I thank you for allowing me to speak on the outbreak of Newcastle disease in Northern Ireland. If great care is not taken here and in Northern Ireland, this could have disastrous consequences for my constituency. The code of practice recommended in a recent report on the poultry industry should be strictly adhered to. This is the worst outbreak of disease in poultry in Northern Ireland for the past 20 years. There have been many outbreaks of disease in the past ten years but, at great cost to the Department and producers, the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry contained them by imposing strict exclusion zones.
Poultry production is confined mainly to the Cavan-Monaghan region, particularly north Monaghan. Eleven of the 15 farmers who live near me are involved in intensive production of mushrooms, turkeys, broilers, pigs and eggs. Approximately 60 per cent of broiler chicken production, 60 per cent of egg production, 80 per cent of turkey production and practically all duck and quail production takes places in my constituency. This indicates the serious consequences this outbreak of Newcastle disease could have for that area.
Even though grant aid has not been provided for primary producers in the poultry industry, producers have continued to expand and compete. As an island we should be in a strong position to fight disease infection but, unfortunately, the majority of hens whose egg laying days are over are exported to Britain for slaughter. The trucks in which they are transported should be strictly monitored.
In March 1996 there was a report on the poultry industry and the Minister launched a £35 million programme for the industry. The report recommended that there should be an all-Ireland approach to the poultry industry, that all hens at the end of their laying life should be processed on this island to maintain the existing avian health status, that a discussion group should be established involving various interests to examine issues relevant to the development of the poultry industry and, if necessary, the Government should act as a convenor. It also recommended that regular independent audit checks should be carried out on every hatchery, breeding farm, processing plant and feed mill. Have those recommendations been implemented?
The increasing health conscious consumer regards poultry as a good purchase choice in terms of safety and nutritional value. Consumer confidence is based on vigilant protection of our avian health status. An operation, similar to Operation Matador launched in the case of BSE, should be put in place to ensure that poultry from Northern Ireland does not cross the Border.
There are 561 supply farms, hatcheries and commercial growing sites in the State, with approximately two-thirds of them located in my constituency. The consumption of poultry has doubled in recent times. We have the highest consumption of poultry meatper capita in the European Union. It is important that slaughtering plants are set up here so that it is not necessary to transport poultry in trucks to Britain for slaughtering purposes. As a result of the recent closure of pig slaughtering plants in Cavan and Monaghan, we transport live pigs to Belfast and Newry with a similar danger of disease being carried by lorries.