef, over 80 per cent, going abroad. So, we need to look after those markets. We must put in place a rescue operation; increase the export refunds for the export of live cattle to North African countries and put in place quality assurance measures in the medium and long-term. That has to be done immediately in a country where we have twice as many cattle as people.

Debate adjourned.